Youths tune in to immigrant issues

Last August the Youth Group at Santa Teresa Church in south San Jose began a journey to reach out in meaningful ways to effect the lives of migrant farmworkers in Watsonville.

Jun 05, 2014

Last August the Youth Group at Santa Teresa Church in south San Jose began a journey to reach out in meaningful ways to effect the lives of migrant farmworkers in Watsonville.

During a one-day retreat in San Juan Bautista where our theme was One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, about 40 of our high school and junior high youth heard a short presentation about the plight of a group of hardworking adults and kids working in the fields less than an hour from where we live.

They then watched a short video and were asked: as One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church, how are we called to respond? The presentation so moved our kids that they were called to action, a committee was formed and discussions ensued about how to help.

In October, Dr Ann Lopez was invited to come and speak during a youth group gathering. She is a well-known activist who authored a book, The Farmworkers’ Journey, and formed a non-profit organization for charity and justice for farmworkers. After hearing some of the following facts, our teens were motivated:

-- There are 40,000 children working in fields in the US. Many are as young as 10 years old.
--These children work up to 30 hours per week for very little pay.
-- Under the Fair Labour Standards Act (FLSA), the legal age to perform most farm work is only 12 if a parent accompanies the working child. Children who are 14 or older can work unlimited hours before or after school hours. The same law requires a minimum age of 14 years for non-agricultural work and limits such work to 3 hours per day while school is in session.
--Children of farmworkers move into areas like Watsonville in May every year and are forced to leave Nov. 1. This is disruptive to their education and fewer than 50 percent graduate from high school.

The youth of Santa Teresa decided to:
-- “Adopt” a single mom raising her three young daughters on a farmworker’s wages. After 2.5 years of effort, she received a work visa and a government subsidized apartment. Santa Teresa provided her with furniture, bedding, and other household necessities, books for the children, prayers and love. We remain in contact with her.
--We have started a household goods, clothing and shoe drive for farmworkers returning to the migrant camp in Watsonville. Because many of them return from Mexico they cannot carry much and are in great need of these items. After making announcements at Masses, the outpouring of support from our parish community has been overwhelmingly positive.

On May 4, some youth along with their parents drove trailers to the farm camp and held a “Free Flea Market” where families could find long sleeve shirts and hats to protect them from the sun as well as household items.

-- The youth made “no sew” blankets and collected new pillows to provide at least one pillow and one new blanket to each of the 104 families in the camp.

During summer we plan to bring teens to the camp on a regular basis to help tutor children who are struggling in school. Dr. Lopez said many of the teens there have aspirations to break the tradition in their families of generations of farmworkers. They dream of finishing high school and going to college. We want to help them do that!

-- This month we went to the fields for a “reality tour” to learn more about life as a migrant farmworker, picking fruit as well as hearing testimonies from farmworkers.

All this charity and education is a wonderful thing, but our project will not be complete until we begin to understand how we can help affect change in some of our country’s laws which neglect to protect this population of people… so that’s next!

Source: The Valley Catholic

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