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'Ambassador' for migrant workers

HB Reads author tells high school students what life was like as a migrant worker daughter and how invisible she felt.

March 30, 2011|By Michael Miller, michael.miller@latimes.com
  • Elva Trevino Hart signs an autograph for Keanu Trujillo, 16, at Huntington Beach High School on Thursday.
Elva Trevino Hart signs an autograph for Keanu Trujillo,… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Wearing bright colors, Elva Treviño Hart stood before hundreds of students in the Huntington Beach High School gym and described what it was like to feel invisible.

Hart, the author of the memoir "Barefoot Heart," said an interviewer asked her about that feeling the first time she appeared on the radio to promote her book. The invisibility in question was that of migrant farm workers, and to illustrate her point for the students, Hart laid out a table with ketchup, pickles, berries and other supermarket produce.

Each piece of fruit, she noted, probably came from the hand of a worker who had a temporary home and a family to feed. Hart, the daughter of a migrant family, said she often observed pickers in the fields near her home in Virginia, and she found the situation hadn't changed.

"Each orange requires a hand, a human hand, to get it off a tree," she said during her recent visit to the school. "They're experimenting with electronic pickers, but it really requires a hand."

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HB Reads, a program in which people across Huntington Beach read a book about diversity and human rights, chose "Barefoot Heart" as its selection for this year. Traditionally, the book's author visits Huntington Beach High on the last day of the program to speak to students and community members, and Hart addressed a large crowd from all the district's schools March 24.

Surrounded by student artwork and a TV showing a mock trailer for a "Barefoot Heart" movie, the author described her experiences as an "ambassador" between migrant workers and the society she believes often takes them for granted.

"Barefoot Heart" tells the story of Hart's upbringing and eventual lucrative career as an IBM executive, and she admitted that as a young adult, she looked for sales jobs in which her heritage wouldn't matter. Later in life, though, she embraced her past and became an activist for the kind of people she knew growing up.

At one point, she told the story of a girl she met at a migrant workers conference who left school in May every year and came back in October so she could pick crops with her family in between.

"She told me blueberries were her favorite crop, because you didn't have to stoop down," Hart said. "You could pick them at eye level."

Samantha Garcia, a junior at Marina High School, said Hart's story had particular resonance for her — she had shared the book with her father, who grew up in a migrant family and recognized some of the Mexican proverbs that punctuate the chapters.

Samantha said Hart's book, and her own family history, reminded her of the true value of education. One of the dominant themes of "Barefoot Heart" is how the author's parents urged her to finish school so she would have opportunities they had lacked.

"I think some people take it for granted sometimes and don't realize what they have," Samantha said.

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