Being A Migrant Student Made Me Who I Am Today

Above: Araceli Beltran (right) and her sister Azucena Beltran (left) revisit their old elementary school, John Kelley Elementary School in Thermal, Calif. (Image: Olivia Rodriguez/ Coachella Unincorporated)

By Olivia Rodriguez

As they reflected back on their journeys up to northern California, the Beltran sisters shared fond memories of the first time they went with their mother to a laundromat near a migrant camp in Madera, Calif.

They smile as they tell a story of how their mother would refuse to give them coins, until she would finally give in and the girls would run off to the arcade machines to play Pac Man and Mortal Combat.

Alondra Beltran, age 11, and the fourth eldest sister out of six siblings, dreams of being a singer some day. She describes with  laughter the cramped car rides their family would take up to northern California every summer.

“In the car rides we would tickle each other and it was funny how we would sleep, one in the corner, one in the other and one on top of my legs,” Beltran said.

Beltran’s family has history of migrating through California since her father came to the United States in 1986. Alondra’s two older sisters Araceli, 24, and Azucena, 21, would join their parents working in the fields and even before she started working in the fields, Araceli would babysit her younger sister Azucena.

“I wasn’t obligated to work in the fields, it was an option given to me so I could buy my school supplies like my backpack and clothes for school,” Araceli Beltran said. “I felt like I was taking a burden off of [my parents], you know, like I was helping out by doing that.”

While working in the fields, Araceli and Azucena would look forward to the extra time they got to spend with their parents and their sisterly camaraderie that lifted their energy during the early work hours.

“What I would look forward to, besides the check, was that I would get to hear the jokes between the workers. I got to know them in the fields and in a sense it kept me to my roots,” azucena Beltran said. “I would describe [my dad] as a very serious guy, but when I got to work with him and spend more time with him, I got to see that he’s actually the goofy one. He comes home tired so he’s quiet but he has a contagious laugh.”

“What I would look forward to, besides the check, was that I would get to hear the jokes between the workers. I got to know them in the fields and in a sense it kept me to my roots,”

As the season would end in the Central Valley, the Beltran family, like other migrant families in California, made their journey back to their home in the Coachella Valley during mid October.

By that time, the Beltran sisters were forced to start classes about a month and a half later into the Coachella Valley School District school year.

The sisters said it is a challenge to prioritize academics while traveling with their family throughout the state. During the summertime, when the family lived in the Central Valley, the sisters could not even take summer school classes because there wasn’t space for them in the local schools or they were expected to financially contribute to the family.

“You’re babysitting, or if you’re old enough, you’re working,” Araceli Beltran said.

In addition to starting the school year late, the sisters were often placed in classes they didn’t need.

“We were put in whatever class there was room in, not necessarily what we needed,” Araceli said. “As a migrant student, you don’t feel valued and you see that your parents are not being valued and you want to be recognized that you do have value.”

Araceli recalls times when her parents would get scolded by staff members at her old elementary school. She said staff members would tell her parents that it was their fault their children were falling behind on their school work.

“It’s not that [my parents] didn’t care about our education, it’s that they have to migrate as a means to provide for us,” said Araceli. “Some people who work in their fields have no other skills, when season ends, they get a job in something else. It’s not the same for my parents. They just pick grapes, they have to follow it.”

Araceli said after being placed in unnecessary classes, she and her parents decided that as soon as she entered high school, she would come back to the Coachella Valley earlier in the season before the harvest ended and school started.

“I stayed with other family members that didn’t migrate, in their living room or wherever there was space for two months until our parents came back,” Araceli said. “We would be apart from our other siblings so that we could do high school because we were thinking about the future. That was a privilege in our family because there were other students without any family that could host them for two months and we did.”

Araceli graduated as Valedictorian from Desert Mirage High school in 2011, becoming the first in her family to graduate from high school. Now she lives in the Coachella Valley after graduating from UC Berkeley in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science degree in conservation and resource with an emphasis in sustainable agriculture.

“I will always consider myself a migrant because that played a huge role in shaping who I am today and how I do a thought process, how I motivate myself,” Araceli said.

“I will always consider myself a migrant because that played a huge role in shaping who I am today and how I do a thought process, how I motivate myself,” Araceli said.

Now summers are different, Araceli’s younger siblings are able to attend school year round, but they still face the emotional hardship of being separated from their families.

“I convinced my parents to just send them to school when it starts here in the Coachella Valley. While [our parents] work in the Central Valley I take care of them, so that they don’t miss out on their education and don’t have to play the catch up game,” Araceli said. “It is an emotional hardship for them because they’re younger and they’re away from my parents. They would cry sometimes but they’re going through this and focusing on their education. I work and have to take that on now that I can  live here in the Coachella Valley, but it’s definitely hard.”

Araceli’s sister, Azucena, who is currently studying environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz still continues to work in the fields during the summers. She remembers a moment in one of her classes when the professor asked if anyone had worked in the fields.

“Nobody raised their hand but me. And it kind of hit me, back home there’s a lot of people that do it too,” Azucena said. “Some in the class thought, ‘Oh, pobrecita she had to go through that,’ but I’m like, ‘I’m good. I’m in the same college you are right now.’ I don’t need that. Being a farmworker didn’t set me back from being here.”

This isn’t the first time Alondra has heard her older sisters’ stories. She said she is eager to go to college some day.

“I want to go to college like my sisters so I can learn new things that I will use in my future career,” Alondra said. “ Being a migrant means moving to a new place but it’s not my parents fault because they just have to do this to provide for us.”

About the Author:

Olivia Rodriguez, 24 is from Thermal, Calif. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2015 with a Biology degree. One of her favorite places in the Eastern Coachella Valley is the Mecca Park where you can find her playing ball. At the end of a long day she loves spending time with her family in their garden enjoying a cup of unsweetened chamomile or hibiscus tea.

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