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'The Harvest': Harsh lives of young migrant workers

August 5, 2011 |  4:23 pm


It's a startling contrast in the Shine Global film "The Harvest/La Cosecha" to watch the breathtaking scenery -- fog on a field of cucumbers or gorgeous strawberries being pulled from their plants -- and then to watch and listen to the children who are doing the picking.

Through three young migrant workers who travel thousands of miles, following the harvests with their families, the film brings home what it's like for a child to bend over for long periods, harvesting row upon row of food, to say goodbye repeatedly to new friends and head on to the next crop, to feel partially responsible for a family's economic status at an age when their peers are hanging out at the mall.

Those three are among 400,000 children who work as migrant laborers on farms in the U.S., putting in 14-hour days, seven days a week, the film says.

There's Zulema Lopez, who is 12, whose earliest memory is of learning to pick strawberries and whose mother began working in the fields at 7. She already thinks she may not make it to high school. "It's the same routine every day. The same routine every year," she says.

Victor Huapilla, 16, says he would love to leave the tomato fields for a steady job one day. Once, his skin started to peel off because of a chemical on the farm where he was working. His family can't afford even to migrate for work after spending their money to legally bring his two sisters to the U.S.

Fourteen-year-old Perla Sanchez is whip-smart and articulate. She talks about politics and justice, and she wants to be a lawyer in hopes of keeping other children from her fate, but her scattered school history will make that difficult.

All three often look exhausted as they talk to the camera about helping their families get by, missing school. They spend time in cramped, dingy quarters, or often sleep on the road. They're all appealing kids.

"The Harvest," directed by U. Robert Romano, has its Los Angeles premiere tonight at the Laemmle Music Hall and then goes to other cities around the country. The actress Eva Longoria is the executive producer, through her company Unbelievable productions.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo by Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times