Tag Archives: farmworkers

Into the Fields and into the Archives: Student Action with Farmworkers

Post contributed by Paula Jeannet, Visual Materials Processing Archivist at the Rubenstein Library

Did you know that October is American Archives Month?  During this time archivists and their allies take to social media and other outlets to raise public awareness about the importance of preserving the historical record.  This year’s theme in North Carolina is “Activism and Social Justice in North Carolina.”  To honor that theme, this post highlights an inspiring N.C. activist organization whose records are in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Officially founded in 1992 in Durham, N.C., Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) has brought college and high school students and farmworkers together to collectively work for economic justice, consumer awareness, and improved living and working conditions for people who grow and harvest our food.

20th Anniversary Poster

The long arc of SAF’s activist work, which began in the 1970s, is well-represented in their archives in the Rubenstein library.  The collection’s 148 boxes house materials documenting SAF’s founding, its operations, meetings, and planning, and records on every program from inception to launch.  There are many photographs, audio, video, and, with the arrival of the 2000s, digital records.

A flier and worksheet
These educational fliers and worksheets are found in Box 145 of the Printed Materials Series.

College-age interns, many of them from farmworker families, travel to isolated rural migrant camps to document living conditions through photography, oral histories, and writing.  Thousands of SAF student alumni have also gone out into the world to join and found other social justice programs and organizations.

Migrant camp at night
NC migrant camp at night during health outreach. Photo by Jim Coleman, 2010. From “Theater in the Fields” SAF publication.
Quinceañera photo
Cover of “Recollections of Home / Recuerdos de mi tierra: A Compilation of Folklife Documentaries by Student Action with Farmworkers’ Interns,” 2000. Photo by Rachel LaCour, 1999: Latino teenagers at a quinceañera.
Table of contents
Table of contents from “Recollections of Home / Recuerdos de mi tierra.”
Printed page with photograph of women protesting
Page from “Fields Without Borders / Campos sin fronteras”: Women’s stories, often overlooked, are told through photographs as well as oral histories, preserved in this publication in the Printed Materials and in the Audiovisual series of the SAF collection. Photo by Chris Sims, 2004.

Student projects such as this 2011 video documentary created by three students are housed in the SAF collection at the Rubenstein (student project folders require permission for access).  Through Story+, a summer research internship sponsored by Duke University libraries and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, students have created several other SAF video documentaries.

An integral part of SAF’s work is educational programming and outreach for children, teens, and adults.  In 2014, SAF’s Levante Leadership program was recognized as one of the most effective programs in the nation that improves educational outcomes for Latino students.

Photo of leadership program participants

SAF also organized and participated in protest actions, including the Mount Olive Pickle Company and Burger King labor protests. These actions directly led to improved conditions in the factories and fields.

Black and white SAF protest drawing

Did you know that many farmworkers are forced to live next to fields sprayed with pesticides?  SAF has mounted successful long-term campaigns on specific issues such as pesticide safety that include outreach tools such as this video for children called “José Learns About Pesticides.”

Theater in the Fields brings a powerful message and educational opportunities to the fields where agricultural workers toil.  The giant puppet “Big Papa” is also found in the SAF archives!  The puppet was created by NC sculpture artist Daniel L. Mathewson (1964-2011) for the play “Gigantes en los Campos/Giants in the Fields,” written by NC writer Cara Page. The Big Papa character had few lines, but loomed ominously over scenes in the play as a method of intimidation and mockery of the farmworker characters.

Photo of actors
This publication is found in the Printed Materials series of the Student Action with Farmworker’s collection, along with the other materials featured in this blog post.
Actors mid-scene
Actors in Teatro en el Campo

The mobilization of students and farmworkers originally begun at Duke in the 1970s was in part inspired by a 1960 documentary by N.C. journalist Edward Murrow, “Harvest of Shame.”  Today, the same labor, health, and social justice issues continue to plague the U.S. agriculture system, so Student Action with Farmworkers continues its work to improve conditions and to make their vision a reality, that “One day, all farmworkers will have dignity in their work and livelihood.”

During this Archives Month, we salute those who give so much of their energies to justice, and to those who recognize the importance of keeping this history alive in collective memory by placing their records in an archive.

The records of the Student Action with Farmworkers organization span the entirety of their history, and are available at the Rubenstein Library.  Learn more by visiting the online collection guide

To learn more about SAF, view this video.  There are more videos on this site, many using archival resources from the collection to tell the farmworkers’ stories. Also, check out their 25th anniversary “More Than One Story” exhibit and web site.




Opening Reception for Farmworkers and Food Exhibits

Date: Sept. 20, 2012
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Place: Rare Book Room, Perkins Library
Contact: Patrick Stawski, patrick.stawski(at)duke.edu

Three new library exhibitions at Duke explore the human experience of farmworkers and the history of a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving their lives.

For twenty years, Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) has worked to bring together students, community members, and farmworkers in the Southeast to work for justice in the agricultural system. What began as a small group of Duke Public Policy students documenting farmworker conditions has since grown to an independent nonprofit with a national impact. The organization’s papers are held by Duke’s Human Rights Archive in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

The first of the exhibits, Student Action with Farmworkers: 20 Years of Growing Farmworker Activists, is located in the Perkins Library Gallery and features documentary photos, protest signs, campaign materials, and more items from SAF’s history. An adjacent exhibit on The Art of SAF demonstrates the organization’s use of creative arts in education and outreach. And in the nearby Rubenstein Library Photography Gallery, Documenting the Politics of Food features photographs of American agriculture and agricultural labor from the Rubenstein Library’s documentary photography collections.

All three exhibits reflect historical and contemporary concerns with student activism, access to safe and healthy food, organized labor, and immigration. The exhibits run through December 9, 2012.

An opening reception for the exhibits will be held at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 20, in the Rare Book Room of Duke’s Perkins Library on Duke’s West Campus. The reception, which will feature Latin American food and live music, is free and open to the public.

“Contrary to the perception of some, Duke students have a rich and impressive legacy of progressive activism,” said Robin Kirk, co-director of the Duke Human Rights Center. “No group symbolizes this more effectively than Student Action with Farmworkers. This feisty group has made a real difference in the lives of farmworkers, normally invisible and largely forgotten by all of us who benefit from their backbreaking work. The partnership between the Human Rights Archive and SAF brings this history into view at a time when the issues involved—fair wages, immigration, and safety for these important workers—are at the forefront of a presidential campaign.”

The exhibits are co-sponsored by SAF, the Duke University Libraries, the Center for Documentary Studies, the Franklin Humanities Institute BorderWorks Lab, the Duke University Service Learning Program, and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

These exhibits are part of a larger series of events around the state celebrating the 20th anniversary of Student Action with Farmworkers, including a portable mural display and oral history interviews with National Public Radio’s StoryCorps. More information can be found at www.saf-unite.org or http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/human-rights.

Rights! Camera! Action!: Wetback

Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: The Garage, Smith Warehouse Bay 4, 114 S. Buchanan St. (map)
Contact information: Patrick Stawski, 919-660-5823 or patrick.stawski(at)duke.edu

Join Rights! Camera! Action! and our special co-sponsor Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) for a screening of Arturo Perez Torres’ “Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary,” winner of the 2005 Full Frame Spectrum Award. This screening is part of a year-long celebration of Student Action with Farmworkers’ 20th Anniversary.

Wetback follows undocumented migrant workers from their home in Nicaragua across Central America and Mexico to the U.S.-Mexican border, meeting many other migrants along the way. They encounter gangs, vigilantes, corrupt law enforcement, physical danger, and safe havens in their attempt to be among the 10% of migrants who actually make it all the way into North America. The migrants, those who aid them, and those who turn them back all give their own perspectives on how this vast, illegal system trafficking in cheap labor and dreams actually functions, and what its terrible costs and perils are.

Immediately following the screening join us for a panel discussion including North Carolina Rep. Paul Luebke (D), 2011 SAF Fellow Nandini Kumar, and SAF Advocacy and Organizing Director, Nadeen Bir.

The film is 92 minutes, in Spanish and English with English subtitles. This event is free and open to the public, with free drinks and popcorn and free parking.

Cosponsored by Student Action with Farmworkers.

About Rights! Camera! Action!:  Featuring award-winning documentaries about human rights themes from Durham’s annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the series explores issues ranging from the immigration and refugee rights to the justice system and the environment. All films featured in the series are archived at the Duke Library and are part of a rich and expanding collection of human rights materials. Co-sponsors include Duke Library’s Human Rights Archive, the Duke Human Rights Center, the Archive of Documentary Arts, the Franklin Humanities Institute and the Program in Arts of the Moving Image (AMI).