Hello, my name is Erika Aguilera and I am a Worker Rights Advocate for WJCNY in the Rochester area.
Back in November, Erin Lantzer, the Instructional Specialist for Webster Central Schools in Webster, NY, asked me to speak with their 5th graders about how WJCNY supports farmworkers in their fight for human rights. Erin mentioned that the 5th graders were learning about human rights and reading the book Esperanza Rising. When I met with the students, we discussed Esperanza and her family’s experience as a wealthy Mexican family who immigrated to California to perform agriculture work during the Great Depression. And we discussed why it is important for groups like WJCNY to fight for the rights of families like Esperanza's.
As someone who grew up in a family of farmworkers, I was very moved to hear these children discuss the rights of agricultural workers and the challenges they face in the workplace. I asked the students about their experiences picking apples in the fall and how they would feel to do that work every day without access to sanitary bathrooms, overtime pay, and in the cold. My heart filled with pride when the children responded, “Why don’t they have better bathrooms? Why does the boss underpay them? Why do they get discriminated against? It’s not right!”
We agree. It’s not right.
Hearing the children ask these questions made me realize how critical it is for children to learn about human rights at an early age. It allows them to start thinking about ways we can all contribute to our communities and lend a hand to our neighbors.
Because at the end of the day, we are all human beings.
A few days later, Erin stopped by our office with some gifts from the students - a handful of thank you letters and a heavy bag of coins that the students collected to donate to WJCNY. Counting up the loose change, the 5th graders donated almost $400 to WJCNY to help farmworkers fight for their rights.
As we come to the end of a tough year, this experience reminded me that you are never too young to make a difference in someone's life. And you’re never too young to be an activist!
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to the 5th graders and teachers at Webster Central Schools.
These children are our future leaders.
We hope everyone has a Happy New Year!
P.S. Thank you to the 5th graders for the Thank You Letters! They were beautifully written, and I am glad that you all learned something about the farmworkers and their experience. I teared up a little bit and I do plan on responding to all the questions that were asked! 😊
(All the letters I received from the class)