In the seventh grade, Damian Trujillo and his family worked in the fields of Salinas Valley in California, coined the “salad bowl of the world.” But he yearned for more.
Witnessing his mother and father struggling to support a family of 10, Trujillo dreamed of a life beyond producing crops. Today, Trujillo, an NBC Bay Area reporter, chronicles his life from a child farmworker to television reporter in the documentary, “From the Fields: An American Journey.”
“I think there are far too many negative representations about Latinos in the media,” says producer/director Carolyn Brown. “By telling stories, like Damian’s, we can change that. The Latino narrative is all too often associated with negativity, like gangs and teen pregnancies. These aren’t fair representations. I hope this film can help change that so that the Latino narrative can become part of the American success story. Damian’s story, if anything, is an American success story.”
Trujillo’s family, who came to the United States from Chupicuaro, Guanajuanto in 1953, joined the Bracero Program, which provided thousands of impoverished Mexicans the opportunity to work as farmers in the United States. Trujillo believes this program represented a chance for his parents to pursue the American dream.
“It meant that they would be able to immigrate to this country legally, which gave my parents a little hope,” says Trujillo. “There’s an extreme level of poverty for farm workers. But when you come from the central part of Mexico, believe it or not, they're even poorer down there. The Bracero program meant a way out of poverty for them.”
In “From the Fields,” which recently completed filming two weeks ago, Trujillo recalls not seeing his father, who would wake up at 2 a.m. to turn on the sprinklers in Salinas Valley. Brown, who initially met Trujillo 15 years ago, was inspired by his family’s roots in American agriculture, a trait many Mexicans share. The filmmaker interviewed Trujillo and his family for the documentary, which began filming in the beginning of the summer.
“I think it will be surprising to other people how resilient Latinos are,” says Brown. “Like Damian, there are a lot of stories out there of Latinos who work in agriculture and support their families. These people are really hard working and it’s one of those things you don’t often hear about in the media because it’s not sexy,” she chuckles.
Trujillo, who initially discovered journalism during his freshman year at San Jose State University, received the chance to work for his college radio because he was bilingual–a move that would eventually lead to a successful career in television reporting. While his mother was initially hesitant in seeing her son pursue an unknown, potentially dangerous career, she’s since learn to accept her son’s bold move and is now “filled with joy and pride.”
Looking back, Trujillo discovered how the sacrifices of his family shaped his future.
“My sister (Lidia) said some things I never knew, until I watched the documentary,” says Trujillo. “My sister is the oldest and apparently, she was told at a very young age by my dad that since she was a girl, she would not be going to school. It tears my heart because my sister and my brothers all dropped out of school. And the way I see it, they sacrificed their education and careers for mine."
He said that because his sister never attended college, she felt his college graduation was almost like hers.
"...She said it was like her graduation and that I fulfilled her dream," he said. "I’m getting choked up just talking about it. I never knew that.”
Each year, Trujillo and his wife award a college scholarship to a son or daughter of a farm worker in Greenfield, Calif. in hopes of encouraging other students to pursue their passions beyond the fields.
“I think there’s so much untapped talent there and there’s a lot of humility,” he says. “If you combined both those things, talent and humility, you can come up with a leader in this country and that’s what we’re hoping to find.”
For Brown, she believes “From the Fields” is an attempt to show viewers how Latinos are contributing to this country.
“This documentary is not just an immigration story,” explains Brown. “It’s a success story. I hope people can see this film and say Latinos are successful in this country and that they’re doing really positive things. And that’s the reality.”
You can reach Stephanie Nolasco via Twitter: @SNolasco