By LORIE JEWELL
DADE CITY Maria Martinez sits on the edge of a queen-size bed, one hand lightly touching her chest as she sucks in the next breath and summons a face devastated by bad news.
Reyna Hernandez leans over, reaching out with a comforting touch and soothing words.
The flash of a camera records the moment and die women pause, waiting for new direction.
Martinez, a Dade City farmworker, and Hernandez, a young mother from Volusia County, are not professional actresses or models. They are among 18 women from area Mexican farmworking communities volunteering to help the Rural Women's Health Project of Gainesville with its latest project, "Pizcando Suenos," or "Harvesting Dreams."
The project will produce three magazine-style fotonovelas, photonovels popular in Latin America, that document the experiences and journeys of Mexican farm-working women coming to Florida.
The three stories are based on oral histories collected earlier this year by Fabiola Del Castillo, an independent researcher from Mexico working with the Rural Women's Health Project. Del Castillo interviewed four groups of women from Pasco, Palm Beach, Gadsden and Volusia counties.
Although the scripts use real quotes from the interviews, the women who gave them are not identified. Those who volunteered to be captured on film by photographer Alan Pogue of Austin, Texas, were not involved in the oral histories, although many could relate to the experiences, said Robin Lewy, one of the project organizers.
"We used repeated themes from the interviews to write the scripts," Lewy said. "The key issue here is to improve communication between moms and daughters. We're focusin on what daughters should know about their mother's experiences."
The project also aims to preserve the culture, beliefs and values of Mexican women and their struggles to pass them on to their daughters, who are growing up in a different country with its own culture and values.
"It was very interesting to see the opening of a third culture with the daughters," said Del Castillo. "They don't see themselves as totally Mexican, or totally American. They are blending both cultures into their own and developing their own set of values. The testimonies of the mothers tell how hard it is for them to deal with that."
The story line involving Hernandez and Martinez depicts a mother dealing with the news that her unmarried daughter is pregnant.
"Being single and pregnant in Mexico is such a big issue," Del Castillo said. "Mexico is 98 percent Catholic. So many mothers have a very difficult time dealing with it."
Hernandez played the role of a friend to Martinez's character, the mother of a young pregnant woman. She urges the mother to try to be understanding and compassionate. But in real life, Hernandez was more in tune with the single daughter.
"I know what it's like to be pregnant without planning it," Hernandez said. She wasn't married when she conceived her first child, although she was living with the man who eventually would become her husband. The couple, who moved to Florida three years ago from Mexico, now have two children.
While the stories focus on specific issues, Del Castillo's interviews gave women an opportunity to talk about other topics they don't normally discuss aloud. She found subtle differences, for example, in the
hopes and dreams of women who have come to America and those living in Mexico.
"In Mexico, the farmworkers travel for work, but they know they will always go back home," said Del Castillo. "Here, they dream of going back home, but they know the reality is that they won't."
The Florida women Del Castillo talked to have other hopes, though. They want to see their daughters married and find good jobs that don't have them working under the sun.
Once complete, the photo novels will be distributed and displayed in various social service agencies, schools and farmworker organizations.