Fields of study

A migrant farm worker’s success story inspires others

HELPING OUT <br>Jaime González, the child of migrant farm workers, is a first-generation college student who helps others succeed in school.

Jaime González, the child of migrant farm workers, is a first-generation college student who helps others succeed in school.

Photo by Tom Angel

While trying to sleep on a hard cement floor in a room filled with nine other people, Jaime González used to entertain himself by watching tarantulas crawl past his sleeping brothers and sisters.

One of seven children born to migrant farm worker parents, González is no stranger to the hard times that a migrant lifestyle can bring. Moving constantly between Northern California and Mexico, helping his father on the farm and growing accustomed to a lack of money, González knew no other life than the adversity he faced.

In Mexico, his family lived in a two-room house outside of town with cement floors and no telephone. González and his siblings attended school, but they were also responsible for helping his father raise pigs and even build a house. However, González doesn’t harbor bitter memories of those days. “For me it was just an adventure,” he said. “I didn’t see my life as a hardship. I just dealt with it.”

His positive attitude and adventurous outlook helped pave the way for the life González leads today. Now in Chico, González has made a life for himself that is far different from what he saw as a child. The 25-year-old is a graduate of San Diego State University with a degree in kinesiology and Spanish and is the first and only member of his family to graduate college.

And he’s helping other children of migrant families to do the same by volunteering with migrant education outreach programs and speaking to young people and their parents who work on the farms.

Once it became clear that the opportunity to attend college and to better his life was within his reach, González realized that he had the means to do something with his life. “I didn’t want to be a bum,” he said.

Jaime González’ mission to make something of himself began in his childhood, when a neighbor in Mexico gave him advice that he will never forget.

One night after dinner, the usually happy neighbor was overcome with sadness. He told González that he had been working in the chili fields for 20 years and that his children were doing the same, which saddened him. He said that if González ever got the opportunity to improve his life, to do so. He said, “We should try to better the people.”

González took those words to heart, and somewhere amid all of the moving around he began to think about how he could further his life and not end up working in the fields.

Jaime González (left) mentors Melissa Westhouse, a student in the Upward Bound program at College of Siskiyous.

Courtesy Of Jaime González

Then one day, while attending high school in Happy Camp, on the Klamath River in far Northern California, a local outreach coordinator simply asked him if he wanted to go to college. González said he had never really thought college was a possibility. “You grow up with a mindset, and you kind of get stuck there,” he said, looking back. “Psychologically, I didn’t think I had much of a chance.”

But with the right help and good direction from the staff at his high school, who were dedicated to improving the lives of migrant students, González achieved what he never thought he could: getting into college and graduating.

“For some people college is expected. For others, college has to be fought for,” González said. But his fight has paid off, and college has opened doors to him that otherwise would still be closed.

He is going back to school in the fall to complete his teaching credential and plans on teaching Spanish and physical education to high school students.

Today, González is committed to making sure that migrant parents and students know that the opportunity to attend college does exist, no matter how many hardships a family may have.

He is following the advice of his neighbor and tying to “better the people” by making an example of himself for other migrant families to see.

Recently, González spoke at the CSU Visitation Day and Migrant Education at Chico State University in the hope that migrant parents would realize their children can go to college.

The day was meant to give migrant parents and their children the opportunity to see that college is an actual possibility. Alternating between Spanish and English, González spoke to the more than 400 parents and students who attended the visitation day. He told his story, from his origins and the hardships he faced to where he is today and how he did it.

“My main hope was that the parents would get the message that I was their son or daughter 10 years ago,” González said. He said that he wanted every family to understand that going to college is not impossible.

The visitation day offered a chance for parents and students to ask questions concerning college and to receive information on how to apply to college and how to receive financial aid.

González spent a lot of his time at the visitation day making the college application process familiar to eager parents and reiterating that every student in the room had the opportunity to further his or her education and that all the parents had the chance to give their children a better life than they had.

“I know that no one here had it harder than I did," González told the audience. "I made it and I flourished."