UNO art exhibit spotlights migrant workers

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Photo by Danielle Meadows

Danielle Meadows
SENIOR REPORTER

People rarely think about how produce gets to grocery stores.

It could start with a mother waking up at 4a.m.to pick blueberries—or a man cutting celery in the sweltering heat. These workers come home with stinging hands and such exhaustion they musts leep instead of play with their children.

Dreams dissolve to support a family, even if workers are mistreated and paid a low wage. Learning to settle—much like soil in the fields—is a heartbreaking reality for migrant farm workers.

“Fields of the North” is a new photography exhibition at the Osborne Gallery, located in the Criss Library. Featuring photojournalist David Bacon’s images and bilingual narratives from workers, the exhibit explores the food we eat and the lives of those who harvest it.

Sponsored by UNO’s Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS) and Office of Multicultural Affairs, new OLLAS Director Dr. Cristian Doña-Reveco said he is pleased to bring this exhibit to UNO at a time when immigration and economy are at the center of national debate.

“These images forcefully portray the difficulties, inequalities and injustices these workers endure on a day-to-day basis,” Doña-Reveco said. “These photographs can help us comprehend more deeply the plight of migrant farm workers in the United States.”

According to an information board inside the gallery, California farm workers were some of the highest paid in the U.S. at the end of the 1970s. Today,workers are often trapped in jobs that pay minimum wage or less, even though their work is incredibly dangerous. At least 16farm workers have died of heat exposure in Californian fields since 2005.

Bacon’s photographs are as captivating as they are upsetting,entirely in black and white.The images are primarily composed of drained faces, durable communities and dirty hands.

Most ranchers discourage workers from wearing gloves as it “causes harm to plants.”One farm worker documented in the exhibit,Manuel Garcia, experiences green tobacco sickness as soon as he begins his shift.

“After my body gets used to it, I can hardly feel it at all,” Garcia said in a description of his photo. “But I know I’m absorbing it all day.”

The images portray Bacon’s expedition with migrant farm workers during harvest as they travel from Mexico through the Pacific Coast. Bacon has spent over three decades documenting migrant worker lives.

“I use the combination of photographs and oral histories to connect words and voices to images,” Bacon said on an information board in the gallery. “Together they help capture a complex social reality as well as people’s ideas for changing it.”

“Fields of the North”is on display through Sept. 30 during regular library hours. A special conversation with Bacon is set for Sept. 18 at 6p.m.in the gallery. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP to ydoku@unomaha.edu.

“If the work I do helps to strengthen these movements, it will have served a good purpose,” Bacon said.

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