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Pedro Chamale brings the plights of seasonal agricultural workers to life

Sowing the seeds of songs about seasonal agriculture. Makes sense to us.

Many Canadians aren't aware of Canada's Seasonal Agricultural Workers program — a sub program of Migrant Workers in Canada — and haven't given much thought to people who pick produce at farms in the Okanagan, Ontario, and Quebec, among other places. Pedro Chamale, born and raised in Chetwynd, who now works at Rice & Beans Theatre in Vancouver, hadn't heard of the program either until watching Jovanni Sy's play A Taste of Empire. 

"In the show, he talks about a worker who comes and works in the farms under harsh conditions, and the audience assumes it's an illegal worker. At the end, (Sy) reveals the worker is a part of a legal program that exists here in Canada. I didn't know about this, and felt that I should do something," Chamale said. 

The result was Made in Canada: An Agricultural Song Cycle, a 10-song album he wrote with composer Mishelle Cuttler, which gives the workers — many of whom are Mexican — a voice, and makes their realities known. The album was released on streaming platforms March 17, and is accompanied by Made in Canada: An Agricultural Podcast. The sixth episode, titled "Pandemic in the Fields" (also the title of the album's sixth track) comes out May 16. 

In the program, workers come to Canada to work picking produce for a minimum of six weeks to a maximum of eight months, then return to their home country. They can keep coming back for multiple stints, but are tied to the same farm, and it can be hard to switch to another farm, Chamale said. He points out that the workers' medical costs are not covered, the farm owners can send any worker home at any time, and that the workers have no real rights. 

"In the album, I try to not put the blame on the farmer, the program was created by the Canadian government and corporate forces, as a way to fill a labour force not being filled by Canadians. That's understandable, but there are grey areas for the farm owners and government, where it's unclear who is responsible for what," Chamale said. 

"While I may have my own opinions and ideas, my goal is to give listeners the information so that they know this program and these realities exist."

The album was originally designed to be an operetta, but the pandemic kept the show from opening. That's why the songs have the feel of a musical. Chamale and Cuttler went with a style inspired by contemporary mariachi music for the album.

Chamale is already busy working on upcoming projects, which will be of interest to people in the north.

"My next play's about exploring growing up there, the Site C dam, how things have changed, and how people in the (lower mainland) view communities up north. They talk about shutting things down, and saying this and that is evil, but they are talking about people," Chamale said.

"These are real people, it's not just an industry."


Email reporter Dillon Giancola at sports@ahnfsj.ca