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Children in the Banana Trees

by David Bacon

Children in the Banana Trees is a photodocumentary which looks at workers and working-class life in the Philippines. The images were taken over a period of six years, including a period covering a strike of banana workers for the San Francisco Chronicle. Part of this series documents this strike and the exploitation of children working on banana plantations. This series is part of a larger photodocumentary project — looking at the global economy through the eyes of people who experience its effects on the ground. It documents immigration to the US from the Philippines, Mexico and countries of the Pacific Rim — both the lives of immigrants here in the US and life in their countries of origin.

These images of working class life in the Philippines get underneath the stereotypes of tourism, tropical beaches and palm trees, to document the often-gritty reality of Philippine working-class life. Even banana trees themselves, part of the tropical mystique, are emblematic, not of a tourist paradise, but of child labor. By extension, the images tell a piece of the story of working-class Filipinos, and their response to the problems they face. Many people immigrate to the US from the islands, often from very exploitative conditions. But life is complex — as these images make evident, people identify strongly with their work. They find solutions to exploitation other than emigration, including the strikes on Mindanao banana plantations or the cooperatives formed by rubber workers.

Whether fishermen, jeepney drivers or dockworkers, people don’t reject their work, despite poverty or bad conditions. In fact, workers in the Philippines often fight to make their lives better and struggle for the dignity of the work they do, as do workers everywhere.

Downstairs Gallery University of California Extension 55 Laguna St. San Francisco, CA

October 12 – November 19, 1999 Hours: M-F 8am-10pm, S-S 9am-4:30pm Talk to the photographer: October 21, 5-7pm

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