Vistas del Campo:
Perspectivas de los Niños Migratorios
[Views from the Field: Migrant Children’s Perspectives]
Letter from Project Director, Andrea Stupka
In July 2002, I taught an introduction to photography to 16 students ages 9-11 of Northwestern Michigan Migrant Education Program’s Leelanau County summer school. I have organized a visiting artist program for the students for the past three summers, with funds from the Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs and local support. The children have received lessons in watercolor and acrylic painting, weaving, book binding and other fiber arts, ceramics and sculpture from professional artists. Last year, we created the first-ever migrant students’ float in the National Cherry Festival. Several exhibits of this work, including the photography, have toured Michigan and other sites as a series called “Vistas del Campo.” These exhibits emphasize an increased awareness of Latino culture in rural Michigan, and broaden the participation of these students in the area’s cultural programs. Based on the students’ enthusiasm for the projects and the interest from the surrounding community of vacationers and year-round residents, Vistas has been a wonderful success. We are pleased to have this work reach wider audiences, as by all indications — including recent census surveys and other population studies — show how rural communities all over the country are becoming home to migrant families settling out, making new homes, and contributing to the strength of local economies and community life.
For migrant students who come to Northern Michigan in summer, a year in school very often involves at least three different schools as their families move between the Midwest and the Rio Grand Valley to follow different harvests. Summer school provides crucial reinforcement of language, math, and subject skills, and brings these children every weekday from camps around a 60-mile radius of farmland mixed with high-end vacation homes. Older students — of legal working age — can take evening courses to finish equivalency credits for high school credit. On an average year in this five-county area, roughly 300 students are enrolled over the course of the summer. I look forward to seeing kids the following year, hearing about their school year, where they lived; and I hope very much safe passage for the kids who might not return to Michigan, but move elsewhere with their families.
In our photography class, we discussed basic principles of composition, lighting, how the camera works, and choosing subjects. We used Vivitar 35mmEZ colors point and shoot cameras to take a “treasure hunt” list of subjects, beginning with someone taking a picture of you, things in a row, someone older than you. Students practiced with portraits of a friend, then took the cameras home to their camps — the temporary housing they share with their families on site at orchards where they work — and shot the rest of the film. We spent the last half of the class looking at two of each students’ pictures, talking about what was happening in their photos, and then writing about what they saw.
Andrea Stupka, Project Director