Advocacy & Activism, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Education, Farmworker Children, Health & Safety, Legal Assistance

Seeking Justice for Farmworkers

From, University of Idaho, Martin School of International Studies, Donna Emert, Apr 2011.

Maria Mandujano Fashions Her Education to Make An International Impact

Maria Mandujano

Maria Mandujano

As a child, Maria Mandujano worked as a field laborer alongside her sister. This summer, she will be among an elite body of students selected to attend the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute at Princeton University.

Her education has been a remarkable journey leading to her empowerment as a voice for farmworkers, fueled by her steadfast commitment to empower laborers, particularly child laborers, in the U.S. and around the globe.

Mandujano and her family are from the small town of Weiser, Idaho. She came to the University through the College Assistance Migrant Program, a University program that supports qualifying migrant/seasonal farmworkers, or their children, during their first year of enrollment.

Mandujano’s transition to studying international affairs, and her commitment to pursuing justice for farmworkers, began when she served as an intern for North Carolina Justice Center under the guidance of Student Action with Farmworkers organization, based in Durham, N.C.

“Through that organization I had the chance to interact with farmworkers and to learn about the injustices that happen there and throughout the U.S.,” says Mandujano. “I wanted to know how it was different working the fields in Idaho as opposed to the fields in North Carolina.”

While in Raleigh, she also connected with the Human Rights Watch organization and learned more about the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment, the CARE bill, introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and others. The CARE Act attempts to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, to increase penalties for employers’ violations of child labor laws and to close legal loopholes that can leave child laborers unprotected.

Meanwhile, she has retained a spot on the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor roll since 2008.

In addition to her studies at Princeton this summer, Mandujano also will serve as keynote speaker for the Farmworkers Institute Summit and Networking Event to be held at Chapel Hill, N.C., this spring.

Each new experience adds to her knowledge and motivation. But one particularly, stays with her.

“I met a 7-year-old girl at a daily housing site outreach in the area surrounding Raleigh,” Mandujano recalls. “She was there with her mother. I asked her what she did when her mom was working. She was helping her mom. They were working in blueberries. She worked along with her mother, with her own bucket, getting her own paycheck. It was then I started looking at child labor.”

During her tenure as a student in the University’s Martin Institute, she has met many leaders and policy makers. Her educational experience also has included an internship under Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas), who has since retired, and meeting with members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who have adopted a fresh, top-down approach to addressing low wages for farmworkers, taking on the major corporations who purchase produce and agricultural products.

Mandujano has taken advantage of many opportunities, and does so with the support of University of Idaho faculty.

“The faculty at the Martin Institute are always so eager to help their students succeed, and it is their enthusiasm and commitment to a quality education that has helped me along the way throughout my undergraduate career,” says Mandujano.

“In addition, the College Assistance Migrant Program has had a major impact on my experiences as a freshman,” she notes. “The amount of work and efforts that the CAMP staff manages on a yearly basis is incredible, yet they still continue to encourage and motivate students to shine as undergraduates. I will always be grateful for their tremendous support.”

Mandujano is on track to graduate from the University in May 2012 with degrees in international studies,political science and Spanish. She then hopes to pursue a joint-degree program though graduate school and then law school. Her “dream job” is to work in international law, addressing human rights issues anywhere in the world.

“I want to be able to help anyone in need who would not be able to have that help without the extra push of international law,” says Mandujano. “As long as I’m helping people, I’m happy.”

Mandujano in Motion

Three years into her university education, Mandujano’s vitae is long on academic accomplishments. She has amassed human rights advocacy experiences that range from direct outreach to laborers in the fields to testifying before Congress in Washington, D.C. Mandujano has:

  • Served as a speaker at the U.S. Congressional Hearing for the ARE bill in Washington, D.C., and lobbied for it alongside Human Rights Watch representatives
  • Co-produced and presented a documentary on behalf of the life of a farmworker’s journey from Mexico to the U.S. at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
  • Served as a delegate to the National Model U.N. Conference in New York City
  • Helped organize a poetry slam at California State University, Chico
  • Continued to help organize, lead and participate in many other farmworker outreach and human rights programs on and off the University of Idaho campus

Source:, University of Idaho, Martin School of International Studies, “Seeking Justice for Farmworkers” by Donna Emert, Apr 2011.


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