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Fruitvale Plaza Park

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HOME GROWN: THE FIELDS OF CALIFAS exhibition, Galeria de la Raza, San Francisco

Audio/video installation focused on farm workers in the strawberry industry of California and the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) campaign for unionization. The installation is made up of three parts. The first part is a 14 minute audio track primarily of interviews I conducted with farm workers in the area of Watsonville over April, May and June of 1997, as well as audio I collected at related demonstrations, arrests of workers, and related activity. The second part is video of images of the fields, worker's housing, strawberry picking, demonstrations, arrests, and text from media sources on the industry and campaign. The third part is an strawberry shack I built in the gallery. The visitor enters the shack, and through it sees and hears the actual conditions of the strawberry workers and the California strawberry industry.

Images taken by Praba Pilar and used in the installation, of strawberry fields, Watsonville murals, worker's housing in pesticide laden fields, organizing by UFW workers, campaign marches, rallies and arrests. 

Comments below are from 1997 and are not updated:

In the mid 1990s, the strawberry industry had revenues of about $650 million a year. About 80 percent of the nation's fresh strawberries are grown in California, primarily in the Watsonville area. While there are 270 growers in the Watsonville area, about eight big companies, control the industry. They influence prices and field conditions, and collect, cool, package, distribute and market the crop.

California's 20,000 strawberry workers earn an average of $8,500 a season. Strawberry workers labor stooped over ankle-high plants for 10 to 12 hours a day in fields treated with numerous pesticides. Few have adequate health insurance, clean drinking water or bathrooms in the fields. Many workers return to the same fields year after year, yet they must reapply for the same jobs and can be fired on a whim.

The United Farm Workers Union asked the strawberry industry to obey labor laws and increase wages by $0.05 per pint in their "five cents for fairness" campaign. Growers have responded brutally to the campaign by threatening, intimidating and laying off workers, shutting down production, closing their businesses and even plowing under crops. On April 13, 1997, more than 30,000 workers, activists, students, artists and supporters from 36 states and three countries marched on Watsonville. On April 29, 1997, seven religous leaders and actor Martin Sheen were arrested at at Gargiulo Inc. (a subsidiary of Monsanto Corporation). More info at the Chicago Tribune and the Atlantic.