“Life for us on the farm is hard. This film is about our life,” Alberto Madrigal, a 22-year-old migrant worker from Tabasco, Mexico, who is also a leader of migrant rights, expressed through translation before the showing of the documentary “Hide.”
The film, made by Middlebury College students, exposed the everyday struggles migrant workers face.
On Friday, March 22, “Hide” was shown at Keene State College in order to “bring awareness to people within the community—There are thousands of migrant workers in New Hampshire, Vermont and this issue is not well-known enough,” KSC professor and leader of the Fair Trade Club Tamara Stenn stated.
Brendan O’Neil, the campaign coordinator of Migrant Justice, attended the film screening at KSC.
He was accompanied by Madeline Sharrow, founding member of the Migrant Justice organization.
After listening to an audience member’s query on what exactly the organization is about and what it’s goal is, O’Neil explained, “The organization was started after the death of a farm worker who was killed at work which woke up people to this issue of the severe conditions that the workers have to endure when they are working in Vermont trying to bring milk and cheese to the table. A group of us gathered together and responded to that and that response over time became what is now, Migrant Justice.”
O’Neil added, “Our philosophy from the beginning was about how we have heard about migrant workers, but it was always through other people’s interpretations of what migrant workers need and our goal was to change this by getting farm workers together in Vermont to speak for themselves and have a community and how to improve life.”
As a result of the organization’s impact, they have changed sections of the police policy in Vermont. It has become involved with the unfair treatment of unpaid wages and abuse and help build alliances with farmers, O’Neil explained.
O’Neil elaborated that Migrant Justice is a campaign that helps migrant workers have their voices heard. In one case right before the group arrived at Keene they were at the Vermont State House checking in about the bill that they are trying to pass that will allow migrant workers to obtain a driver’s license. “We are [migrant workers] asking for respect and rights,” Madrigal stated through translation.
The film started off with a somber image of the environment in which the migrants work, in this particular case a dairy farm in Vermont.
As the images were being shown, a background of voices of migrant workers (translated into English in subtitles) played, introducing themselves, their names, their age and where they came from. The ages ranged from early 20s to early 30s and the majority of workers lacked documentation.
An everyday life for the migrant worker starts at “4:30 a.m. to prep everything and get the cows ready to be milked. We get [three to four] hours of sleep,” a migrant worker stated during the film. They do not get normal break hours and have ten-hour shifts. The same migrant worker then expressed, “The majority of jobs we have Americans don’t want.”
“I had no idea that there was migrant workers working in dairy farms. Coming from a rural town with farms this really opened my eyes and hit home,” freshman Paige Nadeau expressed when asked how she thought of the film and presentation.
Madrigal stated, “I knew a worker who had worked in 35 farms, and only had two good farmers.”
“Migrant workers are here on word of mouth, friends, people who have come before us. Many fear employers; I am here to leave this fear behind,” Madrigal said.
Since migrant workers have a limited space for free time due to their long shifts, they will rarely have time to relax and get out of the farm. Without a driver’s license they are forced to find somebody who will bring them to town so they can buy themselves food. If they do not find a ride or have enough time to go to town they will have to wait days until they have another hour or so of free time to do so. From the words of the migrant workers during the movie, they are isolated, alone and barricaded by language. If they are fortunate enough, some migrant workers buy pay-as-you-go cell phones to call their loved ones and friends for brief moments to catch up.
Madrigal explained that out of necessity he came to work in the United States “to give himself and his family a better life,” a story all too similar to why the 11 million migrant workers are here today. Coming from a family of four siblings, two older sisters and two younger brothers he said they were shocked when he announced that he was interested in work in the States.
Madrigal said in order to pass through the border he walked four days and four nights through a desert, “The path to the desert to here gives me great fear. No one wants to be sent back to Mexico.”
After the film, O’Neil took questions from the audience. One audience member asked how residents of New England can help this cause.
O’Neil responded that due to the fact that none were residents of Vermont, the best thing they could do was write letters to the editors of newspapers to get the word out for the readers.
At the near end of the presentation the group had a table with informational pamphlets with donation slips and t-shirts that go directly to the organization.
Angela Scionti can be contacted at