UMass alumna to film migrant workers’ stories

By Jaclyn Bryson

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By the time you read this, one University of Massachusetts alumna will have already left the country, embarking on a nine-month excursion to Mexico City to film the stories of migrant workers no one has heard from before.

But despite this being the longest Lindsay Van Dyke will have ever lived abroad, she said she has no fear.

“I’m not really afraid. It’s just there are a lot of unknowns,” she said. “I’m excited to just grow as a person and a filmmaker and to understand things outside the U.S. and how it connects to the U.S.”

Van Dyke graduated cum laude from UMass in 2011 with a major in sociology and a concentration in film studies. With the skills she has learned in part at UMass and with a grant earned through the Fulbright Program, she will create two short films documenting the experiences of migrant workers and the challenges they face in their lifetimes.

The specific challenges that Van Dyke will focus on relate to legal migrant workers. One of the biggest challenges they are dealt, she said, is that after receiving all visas and legal paperwork needed to work in the U.S., they often find themselves subjected to large fees as they go through the hiring process.

“It’s a tricky situation, particularly when you are legal to work here, but then because of the way the hiring process is, it adds these other dimensions of difficulties to work, when (migrants) thought they were doing everything they were supposed to,” she said.

Van Dyke has also taken a particular interest in female migrant workers since, she said, there are additional hardships that accompany these women. Historically, Van Dyke said, women usually stayed behind while others migrated to find work, or women would typically travel alongside their families in large groups. Now, it’s more common for women to travel alone.

“It’s a tricky situation for women. They have this other added challenge of sexual abuse ­– a huge issue for them ­– and just other discriminations based on being a woman in job placement,” she added.

To expose these conditions, Van Dyke relies on the power of film, which she has had experience with before, seeing firsthand how it can make a difference. She recently created a short film for the M.N. Spear library in Shutesbury, titled, “Where would you be without your library?” It was a short and simple film, she said, but it quickly gained popularity and grabbed the attention of many media outlets, including Oprah and the Huffington Post, and raised over $80,000 in donations for the local library.

“I don’t think that there’s a better way to tell a story than through video,” she said. “I think that people can get inspired (by film) and it can travel well and be able to tell stories really quickly.”

According to a press release, Van Dyke is one of 1,800 Americans to travel abroad with the aid of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program this year. Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright Program has awarded over 360,000 recipients the funds necessary to conduct research, and, according to the release, “is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”

Aside from her efforts to reveal the stories of migrant workers, Van Dyke also hopes her ambitions inspire others.

“If people see the films, I think that people should see that if you can have an idea for something that you feel strongly about pursuing, then that’s a sign to you that you should pursue it and see it through,” she said. “I do believe that if you do work hard in that sense you will benefit from it, and it if it’s an issue that you care about, others will, too.”

Jaclyn Bryson can be reached at [email protected]