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BEHIND THE SCENES with Amy Tardif


There is an unbelievable quality to the idea that slavery exists so overtly in America. How were you convinced of the story's reality and breadth

I found out about the story when Genelle Grant came to our station's studios to record the orginal Lucia's Letter. The Letter is a composite of various women's stories of what happened to them on their journeys to the U.S. She brought six women into the studio, and they read the Letter in various languages. I was helping them with the taping and when I heard the Letter in English I knew there was more to it than just this recording session. I asked to interview Marta, the woman who spoke English. It took five visits to her home before she actually showed up to meet me. In the hour-long interview Marta revealed a life of fear and worry, and while she wanted to share her story, she was also concerned about what would happen if her family, friends and bosses found out. I knew I had to tell her story but with lots of caution

From the beginning, what were your reasons for producing Lucia's Letter

We know the issues of human trafficking, slavery and indentured servitude are pervasive in southwest Florida because they are often in the news. Our Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney is not allowed to be interviewed by the media about any other topic but he openly discusses these cases. When I heard about Genelle Grant's project to create the Letter and then take to the indigenous villages of Guatemala to dissuade parents from sending their daughters here, I knew I had to do something with it. And I knew it was more than just a five minute news story

Was Marta taking a risk to speak with such honesty to you, and did you worry about that

Marta was sincerely frightened to tell me her story. She had never told her current husband, her children or her bosses about her past. But once she sat down and started talking, it poured out of her. She just prayed that her family did not listen to public radio. She felt that if anyone found out they would hold it against her, despite the fact that she now works three (3!) jobs - cleaning condos, as a translator for people in the courts and as a notary public - and she's now an American citizen

Marta raised three children from the man who held her in servitude upon her arrival in Florida, including her eldest who has Down's Syndrome. Yet she says she wishes she had never made the journey; it wasn't worth it. And so even though I was worried about telling Marta's story, I also felt it was crucial to make others aware of what really goes with human trafficking

Were there other challenges you faced in the making of Lucia's Letter

It took a few years for the documentary to fall into place because without any funding to go to Guatemala myself, I had to find people in Guatemala record the interviews for me. A local airline flight attendant who also works with the organization Miracles in Action in Guatemala arranged for two men to play Genelle's CD of Lucia's Letter in two different villages for me. They videotaped groups of mainly women listening to the CD and interviewed them for me. They sent the videotapes back to me and also to Maria Barbero, a student at Florida Gulf Coast University, who translated the interviews and made a web video with them

What was the response to your documentary in Florida, from audience members, law enforcement, others

The main response from the audience that I heard was, "I didn't know that happened here." Below are two letters I received from notables - NPR's Jacki Lyden who vacations here and heard the piece as well as WAMU's Dick Spottswood who lives here and knows, or thought he knew, of the issue. Dear Amy -- I sat down with a glass of wine and my notebook and listened to the hour on my laptop and I think it is astonishing and vital work. Americans don't hear about the underbelly of how food gets put on the table, and immigration too, is denigrated to a disease. Sex trafficking is supposed to happen in the Gulf or the Balkans. Your series puts faces, names and compassion back where it belongs. It's right up there with the work of Riis, Adams, and the muckrakers. I truly take my hat off. People, especially it seems, here in SW Fla, are so invested in not being made aware of these stories. Jacki Lyden, NPR ### Dear Amy, Congratulations to you and WGCU on one of the best independent news productions I've heard in years. I'm probably typical in that I knew parts of the story of migrant labor conditions, "coyote" recruiting in Mexico and Central America, and selling young girls into sexual slavery, but I didn't appreciate the complex dimensions of the system that holds the elements together. Clearly there's much more to the story than the extra penny per pound wrested from Taco Bell and McDonald's, money that further rewards the coyotes who extract it from the workers. It's a story that needs to be told across America to people who believe that slavery was abolished in 1863. I hope there'll be positive fallout from Lucia's Letter* , so that the spotlight will remain on the situation and aid efforts to end the exploitation of uninformed and powerless workers. Ideally it will inspire a follow-up production in the near future, Best wishes, Dick Spottswood Acoustic Music Society of Southwest Florida The Bluegrass Show - WAMU-FM

And I wanted to mention one more thing. Lucia's Letter won a Gold Medal in the New York Festivals documentary/news specials category. In that contest three other entries won awards in other categories that dealt with human trafficking in other languages in other parts of the world. I think this says a lot about this issue today in our world.