Radio — Migrant agricultural workers dreaming a better future

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Evelyn Encalada of Justice for Migrant Workers and multiple award-winning filmmaker Min Sook Lee. They talk about the experiences and struggles of migrant agricultural workers in Canada, and about the new feature-length documentary Migrant Dreams.

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Every year, hundreds of thousands of people — mostly working-class people of colour from the Global South — come to Canada as “migrant workers” to do various sorts of hard, low paying, low-status work. There are a number of different programs through which this is organized, from the 50 year-old Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which has mushroomed in the last 15 years. Across the board, however, migrant workers face intense restrictions on basic rights that would be unimagineable for workers with Canadian citizenship, and this restriction of their rights by the Canadian state makes them highly vulnerable to and exploitable by employers.

Evelyn Encalada is a co-founder of and organizer with Justice for Migrant Workers, a group that has organized with migrant workers in the agricultural sector for more than a decade and a half. Their work runs the gamut from provinding acute support to individual workers in moments of crisis; to the long, quiet process of building the relationships that are the basis for exerting collective power; to mobilizing migrant workers and the broader public in visible efforts to push for change.

Min Sook Lee is a long-time activist and filmmaker. Her past films include My Toxic Baby; Tiger Spirit; Hogtown: The Politics of Policing; The Real Inglorious Bastards; and many more, and the awards at the Mayworks Festival — Canada’s oldest labour arts festival — are named in her honour.

Lee’s first documentary about the struggles of migrant workers, the Gemini-nominated El Contrato, was made in collaboration with Justice for Migrant Workers and was released in 2003. In 2013, she approached Encalada again, this time with an interest in making a feature-length documentary about the lives of women working in Canada as migrant agricultural workers — the film soon to be released as Migrant Dreams. It follows the struggles of a group of Indonesian migrant workers living in southern Ontario and fighting back against the lies, coercion, and exploitation they face at the hands of recruiters and employers. It shows the deplorable conditions faced by migrant workers, and it shows both the determination and the complexity of these workers as they take a range of actions to survive and to resist. The world premiere of Migrant Dreams is on May 1, 2016 at the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto. Encalada and Lee speak with me about organizing with migrant workers, filmmaking, and the relationship between the two; and about Migrant Dreams.

To learn more about Justice for Migrant Workers’ latest campaign, called Harvesting Freedom, click here. To learn more about Migrant Dreams, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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