Three Texas legislators visited with students at The University of Texas-Pan American this week to discuss their experiences as public officials during America's Legislators Back to School Week.
Senator Eddie Lucio Jr, Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa and Representative Ismael "Kino" Flores each spoke to students from the UTPA High School Equivalency Program (HEP) and the UTPA College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) about the processes, pressures, debates, negotiations and compromises that make up a representative democracy.
"My job is to represent you and to make sure we are prepared for the future," Lucio said. "During the legislative session we have 140 days to take up thousands of issues that affect your lives everyday."
Legislators Back to School Week - an annual event that began in 2000 - gives young people the opportunity to meet with elected state lawmakers. By entering the classroom and listening to students' perspectives, legislators are able to initiate a dialogue while letting American youth know that their ideas matter.
Each legislator spoke about the issues currently being discussed during the legislative session, including the shortage of water, economy, growth in the Rio Grande Valley and education. They also shared their experiences about growing up in the area and being migrant workers.
"I grew up in the fields picking cotton and tomato, but I always knew that there was something better in life and I realized I could only get it through education," Hinojosa said. "I have always said that education is the best equalizer we have in society."
Flores also emphasized the need to become educated, and the importance of giving back to the community.
"I congratulate you for being here because you are changing the perception of our area," he said. "Today you have an opportunity to do something with your life, but it starts from within."
UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez told students they were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with legislators who are making a difference in our community, and are the products of UTPA.
"I think the best opportunity you have is to meet and interact with our legislators," he said. "All three are Pan Am graduates - which shows the impact our University has in the community."
HEP and CAMP are federally funded programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Migrant Education. HEP helps meet the special needs of migrant and seasonal farm workers in pursuit of their GED certificate. HEP also provides assistance with placement in universities, colleges, vocational institutes and military services.
CAMP is a program at UTPA that assists migrant and seasonal farm workers during their freshman year in college. The program's goal is to increase the number of migrant and seasonal farm worker students who earn university degrees.