Four highly successful persons took the stage Monday, March 31 in Student Union Theater of The University of Texas-Pan American to discuss their experiences as members of migrant/seasonal farm worker families during a panel discussion for National Farm Workers Awareness Week, March 28-April 4.
The panel discussion included Dr. Hilda Silva, vice president for Student Affairs, The University of Texas-Brownsville; Salómon Torres, district director of the Office of Congressman Rubén Hinojosa; Laura Cantú, UTPA senior majoring in international business; and Ignacio Ochoa, UTPA senior pursuing a bachelor's degree in applied sciences. Dr. Chad Richardson, UTPA professor of sociology and author, served as moderator.
Silva and Cantú are both alumni of UTPA's College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) while Torres is an alumnus of St. Edward's CAMP. Ochoa benefited from the High School Equivalency Program (HEP) at UTPA.
CAMP is a program that assists migrant students in their first year of college with academic, personal, and financial support.
HEP helps migrant students who have dropped out of school to get their GED.
The panelists described their backgrounds as members of migrant worker families, obstacles common to migrant worker students and what factors helped them achieve their goals.
Ochoa said one of the hardest things about being a migrant worker was leaving family and friends behind.
"However, dream - dream big because your dream can become a reality," Ochoa said.
Torres said he was the youngest of eight children and his family had picked grapes, cotton and many of the fruits and vegetables found locally.
"Moving every year causes you to lose out on the normal school activities that help you develop a track record to compete," Torres said.
Torres credited the persistence of a high school counselor and CAMP in helping him to eventually obtain a law degree from Columbia University.
Asked by Richardson if they had incurred discrimination because of their migrant worker status, Torres responded that discrimination occurred in several ways, including racial, income, geographic and language.
"Anger spiced with self confidence and strong family support", said Torres helped him overcome stereotyping he incurred as a migrant farm worker. Cantú said that the fear of not being successful was an obstacle for her but also stressed the importance of a supportive family and the help from teachers and the University's programs in accomplishing her goals.
Another event in the week long celebration took place Friday, March 28 in the Edinburg Baseball Stadium parking lot where cars were decorated with words and designs of support for the awareness campaign.
Sponsored by the Association of Migrant Students (AMS) at UTPA in conjunction with CAMP and HEP, the car decorating kicked off the series of events to celebrate the contribution of farm workers and to learn about current issues farm workers and their families face in today's society.
"We are trying to bring awareness on campus about migrant issues and some of the situations that some of the migrants go through," said Enedelia Rios, president of the AMS at UTPA. Rios is from a migrant farm worker family but is now majoring in education at UTPA. Rios is also a CAMP alumnus.
Marilyn Hagerty, associate director of CAMP, said that over 300 new migrant students come into the University each fall.
"Programs like CAMP, HEP, and AMS provide a home base for these students - a place where they can find answers to their questions," Hagerty said.
Other festivities planned during the National Farm Worker Awareness Week include a showing of the film "New Harvest - Old Shame" Wednesday, April 2, 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. in the Student Union Theater and a presentation titled "History and Issues of Farm Workers in the United States" Thursday, April 3, Noon-1p.m. also in the Student Union Theater.
For additional information on CAMP, HEP, AMS or other activities during National Farm Workers Awareness Week call 318-5333.