Worker Exploitation Today: A Lesson from Viva La Causa

Grade Level


Activites will help students:

  • Understand that the struggle for worker justice continues 
  • Connect elements from Viva La Causa to workers’ current struggles through original graphic novels.
Essential Questions
  • What is our nation’s “guestworker” program?
  • Why might an immigrant accept exploitation by an employer?
  • Why might female immigrant farmworkers dress as men when working in the fields?
  • What advice would you give to an immigrant worker who was being exploited or sexually harassed?

This lesson is part of the Viva la Causa teaching kit.



The struggle for justice depicted in Viva La Causa is far from over. Farmworkers, and many other kinds of laborers, continue to be exploited and abused today.

This lesson introduces students to two particularly egregious examples of contemporary worker abuse:

  • In The Bandana Project, students will learn that the vast majority of farmworker women today report being targets of sexual harassment in the fields.
  • "Dream" Turns Into a Nightmare introduces students to abuses common within our nation's guestworker program, which places immigrant workers under the direct control of the employers who recruit them to the United States. One official has described this system as almost slavery.

In this activity, students will connect themes from Viva La Causa to contemporary issues in worker justice through the creation of original graphic novels.


Suggested Procedures

Share the lesson's objectives and framework with students, and provide each student with a copy of the handouts.

After students have read the material, discuss as a whole class:

  • The title of the film we watched was Viva La Causa, which means "Long live the cause." How do these handouts relate to that title? (In The Bandana Project we read about how women currently experience sexual harassment in the fields. It relates to la causa in that it unmasks another indignity that farmworker women experience today. In "Dream" Turns Into a Nightmare we learn about the abuse and exploitation of today's immigrants through "guestworker" programs and how workers today still are using nonviolent strategies, like hunger strikes, to fight for their rights.)
  • How are the issues facing workers in the film similar to, and different from, laborers today? (It is probably true that women in Chavez's day were experiencing sexual violence and harassment, but that in today's society it is better reported and more openly addressed. Still, this wasn't something we heard about in the film. It is a change that national advocacy groups work for safety in the fields for farmworker women specifically. Also, in "Dream" Turns Into a Nightmare, it sounds like the exploitation and abuse of workers is similar to what the farmworkers experienced in the film, now under the guide of "guestworker" programs.)

Next, let students examine the graphic novel samples. (If you have additional samples in your school or classroom library, distribute those as well.)

Inform students that they will work in small groups to create a graphic novel tying one memorable aspect of Viva La Causa to exploited workers today. (Small groups will help ensure that students without formidable artistic ability can participate meaningfully.)

As with the sample, each group will create two pages of text and illustration. The first should reflect something significant they remember from the film's storyline. The second page should make the connection to workers' struggles today.

Students can work from the handouts alone, or conduct additional research if time allows. (See "Recommended Resources")

Invite student groups to share their graphic novels with the whole class. As a culminating event, bind their work into one volume as a summative assessment of what students have learned about la causa, both past and present.

Share the bound volume with other classrooms or local activist groups, or donate it to the school or community library. Teachers should keep samples for use in subsequent years.