The film festival returns with the story of a mixed family working in the strawberry fields of California

Ashley Pavon dreamed of being the first in her family to graduate from high school and attend college. Then fears of her mother’s possible deportation pushed her to play the role of breadwinner.

His story is told by one of the documentaries presented in the San Diego Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2022, held virtually again this year, from February 2 to 8. The festival, a collaboration between Human Rights Watch and the Balboa Park Museum of Photographic Arts, is in its 12th year.

“Fruits of Labor” intimately illustrates the complexities of working multiple jobs and finishing school, while trying to keep up with teenage traditions such as planning a quinceañera. The 77-minute documentary, according to filmmaker Emily Cohen Ibañez, is much more than an immigration story. It’s also a coming-of-age story and a work story.

“In 2016, there was a developing narrative that Trump’s election was really because the working class that was overwhelmingly male and white felt alienated. It may have been a small piece of history, but it was not my experience of working-class representation in rural America,” Cohen Ibañez said. “In towns like Watsonville, the working class is Brown.”

In high school, Pavon worked in strawberry fields in the town of Watsonville, Monterey Bay, as well as in a food processing plant. Documenting Pavon’s experiences, Cohen Ibañez said she was surprised to learn how many teenagers ended up working in these fields during the Trump administration because their parents were undocumented and feared getting caught up in immigration raids.

“It was kids like Ashley that filled that [labor] gap, and I haven’t seen that story told,” Cohen Ibañez said.

“Children have always worked in the fields in the United States, but this rise, it was something that was – wow,” she added.

Cohen Ibañez met Pavon through a student video collective. She suggested making a film about Pavon’s life after the two grew closer. Pavon agreed to do it because she believed in the importance of showing what it’s like to live “in the shadows”.

“I was a little nervous because I was never on camera, but I knew what she had to bring to the community was something she needed,” Pavon said. “You never really see the reality of what’s going on and what the real obstacles are there. We often gravitate towards stereotypes.

The two co-wrote the documentary. Cohen Ibañez said it was because she intended to make a film with the community rather than about the community.

“It created an authentic voice, and for me it was really important to have the inner life,” Cohen Ibañez said. “A lot of times in movies we follow the action, but it’s also important that that rich inner life comes out.”

Pavon said working on the film healed her in many ways.

“I argued with myself that I wasn’t doing enough, that I was a bad girl,” she said. “I took a step back and thought, ‘I was 14 or 15, I was doing so many things. “”

Pavon recently completed a business program with Santa Clara University. She plans to have a farm that deviates from the common agricultural hierarchy and wage structure, she said, so workers can buy quality food and have space to rest.

The festival also features documentaries on race and adoption, access to abortion, foster care and women’s rights. Tickets to screen the five films of the festival are on sale in line for $35 and for individual films for $9, with discounts available for museum members as well as Human Rights Watch members.

About Debra D. Johnson

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