The Lives of Migrant Farmerworkers’ Children Focus of ‘East of Salinas’

When we think about where our food comes from, we don’t often think about what our farm workers go through on a daily basis, let alone their children.

Award-winning filmmaker Laura Pacheco thought about it for the first time after reading a New York Times article in 2011. The story was about Oscar Ramos, a third grade teacher in Salinas, California, who came from a migrant family. Ramos teaches in Sherwood Elementary School, where half of his class is made up of children of migrant farmworker families. Often these children have to move several times a year to follow the harvest and have to wake up at 3am to go to a babysitter, before school, so their parents can go work in the fields.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” said Pacheco. “He knows what’s missing in these kids’ lives,” said Pacheco about Ramos.

There are more than 2 million farmworkers in the U.S., and their median wage is a little over $9 an hour. Immigrant farmworkers (approximately 75 percent are coming from Mexico) often leave their home countries to seek a better life for their families. However, the average migrant child may attend as many as three different schools in one year, often making it difficult for a child to advance to the next grade level.

'East of Salinas' producer/director Laura Pacheco  (Courtesy ITVS)

‘East of Salinas’ producer/director Laura Pacheco (Courtesy ITVS)

Pacheco was so intrigued by these figures that she wrote Mr. Ramos and told him she’d like to meet and talk to him about making a film. Together with co-director Jackie Mow, they decided to focus on one family, and one boy in particular, José Anzaldo.

“We decided to follow one to get an intimate look of what a migrant family is like in America,” says Pacheco.

After three years of filming, their film, “East of Salinas” will be premiering on PBS’ Independent Lens on Monday, December 28th. (10pET, see PBS for local listings).

Jose’s mother, Maria, is from Mexicali. She used to work in a clothing factory, but she couldn’t support herself and her children. Jose’s stepfather is from El Salvador, where he also did agricultural work, but he says, “You can live there, but you were always hungry.”

Coming to the U.S., the family still often goes to bed hungry, but not as much. José loves school, especially math, but he is one of two million undocumented children living in the U.S. today. He is María’s only son who was not born in the U.S. – so she worries about his undocumented status and what that portends for his future.

Pacheco and Mow were able to follow José around since the 3rd grade. He’s already attended more than five schools and is now in 7th grade. He’s continuing to do really well in school, said Pacheco.

“In the beginning, he’s a little naive about his situation, and at the end he becomes more aware,” said Pacheco. “It’s really hard to see someone’s potential, and then leave and not know if he’s going to have food the next day – Oscar (his teacher) still goes to see them and takes the boys to the movies.”

Teacher Oscar Ramos takes 5th and 6th graders, including José Anzaldo, to visit UC Berkeley, part of the 'East of Salinas' documentary.  (Courtesy ITVS)

Teacher Oscar Ramos takes 5th and 6th graders, including José Anzaldo, to visit UC Berkeley, part of the ‘East of Salinas’ documentary. (Courtesy ITVS)

His teacher Oscar Ramos sees the little boy’s promise and wants to help him get ahead. The question is, what opportunities will be available for children like José, a bright student who is undocumented?

Pacheco hopes viewers take away certain things from watching the film such as what education is like for farmworker children and where our food is coming from.

“But if I had to say one thing, I hope José lives in people’s hearts,” says Pacheco. “Immigration is a hot topic right now. It gets so polarized. People feel so righteous on both sides of the debate, but you can see who the kids are that are going to make America great and should be given an opportunity.”

“These are the families who are picking food for America,” says Pacheco. “We should know what their lives are like.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

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This Latino Music Exec Works with Pitbull But Composes Classical Piano

(Photo: Laura Coppelman)

(Photo: Laura Coppelman)

Wherever Jorge Mejía goes, he says he makes sure that a piano is never too far away; his life revolves around music. As the executive vice president of Latin America and U.S. Latin for Sony/ATV, he oversees the world’s largest Latin music publishing house – home to artists like Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias. But he is also an accomplished classical music composer. His debut album, “Preludes,” was released earlier this year with rave reviews.

It took Mejía at least 10 years to finish “Preludes,” which he describes as “biographical tidbits of his life.” As someone might turn to their best friend, he often turned to the piano as if to document each of his life’s moments, one note at a time.

“I have a piano inside my office…I play it every morning when I come in,” says Mejia, 43, who wakes up every morning at 4:30am to walk his dogs with his wife and write music before he starts his full-time job at Sony.

He still occasionally sings and plays guitar in the indie rock band The Green Room, which he started after attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and the University of Miami, where he graduated cum laude in piano performance. But Mejía says classical music has been the most constant beat in his heart.

“My first love with music has always been classical music,” Mejía says. “I think music is the closest thing to magic there is. It’s the closest we come to being connected to whatever it is that is beyond us that we cannot see. Classical music, for me, is one of the best expressions of our spirituality and our connection to the world. No language can affect us the way music does.”

Mejía was born in Bogotá, Colombia, where he lived until he was 12, and then his family moved to Spain for a year. However, for the last three decades, he’s called Miami home.

“I like to say that I got my creative side from my mom and my business sense from my dad,” says Mejia.

His mother was a singer-songwriter as well as a TV presenter, and was also the Colombian consul general in Chicago until 2010. His late father was a banker who served as Finance Minister for Colombia, and later at the World Bank.

Mejía says he knew he wanted to be a musician as a young boy.

“I remember sitting with my dad…The Rolling Stones was on TV, and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ and he said, ‘You better be the best one then,'” remembers Mejia vividly. “The movie, ‘Amadeus’ also made me think ‘I have to do music.’ I consider those moments turning points.”

After getting his degree in piano performance, he taught piano for a while, but found out that wasn’t the vocation for him. Instead, he sought out an internship at Sony music; 18 years later that landed him where he is today – overseeing Latin American and U.S. Latin music.

“Whether it’s dealing with opportunities in Brazil or Mexico, or meeting with songwriters and managers, it’s a very varied day – and that’s not when I’m not in a plane, which happens quite often,” says Mejia. “My favorite part of my job is building relationships with people who are as equally passionate about music and living a creative life. I also love the business aspect of it.”

He adds that the music industry is currently adapting itself to a new world.

“Within the Latin industry in the U.S., we’re adapting to changing demographics,” says Mejia. “We have assimilation happening. Finding the true voice of the Latin generation is more of a hybrid thing these days. It’s a great opportunity, and a great challenge.”

Right now, he says the U.S. Latin sound is regional Mexican or Latin urban, like reggaeton. The Latin American sound is more locally driven.

“Brazil [for example] is its own island, planet…Argentina, too,” says Mejia. “There’s a lot of music coming out of Colombia and Mexico, which is breaking out into the other territories. There is definitely crossover success, but a lot of the territories stick to their own local music and identity.”

He does predict that the Latin music sound will become more homogenized – maybe sounding more electronic. However, he says he also sees a possible resurgence to more traditional songs.

“As people become more and more Americanized, they’ll have more nostalgia for the traditional.” Mejia, himself, is all about celebrating nostalgia.

He’s now working on an orchestral version of “Preludes,” as well as an interactive book set to hit shelves in 2016, which is meant to accompany his album.

“The book tells of the biographical tidbits of my life,” explains Mejia. “You read each chapter, and then you play the music – that’s what I do when I do my shows.”

Mejía loves when people gather together to enjoy classical music, an activity he sees growing in Miami.

“I’ve always said that if Latin America came together, what a powerful force we would be,” says Mejia. “However, it is very ironic, because we also pride ourselves in our differences. I wonder if we’ll ever be able to do that?”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.