Agriculture work is one of the most grueling jobs. Kneeling for hours upon hours, picking fruit and vegetables in extreme weather conditions is brutal. Ask any farm worker, and they will tell you the same thing: white people would never do this kind of work. That is why parents who work in the fields say to their kids to get an education because they do not want their kids to do the kind of work they do. That’s the advice that stuck with an incredible woman who has faced insurmountable obstacles of her own.
This recent grad went above and beyond to make her dreams comes true, thanks to her hard work, and her parent’s struggles.
Meet Erica Alfaro. She just got her master’s degree from San Diego State University in education, with a concentration in counseling. She is the daughter of Claudio Alfaro and Teresa Herrera who both work in agriculture at California’s Central Valley tomato fields.
“One day, I was very tired and told my mom, and she said to me, ‘This is how life is going to be from now on. The only people who don’t have to go through this get an education.’ Those words stuck with me,” Alfaro told CNN.
The 29-year-old dedicated her master’s degree with her parents and celebrated with a powerful photoshoot where they work.
“With love I dedicate my master’s to my parents. Their sacrifice to come to this country to give us a better future was well worth it,” Alfaro wrote on her social media accounts.
Erica may not have had to struggle like her parents, but she did face several setbacks during her educational years.
Not only did Erica quit high school at 15-years-old after she got pregnant, but her boyfriend at the time (who she moved in with), made her and the baby sleep outside. She moved back in with her parents and finished high school via homeschooling.
In 2012, she was accepted into California State University San Marcos but soon had to drop out because her son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
“It took me almost six years to get my bachelor’s degree,” she told CNN.
She graduated in 2017 and had to the honor to be the commencement speaker at her graduation ceremony, and now two years later, she has her master’s degree.
That’s right! Show them that “She Se Puede!” in this awesome tee!
Graduation ceremonies are a little slice of life and society. Behind every cap and stole there are stories of heroism and struggle not only involving the graduates but often having to do with their parents. Moms and dads all over the world have done their best to see their children enjoy better opportunities in life. As the value of labor has shifted from privileging manual work and trades to giving more to those who work with information, traditional occupations such as farming have been affected by a decline in wages and by the crushing shadow of big companies (nowadays it is very hard for any farmer to subsist on their own). That is why stories that involve farmer parents seeing their kids graduate from university are so inspiring. If you have worked in the fields as a picker or even if you have done some gardening under the blistering sun you know how much of a toll working in a field can take on your body. If you haven’t, look to a father’s or uncle’s or Abuelo’s hands and focus on the callous surface that endless hours of working with la tierra has done to the skin. Every wrinkle tells a story of survival and proud trabajo.
In honor of farmers worldwide, and to celebrate Farm Workers Day, we have chosen some inspirational snippets of life featuring graduates and their farmer parents, who worked with their hands so their offspring’s mind could thrive. There are not enough ways to say gracias, are there?
This graduate who honors her farmer parents
Credit: Twitter. @UCMerced
Merced Anna Ocegueda is a Latina college senior who graduated from University of California, Merced, earlier this year. This 22-year-old psychology major posted this picture on Twitter. As they say, una imagen dice + que mil palabras. Her parents are still wearing their picking equipment. Her post went viral and soon newspapers started knocking in the door. Ocegueda told The Fresno Bee: “My parents came here for a better future and a better life for their children. “The educational opportunities weren’t great. My parents encouraged me to better my education so I wouldn’t have to work in the fields like them.”
For Selena Huapilla-Perez graduation she dressed up in her cap and gown and posed in the fruit fields alongside her parents to honor their sacrifice as farmers.
In a post about her gruadtion, Huapilla said “I always tell my parents, my sisters and brother that this belongs more to them than to me.” This year she graduated with a degree in Interdisciplinary Humanities from Michigan State University.
This recent grad went above and beyond to make her dreams come true, thanks to her hard work, and her parent’s struggles.
Erica Alfaro, a 29-year-old, dedicated her master’s degree with her parents and celebrated with a powerful photoshoot where they work.
This Brazilian queen who thanked her farmer parents during her graduation ceremony
Credit: YouTube. @AlamedaCasaEditorial
It is a moment worthy of a few tears. A Brazilian student stops the party, descends the stairs and calls her parents. Everyone claps. They all know that her family is de origen humilde and that they have moved Heaven and Earth for her to be there. You can watch this tender and empowering moment here.
Farmer parents sure teach some good ethics and excellent saving skills
Credit: Twitter. @KillerPunchZero
If precarious conditions can teach you anything is that you gotta take care of what you got. Farming is such a serendipitous occupation (a flood or a tornado can wipe out the years harvest and any earnings for the coming months, as many farmers have recently experienced throughout our climate-change-stricken planet), that those que trabajan en el campo know that life is better with no debt. What a great lesson. Hard work, dedication.
De tal palo tal astilla
Credit: Twitter. @BigDuce79
So who is proud of who? The farmer father who sent his son to college or the son whose father sent him? Well, it is both. Struggle can either bring people closer together or split them apart. We hope it is always the latter.
Can you spare a minute and read this amazing story?
Credit: Facebook. Humans of Bombay
India is a country where social mobility is almost impossible. Many regions of the Southeast Asian country still live under a caste system that basically translates in zero opportunities for those who are born with nothing or with very little. That is why this story from the amazing storytelling collective Humans of Bombay is so powerful. It is the story of a father who had to migrate to the city from his farming village. There, he leads a simple life but makes sure his son goes to university. The son’s attitude will melt your heart. Does the story sound familiar? We are sure it resonates with many Latino families across the United States.
The son of a Filipino farmer who got a full scholarship at Harvard
Credit: filipino-farmer-son-gets-full-scholarship-from-harvard-university-proves-hard-work-beats-fate-2.jpg. Digital image. The Development Times
The Philippines is one of the most unequal countries in the world, an impoverished nation that up until today has failed to keep up with other Asian economies. As much as 15% of Filipinos work overseas as domestic workers or construction workers. Those who live in the country need to work extra hard just to make ends meet. So the story of Romnick Blanco, the son of a rice and vegetable farmer, is the stuff that dreams are made of. He received a full scholarship to study at Harvard after excelling at his high school in Manila. By the way, he had to cross a river every single day to go to school.
Credit: q2-5. Digital image. Readers Portal.
His father was a cocoa farmer and his mother sold coal, he is now a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania
Credit: IMG_20180419_173741. Digital image. Savannah News Online
Conditions for farmers in Africa are tough, as multinational corporations pay low wages for prices products such as cocoa. Shadrack Osei Frimpong is a Ghanian dynamo who excelled at school and made his way to the United States. He is now giving back to his community, establishing a tuition-free girls’ school in his village. What an inspiring young man. Those who succeed despite a tough beginning are often the most generous and amazing human beings. African youth face many challenges, including guerrilla warfare, human trafficking and disease, so it is amazing to see ow someone from a rural area could actually work towards better conditions not only for himself, but for his whole community.
Last but not least, this Indonesian son of farmers who graduated from Columbia University in New York City
Credit: 10.-Graduation-S2-1. Digital Image. Mengglobal Indonesia
Robinson Sinurat is the fifth child of a family of seven. His parents did not finish their schooling because of financial struggles, so the odds were stacked against Robinson. He knew that he wanted to study physics, so he borrowed money from a friend to pay for university fees in Indonesia and ate only once a day. After graduating from college he worked in an NGO in the capital city of Jakarta, where he started studying English to apply for graduate school. His academic and professional accomplishments caught the eye of Columbia… and the rest, as they say, is history. You can read all about his improbable journey here.
This hombre hermoso from Thailand whose dirty clothes speak of a tough life
Credit: Facebook. @Chesney O’Donnell
The contrast is striking. This Thai farmer almost looks shy in front of the camera. The moraleja is clear: be very, very thankful for everything that your parents have done for you.
During this graduation season, we love to hear about first-time college graduates, especially from those who are children of immigrants. It’s so inspiring to read how so many of these people worked hard to make their parents proud, especially because they worked even harder to give their children a better life. In very few cases, it’s not just their children who are graduating but the parents themselves.
Fifty-eight-year-old Adolfo González, a farmworker who used to pick celery, earned his bachelor’s degree from the California State University, Monterey Bay.
González, an indigenous immigrant from Mexico, worked in agriculture for years in Salinas Valley, California but always dreamed about going back to school. According to The Californian, González went back to nigh school to learn English. But even while continuing his studies, he never forgot his roots.
“I think it’s very important to learn our indigenous language because it’s part of our culture,” he told the publication. “It’s part of our identity.”
González graduated early and with honors a year after his daughter got her college degree as well.
“The most important thing for me is not what I’m doing now,” he told the publication. “The most important thing to me is to inspire people to do the same thing I did, because, como dijo Cesar Chavez, ‘Si se puede.'”
His journey and story to get to that stage are inspiring everyone who is reading about him on social media.
The “Si Se Puede” motto can take us all the way to the top. Not only does it inspire us to reach for the best that we can be, it also reminds us of how far we’ve come.
His story is proof that determination is the most important part of anyone’s journey.
“I took the decision to come to the United States like everybody does, because it’s the only way we can support our family,” he said. “I always promised to my mom ‘I will buy you a house,’ and I did it.”
He pursued an education so that he could continue to help his community.
Who wouldn’t want someone this passionate as their teacher? He is going to change the lives and thoughts of so many people. He is the kind of people we need to become educators to spark that love of education in others.
Big congratulations to Adolfo and his unending determination to become the best version of himself that he could be.
He will be like another Mr. Escalante. At least we can all hope that he will be the next big teacher to change lives one class at a time.
Congratulations, Adolfo González.
Share your touching graduation stories with us on social media using #MituGraduate.