Echoing Stories During Farmworker Awareness Week, March 24-31

Sí, se puede. Three words, in a language that I don’t speak, have the power to move me. Yes, we can.

These words were the rallying cry of the farmworker movement in the ’70s, but for me, they invoke a story I heard from a young farmworker advocate about the time he met Dolores Huerta, a leader in that civil rights movement and cofounder of the United Farm Workers. Dolores told him about a time when she and others were marching for farmworker rights. The crowd was discouraged, losing energy, and about to give up. Caesar Chavez slowly walked over to her, leaned over, and very quietly whispered into her ear, “Sí, se puede.” And with those sincere and softly stated words, she found herself renewed. Decades later, she whispered those same words to this young advocate: Sí, se puede. Yes, we can.

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A Farmworker Awareness Week display at one of Bon Appétit’s corporate cafés

At Bon Appétit, we talk a lot about the importance storytelling plays in social change. When it comes to social justice and the food system, there are few issues that need more publicizing than farmworkers’ rights. Over the past six years, we’ve shared stories by walking the talk and sharing insights from visits to Immokalee, FL, organizing a TEDx event to bring together experts focused on finding new solutions, and being an annual sponsor of National Farmworker Awareness Week, since 2011.

This year, Bon Appétit expanded our longtime partnership with Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) by having our Fellows work with SAF fellowship alumni to raise awareness on college campuses about conditions that farmworkers face in the United States, and provide a platform for them to share their powerful stories. SAF’s Sowing Seeds for Change Fellows are college students or recent college graduates who spend six months working to improve farmworkers’ access to healthcare and advocate for improved living and working conditions.  Most have a personal connection to the issues before the fellowship, but all certainly have one by the time they’re finished.

One of four farmworker portraits included in this year's Farmworker Awareness Week campaign

One of four farmworker portraits included in this year’s Farmworker Awareness Week campaign

For this year’s National Farmworker Awareness Week, March 24-31, Bon Appétit will be featuring “Faces of Farmworkers” displays in hundreds of our cafés across the country and via social media, highlighting portraits and actual quotations gathered by SAF students who spent time in the fields interviewing U.S. farmworkers, alongside statistics that add context to the quotes.

For many of us, the issues that farmworkers face on a daily basis, like enduring sexual abuse in order to hold on to a job, being exposed regularly to toxic chemicals, and despite working long hours, not having enough money to pay their bills or feed their families, may feel very far away and difficult to identify with. We hope that by putting faces to these facts, we can spread awareness to tens of thousands of our guests.

As I reflect on the last year, I am flooded by powerful stories that were brought to new audiences. For example, the farmworker documentary Foods Chains won the prestigious DOC Impact Award, and political ads in Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign featured the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. (Mr. Sanders is a longtime CIW advocate and makes an appearance in Food Chains.) The documentary East of Salinas premiered on PBS and gave the nation a glimpse into the life of third-grader Jose Ansaldo, the son of migrant farmworkers in Salinas Valley, CA.

We hope you’ll be inspired by all these stories of farmworkers’ struggles and dreams, just as we have. To create change, we need stories, and when we hear them, we need to echo and share them as best we can. Sí, se puede.