Merced youths attend ‘McFarland’ movie premiere, reflect on social issues


A select group of youths from Building Healthy Communities Merced traveled to Hollywood on Monday to attend the premiere of Disney’s “McFarland, USA.”

The three Merced teenagers joined another six young leaders from the Fresno and South Kern groups to represent Central Valley youths at the red carpet event held at El Capitan Theatre.

“McFarland, USA,” a new Disney film set in the late 1980s, tells the story of a group of cross-country runners from McFarland, an agricultural city in Kern County. The movie, which is based on a true story, reveals how the runners overcame social obstacles to win a championship.

Claudia Corchado, a program manager at the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program, accompanied the teens to the movie premiere. She said the film hit close to home because it depicts a farmworking community similar to those in the Merced area.

“(The movie) brings attention to the issues faced by our immigrant seasonal farmworkers, and it shows the hard work that goes into working in the fields,” Corchado said.

“What the youth in the movie overcame was truly inspiring, and I hope it inspired our youth to continue improving their respective communities,” she added.

The Merced youths who attended the premiere represented the communities of Planada, south Merced and Beachwood-Franklin. The teens were selected because of their involvement in their communities, Corchado explained.

Corchado shared the story of Erika Urquiza, a senior at Le Grand High School and one of the youths selected to attend the movie premiere. Urquiza has given back to her community by volunteering at the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program for the past three years. Corchado believes Urquiza deserved the opportunity to see a story similar to her own being shown on the big screen.

“Ever since I was young I had to work with my dad in the fields to help him pay the rent and the things needed at home,” Urquiza shared in an email. “Every weekend, I would go to work with my dad in the fields; even though I had homework, I would try my best to make time for both.”

Urquiza also shared that she avoided her community’s gang violence and poor health habits by joining sports teams at her school, similar to the characters in the Disney movie.

Corchado said the trip was made possible through a partnership between Disney and the California Endowment, of which Building Healthy Communities is a part.

In addition to walking the red carpet and watching the movie, the young leaders also took part in a grant presentation by Disney and the California Endowment. According to organizers, the funds donated will support youth projects that each Building Healthy Communities group is developing in their communities. According to organizers, the final amount of the donations is still being discussed.