On Feb. 1, the Washington State Historical Society brought a new exhibit to the Washington State History Museum. “In Washington’s Fields: Photographs by David Bacon” is a selection of images — from photojournalist, author and activist David Bacon — that document the lives and experiences of farmworkers throughout Washington, primarily throughout the central and western parts of the state.
On Feb. 11, the Ledger attended a panel discussion, arranged by UWT professor Dr. Michael Honey, regarding Latinx labor and immigrant’s rights — the topic the photo exhibition is addressing, as well as a gallery tour of the new installation. Longtime union worker, organizer and director of Community2Community Rosalinda Guillen, president of the Familias Unidas por la Justicia union Ramon Torres, as well as UW Tacoma’s own professor Vanessa deVeritch Woodside accompanied Bacon.
Located in the auditorium of the Washington State History Museum, seats were filled and the discussion went on for roughly an hour. Bacon, Guillen and Torres talked about their pasts working on farms and in unions and chronicled issues surrounding the topics of both immigrant and labor rights.
Rosalinda Guillen, the longtime union worker, organizer and director of Community2Community has been working with immigrants and unions off an on for many years. She began her journey working with the United Farm Workers of America in ’93 in California and three years later she was officially hired. Guillen realized the importance of advocating for the rights of these workers from a very early point in her career when individuals would come to her seeking help because they were so exhausted from immense hours of work but barely earning a living wage.
Ramon Torres, president of the Familias Unidas por la Justicia union, discussed his past — and present — as an immigrant farmworker. Following the passing of his father, Torres migrated to the US at the age of 17 in order to provide for himself and seek better opportunities. Yet, upon working various farms, Torres recognized the chain of exploitation present within the agricultural industry. He experienced wage theft as well as unfair and dangerous working conditions. When confronting these issues, the workers themselves were deemed at fault. This blame is what led Ramon to reach out to Guillen in order to organize and strive to establish a union at Sakuma Farms in order to help workers obtain rights and get what they deserve.
Longtime friends Guillen and Bacon thus collaborated on this project. Bacon — farm and union worker turned photojournalist and activist — documented this process over the course of the years. This project began with the idea to highlight issues happening in our hometown and areas all around us that are often unseen and hidden. The goal of this exhibit is to humanize the workers and to address recognition and the understanding that farmworkers are just as much a part of the community as anyone else.
As Guillen stated, “It’s all linked, without us, there’d be no food. These photographs, in pieces, are showing this exploitative system.”
The installation is comprised of 40 images in total. Each image is in black and white, and presents a different aspect of either the process of organizing and unionizing or a piece depicting the worker’s everyday lifestyle. Accompanied by the images are small excerpts that delineate what the photos represent while also specifying the date and place they occurred.
At the end of the panel discussion, Dr. deVeritch Woodside posed the question, “How can the broader community get engaged?” to which Torres responded, “Education of the community is key. We want people to know we’re here. We’re not invisible, we’re present but we don’t have the opportunity to be listened to.”
If you want to educate yourself and learn more about the facets of your local agricultural industry, all students with proof of their Husky ID get in for free and have until May 10, 2020 to view the exhibit.