When Damian Trujillo was a boy, he would begrudgingly wake up at 5am, with his family, to work in the fields of Salinas Valley in California. Not knowing exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up, Trujillo knew for certain he didn’t want to end up producing crops. After much hard work, his dream came true. Today, he is a journalist for NBC in the Bay Area, producing news.
A long-time television producer, and now professor at American University, Carolyn Brown, thought Trujillo’s story was important to share because she says it explores the larger issues of immigration, Mexican labor, and the Latino experience in America. She made a half hour documentary called “From the Fields: An American Journey,” which includes a handful of Latino voices with similar success stories, and will be airing on NBC in the Bay Area on Oct. 7.
“This film goes beyond the hateful rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate and into a deeper exploration of what it means to work, to support family and contribute to our American society,” says Brown, who also includes stories of the current president of the United Farm Workers, Arturo Rodriguez, and reporter, Rigo Chacon, in her documentary.
Trujillo, now 42, still remembers his last year working in the fields. It was the summer after his first year of college in San Jose. He says he thought his dad would stop making him do this job he dreaded once he started college, but it wasn’t so.
“I hated it,” says Trujillo who had to be up at dawn during his summer vacation when it was 38 degrees and the pipes were still frozen. “I don’t think my older siblings liked it, but they didn’t complain. I complained and I cussed. I feel bad that I reacted that way, but it wasn’t easy.”
At first, the rebellious Trujillo thought he’d be a tractor driver in order to move up, because they had an air conditioner and a radio.
“I took all the trade classes – auto shop and wood shop in high school, because that would keep me out of the fields,” says Trujillo before he knew his true destiny. “My sophomore English teacher dropped a note on my desk saying, ‘Damian, let me know if you’re interested in journalism.’ I said, ‘Journalism?’ I threw the note away.”
The bilingual young man was clueless to the power his writing had, but the teacher he now lost contact with, knew.
“I think he saw my writing abilities,” says the still humble Trujillo who landed his first journalism job at Telemundo at age 24. “I think he saw something in me.”
He says although he still has to wake up at 5am in order to get his three children, all below age 10, ready for school and to read the news before he goes into work in the morning, he now feels satisfaction through the work he does everyday.
“I wake up in the morning not knowing where I’m going or doing that day, but I have the ability to make a big difference in people’s lives, and I want to do that,” says Trujillo.
Trujillo says he hopes that people watching his story will feel encouraged to get out of any situation they are not happy in. He says the most important thing his parents taught him is to work hard, and to be humble and respectful – traits which have helped him move forward in life.
“Survival isn’t easy, but you can’t give up, and you can’t give excuses,” he says about the work ethic he learned at a very young age. “Keep at it. Be resilient, challenge yourself, never forget your footsteps, and help those who might be following.”
He says one of the stories he’s most proud of producing in his career was one about Rosalinda Rivas, a custodian in San Jose’s City Hall.
“She is a worker who for many might be easy to overlook, but to me she wasn’t,” says Trujillo. “When I pitched the story, I said, ‘This lady was the ambassador to City Hall – she always welcomed you…I had to convince my editors to do a story on a custodian – that always sticks out in my mind.”
Trujillo, says like every parent, he dreams for his kids to live a better life than he did.
“I want them to be happy, successful and always give back, and work hard of course,” he says. “But I’m going to take them to the fields one day and have them learn what that’s like.”