May 14, 2004

The College Assistance Migrant Program: Getting Migrant Farm Workers’ Children to College and Helping Them Stay

By Greg Bloom

Despite having been a teacher in his home state of Zacatecas, Cesario Morán knew that his family would never get far in one of Mexico’s poorest states. This led to a decision in 1983 to go to Salem, New Mexico where he and his family started a life of hard farm work along side others from Zacatecas. Now, over twenty years later, the family still labors in the area’s onion, chile and produce fields. Life has never been easy.

Cesario’s son Cesár grew up living the difficulties that are typical of the migrant farm worker community. Born in Mexico in 1980 but now a US resident like the rest of his family, Cesár felt that he was a financial burden to his family as he grew older. Looking for a way out of Salem, he joined the US Army.

Once finished with his military duty, Cesár enrolled in the Doña Ana Branch Community College which is in Las Cruces, New Mexico and is not far from where he was raised. He began coursework in architectural drafting but his first year was hard financially and he was not sure if he could continue with his studies. Then he heard about CAMP-the College Assistance Migrant Program-at New Mexico State University, an institution related to his community college. Cesár applied for CAMP support and was accepted. He received room and board for one academic year and $1,000 for books or other necessities.

Perhaps more importantly, Cesár had regular contact with other CAMP participants. These were fellow students that knew what it was like to grow up as he had. They were also the first generation in their families to leave home and attend university. Together they have shared this experience with all of its joys, frustrations and difficulties.

What CAMP means to families

Cesár’s father, Cesario Morán, describes CAMP as “a privilege, a beautiful thing, a very good program.” Later, in a meeting with some other CAMP families and US Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, Cesario Morán said that it was a stroke of good luck that his son was selected to be part of CAMP’s inaugural year at NMSU.

Morán also explained to the senator that it is hard to have children in college because there is not year-round work in the fields. Recently life has even been more difficult because New Mexico is receiving less irrigation water than in the recent past. “A lot of land has not been worked,” he said.

At the meeting with the senator, many of the four students that were present broke into tears at some point as they explained what the opportunity to go to college has meant to them.

Denny Guerrero, a first year student at NMSU, missed the first weeks of the semester because he had joined the Army Reserve (like Cesár this was also because he did not want to be a burden on his family). So that he would not be too far behind once he reached NMSU, CAMP staff sent Denny his books so that he could study during breaks at basic training.

His father, José Luis, originally from Acapulco, spoke of the admiration he has for his son and noted that Denny was doing as well as his classmates despite the fact that he arrived to school late. “He’s risen to the level of all students at the university,” he stated.

William Casaus of Anthony, New Mexico is in NMSU’s Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management. He tells Senator Bingaman that he could not have come to college without help from the program. He is interested in the restaurant business and wants his own restaurant someday. Next year his sister will begin at NMSU, also in the College Assistance Migrant Program.

Originally from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua but now living in Sunland Park, New Mexico, Lucía Bobadilla is the mother of Marisela, another student in the program. Marisela is a criminal justice major at NMSU. “I’m very proud of my daughter,” Lucía says.

After listening to the students and their families talk, Senator Bingaman says he has been a big supporter of funding migrant education. “It’s an appropriate thing for the federal government to take responsibility as many of the families do move around,” he states. “Not every community can take on this commitment.”

Qualifying for CAMP Assistance

According to Larry Salazar, NMSU’s CAMP recruitment coordinator, all students that are in migrant education programs before college are eligible to participate in the program. Students that have done 75 days of migrant farm work over the past two years are eligible also. Students must be US citizens or permanent residents of the US. They must also have graduated from high school and been accepted to NMSU.

Greg Bloom is Outreach Coordinator, Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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