The Power of Storytelling

Amid rows of spring mix, petite sprouts, and berry fields, farmworker communities in Watsonville continue to experience high uncertainty in accessing healthy food. Through their research with CAN, the Growing Justice Youth Team has shown that the high cost of housing and barriers to community safety exacerbate hunger and unhealthy diets. What is it like to experience hunger amidst plenty? How are communities building on their strengths to propose alternatives?

The Growing Justice Team with Manaiya Scott (see quote below) at the far right, in a white sweater.

The Growing Justice Youth Team (GJ Youth Team) members are raising their voices to answer these questions. They are documenting their stories about life in the Pajaro Valley through testimonios. Rina Benmayor, GJ Youth Team advisory committee member and professor emerita at California State University Monterey Bay, describes testimonio as “…an urgent call of resistance to social injustices, an urgency to speak out…” Testimonio is part of the change process based in culture and community: “understanding oneself and one’s experience in the context of one’s own and other cultural communities. [It] expresses not simply the truth of one individual, as compelling as it may be, but marks a collective experience.” Saulo (GJ youth, 17) believes “the more voices we have the more we will make an impact!”

Stay tuned for CAN’s Dialogos de Saberes this fall where the GJ Youth Team will share their testimonios, videos, interviews with youth and elders, and photographs to generate conversation about growing justice into our food system.

This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit

Dialogos de Saberes is a common format for convening people of various experiences and generations in Latin America to share knowledge through dialogue. More news and updates on the Dialogos de Saberes, testimonios, mobile exhibits, and the advisory committee coming this summer leading to our Dialogos de Saberes this fall 2018.

Growing Justice Advisory Committee

We are honored to introduce the Growing Justice Advisory Committee:

  • Pat Zavella (Professor Emeritus from the Latin American and Latino Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz & CAN board member)
  • Rina Benmayor (Professor Emerita of Oral History, Literature and Latina/o Studies at CSU Monterey Bay)
  • Silvia Austerlic (Intercultural Facilitator, Senti-pensante Connections)
  • Vicente Lara (Executive Director, Mesa Verde Gardens)
  • Gabriela Sanchez (Community Organizer, Jovenes Sanos)
  • Stacey Marie Garcia (Director of Community Engagement, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
  • Emily Cohen Ibañez (Anthropologist, filmmaker, and feminist)
  • Caitlin Brune (Executive Director, Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust).

As CAN and the GJ youth broaden conversations about food systems in the Pajaro Valley, the advisory committee will assist in workshops, curating a mobile exhibit in Mesa Verde community gardens and strengthening the collection of testimonios. Mario (GJ youth, 13) welcomes the collaboration; “they will get to see different types of foods, discussions on topics [at weekly GJ workshops]. It is a place with good vibes and fun.” He hopes the GJ Advisory Committee will bring “the skills and knowledge they have to share with us, mainly to help us learn how to help the community. They can show us how they do it and we can grow from that.”

The Power of Youth: UCSC Students Collaborate with Growing Justice

What began as a project for UC Santa Cruz students in the Everett Program  to teach new video production and video editing skills to the youth in CAN’s Growing Justice Program ended up as a powerful life lesson for one college student. Manaiya Scott shares her experience working on the “Cultivando Mesas Verdes” project that produced three promotional videos with the Growing Justice Youth Team.

Although the purpose of the “Cultivando Mesas Verdes” project was to push the youth to share their stories, I’m ready to tell my story.  The project became less about digital tools and more about the youth telling their stories. Over time, the directors and I became less concerned with high-quality videos and more about the youth building their confidence in front of the camera. Overall, the end result was changing because it  was no longer about entering a film contest. The youth are now able to record and interview other people in their communities. The highlight of the entire project was when we learned that the youth began to interview their parents.  The youth definitely took the interviews to the next level: beyond our initial goals. I forgot how powerful youth are and how important I am as a young adult. It feels great to give back because I remember college students did the same for me. 

Another UCSC student, Diana Morales, a community studies major and CAN intern, co-facilitated weekly workshops with the Growing Justice Youth Team this Spring. With a deep understanding about the vulnerabilities faced by low-income communities during a time of intensifying inequity and borders, Diana brought her perspective on justice in the food system to the Growing Justice Youth Team.  She says, “I want to have fun, I am inspired by Berta Caceres [the late Honduras human rights activist and Goldman Environmental Prize Honoree] ‘Pese a que es muy duro, muy doloroso, hemos aprendido también a luchar con alegría. Creo que eso es lo que nos alienta. Y saber que aquí no hay otro planeta de repuesto. Solo hay uno.’  (Although it is hard, very painful, we have also learned to resist with joy. I believe this is what gives us strength and to know that there is no other spare planet, only one.).”

Growing Justice Impactathon Videos

Visit CAN’s Youtube channel to view the three impactathon videos.