- Author: Ricardo A. Vela
There are many people who every year ask themselves, why do we need to celebrate Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month?
There is not an easy, fast answer. The reasons are plenty. The one that I like the best is every year we celebrate it because even just for a month we don't get lost in politics. Or in the country's polarization where we only see the ends of the race spectrum--black and white--and unnoticed are the array of shades in between. But, maybe it's because in those 30 days or five weeks we pause and look around us and realize we Latinos/Hispanics/Chicanos have contributed to this country as much as any other ethnic group, or maybe more. Sadly, it is during this time that we understand that our path to obtain equity and inclusion is a long and not easy road.
During this time, we appreciate that our youth are making an extra effort to get a seat at the table. Twenty-four percent of Latino adults in the country now have at least a college degree. A decade ago, it was only nineteen percent.
And then we find Latinos like Jennifer Rocha, whose image and story have been circulating all over the internet. Rocha, 21, a new graduate from UC San Diego, proudly posses with her parents in the fields where they work, where she grew up and worked even while attending college. She embodies the spirit of the new generation of Latinos. Let Jennifer, with her own words, tell us her story.
"As a high schooler, my parents told me that the only way I was going to be able to understand how important it was to pursue a higher education was to work as a migrant field worker. My parents came from Michoacán, Mexico, and were not fortunate enough to live their dreams of pursuing a higher education and obtaining the dream career they desired.
When I first started working in the fields, I would get off from school, straight to cross country practice, run miles and miles, and then get picked up by my dad to go work in the fields overnight. We would plant strawberries, get off at around 2-3 am, and wake up at 5 am to get ready, or else I would miss the city bus. I admired the workers because they kept working despite backaches while flies, mosquitos, and bugs kept roaming their faces, getting into their eyes. Nobody thinks about or sees what happens behind a vegetable you grab at the grocery store. But behind it is someone who breaks their backs every day working in the fields.
I continued working in the fields even after I had left for college on weekends or on breaks, even though I had a job with the University of California Policy Department (UCPD). I wasn't able to live in the dorm at school because my parents couldn't afford it, so I had to commute from far distances like Oceanside and Lakeside. Having to work two jobs, commute, and go to school at the same time was a struggle. Many times, I wanted to give up, but my parents and their pieces of advice and support were the reason I kept going.
If it wasn't for how my parents raised me, I don't know who I would be today. Coming from a field worker background has motivated me to work hard as my parents took my sisters and me to the fields in order to understand how difficult labor is.
Working in the fields builds and molds a different type of character. A character that does not give up, and one with resilience and strength to withstand the hazards that come from that job."
Rocha is one of the best reasons to continue celebrating the contributions of Latinos/Hispanics/Chicanos to this great country in which we live. We invite you to join us in the events we have planned to celebrate in a big way.
Jennifer's story and photographs published with permission-Jennifer Rocha '21 (@jrocha_10) B.A. Sociology - Law and Society, Muir College #Adelante / Photography by Branden Rodriguez Media @branden.shoots