Director’s Statement

For 30 years, I lived alongside the fruit and vegetable farms in rural Western New York and experienced the influx of migrant children each fall in the rural school where I taught art. I volunteered at the community Mexican Fiesta and Haitian Night, but I knew little about the reality of the life of a farmworker. In the fall of 2000, I approached two fruit growers who owned apple orchards in the Sodus area. I explained that I was interested in filming the apple harvest, and with their support, I began this film project.

In that first season, I met three of the women – Soledad, Vierge, and Maria. As I began to witness the working lives of these women, I became interested in what forced their departures from their home countries, and what conditions drove some of them to migrate between New York and Florida. I also began to question why farmworkers – so central to the local economy in Sodus — had for years been invisible to me and to the wider community. This invisibility became a central force for the film’s narrative. These questions drove me to become actively involved with several organizations involved with farmworker issues — Rural Opportunities, the Cornell Migrant Program, Rural and Migrant Ministry, and especially the Farmworker Women’s Institute, a project of Farmworker Legal Services of New York in Rochester. I was invited to join the steering committee of FWI the year it was founded. At my first meeting I met Elisa, who was also a member of the committee. She introduced me to farm work in the vineyards, and the permanent Hispanic community in my town. During the next year, I met Lorena, who spent all year in field crop agricultural labor. Through her family, I became acquainted with the Roman Catholic Migrant Ministry and its congregations.

Over the next ten years, we filmed the annual cycle of these five women’s work lives — Maria, Vierge, Soledad, Lorena and Elisa. As I gained their trust, they began to reveal more of their lives – and I learned what they did after they picked the fruit. At first, they participated because they saw the film as important to me, but as the years went on, they became committed to the project, and I began to see my town through their eyes.

We were in the early stages of the film when 9/11 changed everything for Soledad, Lorena, and Elisa, because they had entered the country without documentation. The US government began to aggressively pursue “illegal aliens” and all undocumented workers were pushed into further isolation. We realized we would have to give those three women pseudonyms and withhold certain details of their lives to protect them from deportation. Despite that, the women chose to put hope above fear, and continued with the film.

The film project has been influenced and supported by an incredible group of farmers, organizations for farmworker rights and immigration reform, schools, and filmmakers. The farmers in these stories stand by their workers, and advocate for them on a daily basis. The courageous work of the Farmworker Women’s Institute, Farmworker Legal Services of Western NY, Rural and Migrant Ministry, CITA (Centro Indepedencia Trabajadoras Agricolas), the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, NY, and lead sponsor Wayne Action for Racial Equality (WARE) inspired and supported the film project. Innumerable hours of production support came from my colleagues and students at the School of Film and Animation at Rochester Institute of Technology.

It’s hard to give enough thanks to the women and their families for their profound commitment to the film. Lastly, I want to thank my family and the Sodus Film Group, whose members believed that the stories in this film had to be told.

Maria, Vierge, Soledad, Lorena and Elisa’s lives are no longer invisible. It’s our hope that in experiencing their lives, a connection will be established, so that the simplistic labels “migrant” and “illegal” will be replaced by a deeper understanding of the complex lives of migrant families. We hope that you will join in the effort to give these families hope for their future.

Nancy Ghertner