by Rocio Orantes Carey ’07

 

Farm workers in a scene from Ghertner’s film.
Farm workers in a scene from Ghertner’s film.

 

 

After I Pick the Fruit 
Nancy Gottlund Ghertner ’71
Documentary film (2013) 

 

Whether you have been following the immigration debate with bated breath or have no idea who Marco Rubio is, chances are your day-to-day life will be affected by whatever becomes America’s immigration policy.  

Most food produced in the United States is planted, weeded, picked, and packed by hand by the estimated 3 million immigrant farm workers, an estimated 50 percent of whom entered the country illegally. 

Immigrant farm workers are invisible to most Americans—but not to filmmaker Nancy Gottlund Ghertner ’71.

Ghertner met seasonal and migrant farm workers in her hometown of Sodus in New York and embarked on a project to try to understand their lives and the forces at work in them. The result is the feature-length documentary, After I Pick the Fruit, directed, produced, and edited by Ghertner, that tells the story of five female migrant workers over a 10-year period.

Ghertner frames her film with a question: “Will they [the women] find a place here in my town after they pick the fruit?” The town she refers to is both physical (Sodus) and metaphorical (the “town square” we call America). There are no easy answers.  

Maria and Vierge are immigrants who entered the country legally and travel to New York from Florida for the apple season. Vierge was born in Haiti and was admitted to this country as a political refugee. Maria’s husband came to the States from Mexico illegally, applied for papers during an amnesty in the 1980s, and sent for her shortly afterward. Despite poverty, homelessness, hard labor, child-care issues, and income insecurity, fortitude and pride emerge from Maria and Vierge’s stories. They were not born in the United States, but there is no doubt that they are now part of this country’s story: immigrant women pursuing their own version of the American dream.   

Three of the women—Soledad, Lorena, and Elisa— entered the country from Mexico without legal permission. At first we relate to them in the same way we relate to Maria and Vierge—they’re hard-working immigrants seeking a better life. And then Bush-era immigration crackdowns begin. Two of the women’s husbands are deported. Immigration vehicles patrol the local Catholic parish shattering the immigrant community that gathered there. Though they can still find work, the women and their families live in constant fear. One family packs up and returns to Mexico.

The women in the film don’t provide tidy answers to Ghertner’s question. The women with documents are creating a place for themselves in welcoming communities in Florida. The women without documents are staying in New York, supported by some but in a country that disapproves of them.

Politicians in Washington may be talking about immigration as matters of policy, but, in the end, the power in After I Pick the Fruit comes from these personal stories, the questions they raise, and the assumptions they challenge.

Rocio Carey ’07 works for the Maine Migrant Health Program.