Filmmaker Hernandez ’11: Migrant Workers are ‘Canaries in the Field’

Ruby Hernandez ’11

Ruby Blackerby Hernandez ’11 has produced a 40-minute documentary film, Canaries in the Field, to explore the struggles of migrant workers and their families, as well as reporting on current abuses in the U.S. agricultural system. She wants the American public to be aware of what she calls the “corruptions in the agricultural industry.” Hernandez says that most in the U.S. believe that human rights abuses of farm workers ended decades ago. This is simply not true, she wants us to know.

“It’s not just an immigration issue anymore,” Hernandez told About.com reporter Dan Moffet. “Human rights abuses, wage garnishing, and health issues affect everyone living in the U.S., and also those eating U.S.-grown food, not just the field workers.”

Her documentary focuses on individual stories of migrant workers, including that of Carlitos Candelario, now 6, who was born without limbs. His parents picked tomatoes in fields sprayed with pesticides.

Also collaborating with her was director of photography Jesse Walker, a childhood friend from their Florida hometown, West Palm Beach, where Hernandez first became interested in farmworker advocacy. Her father and brother, musicians both, provided original compositions for the soundtrack.

Hernandez, who majored in history and film studies at Wesleyan, explains that the workers are the “canaries” of the agricultural system: the illnesses they suffer are a warning to all of us about the safety of our food production system. Additionally, she says, the current immigration system is dysfunctional and encourages abuses of agricultural laborers.

“People hear the phrase ‘migrant worker’ and think ‘illegal’ or ‘undocumented’ but immigration, especially in an agricultural context, often concerns legal workers who come to the U.S. on legitimate visas,” she told About.com. “We need to recognize that the plight of the migrant worker is not a partisan issue.”