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Story Publication logo June 14, 2019

A Father's Day of Sacrifices

Screenshot from "Guanajuato Norte," a film produced by Ingrid Holmquist and Sana Malik. United States, 2018.

Every year, men from Mexico travel to work on farms in Connecticut, leaving behind families and...

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Winny Contreras drives to the farm he lives and works on while reminiscing about his son's message on Father's day. Image by Sana Malik. United States, 2019.
Winny Contreras drives to the farm he lives and works on while reminiscing about his son's message on Father's day. Image by Sana Malik. United States, 2019.

In June 2017, as the strawberries ripened in central Connecticut, and Mexico advanced to the second stage of the FIFA Soccer World Cup, we made one of our last trips to film at Rose's Berry Farm. That Sunday, families from around Connecticut gathered at Rose's for the annual Father's Day Brunch. Early in the morning, as the line outside grew, a few of the migrant farm workers we'd been following through the course of our production watched the Mexico vs Germany game on their cellphones as they flipped waffles in the kitchen. Families outside were bustling as they waited for a table. Inside, there was an awareness of who wasn't there.
For the past few months, we have been following a group of farm laborers from Mexico, whose soft eyes, jokes, and warmth would have you forget that most haven't seen their families in years. Most holidays like "el Día del padre" are shrugged off as any other day. Work is what moves forward these long summer days that meld into each other.
The men who work at the farm are all from the same area of Guanajuato, Mexico. Their trailer on the farm is named Guanajuato Norte, which is also the title of our film. During the height of the season, from May to October, there are about a dozen men who share the trailer. Those who can leave to go back to Mexico for the winter do. Others haven't seen their families in six or seven years.
We knew Father's day would be an important shoot day for us. Winny, our central character, shared the messages his children sent him from Mexico: "Papa, feliz dia del padre." His son Richie asked in Spanish, "Did you know I have the best father in the world?"
Winny with his big laugh responded, "I didn't know that. But now I do." These were also the days we heard of families being separated at the border—young children taken from their parents and kept at detention facilities. In those days, the worst parts of America's immigration system were on full display.
A few hours after the breakfast, as Mexico defeated the reigning World Cup Champions, Germany, we returned to the Guanajuato Norte trailer for a barbecue.  Even as we sat and talked about the day's victory over the sweetness of the freshly picked strawberries and delicious carne con salsa verde, there was a tristeza, a silent acknowledgement of the continuity of seasons for these men. Fruits ripen, rot, and need planting again. The cycle continues, and so does the void.
A few weeks later, we had the privilege of meeting the families that were left behind, who have materially better lives, but deep absences they can't fill. In Guanajuato Norte, we tell the story of one family living a life in two places—making do with an indefinite separation. This story is universal beyond what we see.
What Americans consume is greatly dependent on the work of migrant laborers like Winny, yet the sacrifices that he and his peers make are often not visible.



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