LA VUELTA, A Journey Back
For almost ten years before returning with Manuel to his home in Mexico I recorded video of farm workers who lived and worked in Oregon.
The dedicated people at PCUN, a farm workers union in the mid Willamette Valley, guided me through the labyrinth faced by illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, who pick our fruit and vegetables, take care of our children, grand parents and gardens. In turn they are denied legal documents, live often times in camps in deplorable conditions. They are exploited by farmers, ‘Big Ag’, ‘Coyotes’, insurance and car salesman and live in the ‘shadows’
Their children are traumatized, often die, at ‘La linea’, the fence that divides our first world and their third world economies.
Getting to know these hard working people in person and hearing their stories made me want to see where they came from, what they left behind to make the scary journey North.
As a guest in the home of Manuel Rivera’s family in San Miguel de Cuixapa in Guerrero, Mexico, I was treated with the special respect accorded visitors for centuries. Manuel and I had spent many hours together since our first meeting. We met at a ‘walkout’ of workers during the strawberry harvest at a farm outside Woodburn, Oregon.
Manuel helped me re-learn Spanish. I helped him find work in Portland. We shared an apartment for a time.
We became close friends. Manuel invited me to return with him at Christmas time to the tiny village he leaves behind when he makes the perilous 3000 mile journey north to pick fruit and vegetables in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
LA VUELTA takes you, the viewer, on his journey back to that place, there in those beautiful mountains. Manuel’s people speak Nahuatl and Tlapanejo, indigenous languages from the time before Columbus. Those two months I spent with Manuel, his family and neighbors were extraordinary.
It was easy to see why a young man, like Manuel, who, against all odds had completed a high school education, would be drawn to the ‘modern world’ of his neighbors to the north in the USA. It was also a reminder to me personally of the great price we have paid for the desserts of ‘modernity’. We have been cleaved from many of the joys of land and sky and family and friends and neighbors.
In our urban centers we are cut off from ‘quiet’, robbed of the gentle sounds of the earth talking to itself and the animals and the river and the wind.
There was no television in San Miguel de Cuixapa. Occasionally, if the atmospheric conditions were perfect, a morning radio show might be received from Mexico City by one of the several radios in the village. There were no cars and no roads for cars. We walked regularly three miles over a canyon path to the nearest village where there was a market, buses, and telephone. A sure footed burro
carried our purchases home. -Tom Chamberlin-