Farmworker Education

This is the sixth dispatch from Student Action for Farmworkers in celebration of National Farmworker Awareness Week. For more information, visit the SAF website.

I am a young man. I like playing a lot, I like singing a lot. I also like dancing; I can’t very much, but I do like it. I like to socialize but I am a little bit reserved or shy right now… I’m very embarrassed.”

I see that my coworkers… they work hard… I also see that sometimes they do pressure us, ‘that one has been doing more than you… hurry because you’re already behind.’”

I think about my family. It’s the thing I miss the most. Mainly my mom. I’ve always been very close to her.”

I wonder… I don’t know what it is… like being Mexican… it’s like a little bit of racism, something like that. Sometimes they treat us as if we were animals… and there are a lot of things. I don’t think I’d be able to explain it if we had all night… ‘here, the slowest one is going to make at least 800 a week or 700 for the one who is the slowest at work.’ Everyone is really excited when they come off the bus and all. Then you’re back to reality, because what is happening is hurtful, they’re stealing from us a whole lot.”

2016-03-29 Farmworker EducationI remember the first day I met Octavio. He was standing in the corner of the kitchen. The kitchen in his home was crowded, hot, and loud as more and more people came inside. It was our first class at this new camp, and as the room got hotter and the space got smaller, I became quickly aware that this was our largest class so far.

There were eight students squeezed at the table, a few students standing right next to the white board, and at least five other students standing against the kitchen counter. Octavio stood in the corner of the kitchen, close to the door, and he was beside a student who resembled him (his cousin, Yonatan).

We all introduced ourselves, we passed out notebooks and folders, and we began the class about numbers. It was a really successful class. Their energy was very strong and they were very eager to learn. I remember looking at each of them as they excitedly (and sometimes frustratingly) pronounced the higher numbers such as five hundred and sixty-two, nine hundred and eighty-six, etc. I also remember Octavio standing there in the corner listening, concentrating, smiling, and scribbling in his notebook.

As it turned out, that was the first of our many classes at that camp. They ended up asking us for a class every day since our first visit there. Although the attendance number dropped, the enthusiasm didn’t seem to fade for the students who came. During the classes we always had at least six to seven students (which is a pretty good size) and they all paid attention.

What I quickly noticed about Octavio was how much he seemed to enjoy learning. He always wrote in his notebook, paid close attention, and remembered all the words and phrases so well. He was almost always the first person to sit down at the table with his notebook in front of him when we arrived. And whenever we did our short “repaso” at the beginning and end of class or whenever there was a question no one knew, Octavio would wait an extra second, look around, and say the word/phrase in English.

Octavio is 22 and from Oaxaca, Mexico in a town called la Rinconada. Octavio explained that la Rinconada is a small town that doesn’t have a church, un jardín para niños (kindergarten), or a middle school; it only has an elementary school. The closest middle school to him was in another town, which meant he had to walk an hour to and from school everyday.

Octavio said he always enjoyed school and learning. “Siempre me gustaba la escuela. Me gustan mucho las matemáticas, la historia, bueno en general, todo me considera bueno.” (I have always liked school. I like math, history…in general, it all seems good to me.) However, he had to leave in middle school. “Sí, me hubiera gustado seguir estudiando, pero allá, pues, es muy difícil porque estaba muy lejos para seguir y no hay mucho recurso.” (Yes, I would have liked to continue studying, but there, well, it’s very difficult because it was very far in order to continue, and there aren’t many resources.)

It really got to me when he said that during the interview. Seeing him always writing in his notebook – even when he was standing or when it was after class – I knew he loved to learn, but hearing him say that really affected me.

In the United States, it is a requirement for children to attend school; and at these schools, there are resources, assistance, services, information, et cetera, available for the students and parents. In the United States, there’s so much in front of the students and yet many (including myself) take it for granted and don’t even realize how much it’s worth.

I can’t say for certain, but I’d certainly bet that if Octavio had the same opportunities I had while I was in school, he would have continued studying. “Me gustó estudiar, bueno me gusta todavía. A veces me pongo a leer porque siempre me he gustado a leer mucho.” (I liked to study, I like it still. Sometimes I sit down to read because I’ve always loved reading.)

Octavio loves to learn, he loves to read, and he loves to sing. He left his studies in middle school, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find him with a book, a pencil, or a notebook in his hands – even if he’s standing in the corner of a hot, crowded, loud kitchen.

Emma Cathell, 2015 SAF Intern
Bladen County Migrant Education