Please tell us about your family background. Are your parents natives of California? Are you?
My parents came from Mexico. My mother came when she was fifteen, and my father came with the Bracero Program. So he was pretty young when he was here. They met here in California, I guess when they working out in the fields. My father worked for the Bracero Program for a while and then he decided to stay here in the United States. My mom came illegally here to the United States. They ended up moving into the Woodville Labor Camp. And so that's where our family started. So I was living there since I was probably about three years of age. And I lived there till I was about fifteen years.
How much education did your parents have?
I guess they were so poor-in Mexico you have to pay for your education, so my mother didn't get to go to school. My father did for a few years, but there was a war at that time in Mexico. So he was young and his father got killed, and you know he had a lot of trouble with his family. He was trying to help them out. So that's when he decided that he was going to go through the Bracero Program. He came here to the United States. And he started working and sending them money. All that family is still there.
Have you ever worked as a migrant laborer?
LH: Oh yes. Before the laws came into effect, they would make us go and help them, and actually I thought it was fun. We would go and work in picking tomatoes, or we did peppers, cucumbers, and it helped them out a lot because then they got paid by the bucket. And so having all of us kids there helping them, it just made it fun for us, and for them, it was a lot of help, as far as bringing money in. And then I started babysitting, so then that helped out. And so I was able to buy my own clothing, I was able to help my mom with some stuff.
What was it like living in the labor camp?
LH: I actually had a lot of fun because the community was very united. A lot of people would come in from government agencies. And they provided free food. Then they ended up setting up a child-care center in the labor camp. So the farmers, I mean the migrant workers could go and work at the fields. I really enjoyed living there because we had a lot of families that we knew. If we were in need of clothing or food, people would kind of help out each other and so I did enjoy that part.
But I know there was a lot of poverty and also a lot of illegal stuff. People of course when they're in need of more money, they start getting into things like drugs and stealing stuff. And getting into gangs. And we had a lot of that also. So that was part of the community. It wasn't very scary for me because I think it was just a part of what I grew up in. There were always officers coming in; SWAT teams coming in, and arresting individuals because they were trafficking drugs. There was also a lot of parents drinking alcohol and stuff. So there was always a lot fights and arguments.
But I did enjoy having that community where you could depend on the strong family that had those values that you wanted to grow up in. That's how I met one of my best friends, you know Connie [Perez, also included in the "Camp to Campus" documentary]. She grew up in there. They had a really strong relationship as a family, and her father worked there in the labor camp and her mom worked I believe in the fields. And so having them just to kind of depend on and take in some other values that really helped me figure out where I wanted to be in life...
Everybody had their own apartment. Some of them were actually houses. Depending on the income, depending on how many family members you had. So they had from two-bedroom homes, to three, to four. They had really strict regulations 'cause they wanted to keep the area clean. You can't have any animals. You can't have other individuals come and live with you. They kept records of whoever was in there. They did inspections, a lot of inspections in the home, like at least once a month. They would come and randomly pick homes where they would come in and make sure that the houses were being kept up. So I think that's why it's still there and it's a pretty clean labor camp, you know. Every year they would paint the homes, and they would come in. Anything that needed to be fixed they would fix. So I liked that, that structure.
And so you lived there 12 months out of the year?
Yes. But I know my parents they drove quite a lot of hours to get to work. So they would leave like really early in the morning, and they would drive sometimes more than three hours just to get to where they had to go work. They just went with the group, you know. Then they would be back by dinnertime.
So when they were away were you in school? Or in daycare?
Yes, I was in the childcare program that they had there. And then we would have a baby sitter, somebody that was older from another family. They would come in and just check on us to make sure we were not getting into trouble and stuff, but the majority of the time we were by ourselves when we were children.
In elementary school, probably the majority of the kids were from the labor camp. Then when we went to Porterville, which is a little bit of a bigger town, for high school, there was a mixture of a lot of different individuals, which really opened my eyes. It was very different from just Hispanic and that's all you knew. We had communities from Filipinos and the white community, and then a few African-Americans. And then from from a low-income status to a higher economic status. It was kind of difficult for me.
And then you were in high school you weren't still living there, you had already moved out of the labor camp?
Part of my high school year I was there, in the Woodville Labor Camp, and then I ended up being placed in foster care. When I was 15, so then I got moved to Porterville, after being in Woodville for all of those years. So that made a bigger change, and I got to see and have friends that were from a different social, economic status and that kind of helped me change my thoughts on life.
What did your parents, and other family members, hope you would be and do when you grew up? Did your parents help you with your schoolwork when you were growing up?
Were they involved in your school-related activities?
I think that I never wanted to work in the fields. I know that my parents were very adamant that they did not want me to go to high school. That was one of the big arguments because no one in my family had, I was the first one, a female to go to high school. And it was really hard for them to see that. They wanted me to graduate 8th grade and just go work in the fields, and not attend high school. So, I fought that.
And actually the principal from my elementary school came and I cried to him and I told him what was happening. And so he came and talked to my family. And spoke to my mom and father, and told them you know how important high school was and that they needed to accept that I wanted to go to high school. And that I didn't want to give up on not going to high school just because all my family never went past 8th grade. And I think he even talked about the legalities and all that, so that forced them to have me go to high school, and so I did. But a lot of the times they, they didn't want me to go to high school. They were always wanting to take me out. And they would take us out, and take us to Mexico and we would go to Mexico for about three months out of the year, every year. He, my father, didn't want us to leave Mexico. He wanted us to stay there and so, we had such a big argument about not staying there, and trying to come back to the Unites States and make some form of an education. Because I knew the education was important for the future.
And a lot of the teachers at the high school that I went to were really good about talking to me and sitting down, making me understand that there was a future out there and that you didn't have to stay in the environment that you [came from]. And we had a lot of counseling also with my parents because we had a lot of emotional stuff going on. My father had a lot of alcohol abuse, and drug abuse. We had a lot of physical abuse in the homes. So that's one of the reasons that I was put in foster care. And then also my mom and I wanted to kind of keep our relationship together so the school decided that we had to go to counseling, so we did go to counseling for a while. And they didn't really help my father 'cause he didn't really care to hear somebody else. But listening to that person talk to me and make me understand that yes, you know, I was in the right about school and getting an education and not giving up on school...
Do you have siblings?
Yes. I have seven brothers and two sisters. Seven of us grew up together. My sisters are actually well off, and they did really good. But my brothers, I have two of that are doing good, but the majority of them have been in and out of prison.
And did they have the same kind of pressure of not going to school that you did?
Yes, they did. Not as much, because in the Mexican culture, you, it's always more protecting the females than the males. And the males are just more allowed to do what they want they want to do. They didn't go to high school only because they decided. They ended up getting their diploma afterwards. And they didn't continue on with college, it's just a decision that they make.
What did you hope to do and be when you grew up? Was there a moment when your vision of your future changed?
I had a learning disability when I was younger, and I wasn't doing very good in the tests. I didn't even realize that you could go to tutoring or that there was a learning center. There's help for people that had learning disabilities. And it took me a while to understand that, going and getting help, and learning different techniques of how to study. I was wanting to give up. But I think that when I did the tutoring, and I got the help that I needed, it almost motivated me, ok I'm starting to do better, I think I can do this. And that kind of pushed me to continue with school.
So when you were in high school, since you were older than all the others, if you needed help with homework and things like that, where would you turn to?
Nobody. It was myself. And I had to learn how to read by myself 'cause my parents didn't even speak English. It was really hard 'cause I didn't learn how to speak English until I think I was in 5th, 6th grade, and didn't start learning how to read until then because my parents would take me out of school for months and months. And so I didn't really have much of an education, and I was really behind everything. It was just me wanting to motivate myself to not feel, at school, that I was kind of being isolated for not knowing how to read, how to understand things, how to communicate with anybody.
How did you decide on your course of study? What factors and individuals influenced your choice of discipline and degree?
As soon as I graduated from high school I went to college for like a semester and I. They didn't have what I wanted. They didn't have the program, the nursing program, at that college. Then I decided, well, I want something in the medical field, something easy, something quick, something I could work at and not be in there for a long time. So decided to go over to the adult school, and they had a medical assistant program. So that's what I did. Finished, and immediately got a job at a medical facility after I graduated from there. And working with another Latina doctor that, she's one of the first in her family, and one of the first female Hispanic doctors, to graduate from-I think she went to UC Davis-and she said that she saw a lot of potential in me.
And she forced me to go sign up for college, and I would tell her that I just barely have enough money to make it through what I need to do, so she wrote my first check and made me go sign up at the college. And she actually got me all the numbers necessary, all the information because I didn't even know how to start. Because I never had a family member going to college, or knowing about college. She forced me to just go back and do something and she wanted me to either become a doctor or something. I would tell her, "No, there's no way I could become anything more than what I do now." And she said, "Nope. You're going to go and you're going to become something." So she forced me, and I think that's, I, that was really nice of her to have done that. And that motivated me, and she was my big role model, that she helped me a lot through with school.
At first I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to major in biology. And then after the whole economy started dumping, it sounded like nursing was going to be the better choice as far as jobs. And I liked the medical field. Also, and I liked the science in nursing, so I became a registered nurse and I got my bachelor's degree here at Cal State. And then I decided to move on and do the Nurse Practitioning Masters here at Cal State Bakersfield.
What differences has obtaining a college degree made in your personal life? And in your professional life?
LH: Oh definitely, it's the education. You know I'm very fortunate with the position that I'm in, because I have a lot of opportunities to be wherever I want, do whatever I want. It's just you have so many job opportunities. There's always openings. You're always being asked if you want to work at this place or another place because of the education that I got here. I think that made it possible. So there's no way that without the education that I have, that I would be where I'm at.
And you have kids. Do you expect that they also go to college? Or you're going to let them decide if they want to go to college or not?
Oh no, it's expected in my household. Like, we have the choice of either you go to college, or you go to the military. So, they have no other choice in between.
How has your college education and professional success influenced your relationship to your parents and siblings, during your college years and since-including any family members who did not pursue higher education?
During the time that I was going to school, they just never saw that I was ever getting to the end of finishing up school. And so they would be, "You're stressing yourself out. Why are you still going to school?" And then, after they saw me graduate and they saw the job that I was able to get, and the pay that I'm able to get, they're actually now proud. My mom, for the first time, she came to my graduation. From being in foster care, and coming to re-connect back with them, we... She gave me like for the first time a hug, and told me she loved me and she was proud of me. So that was very touching for me, because I never had that relationship with her.
We still have a lot of disconnections, but I know that she loves me. And I know that she's proud of me and that makes me feel, I guess, good inside. And still that kind of makes me upset, the relationship that she still continues with my brothers, who are in and out of prison. And allowing certain things, illegal stuff to happen. I am not. I don't want to be in that environment, and I don't want my children to see that environment. So that's why I'm pretty disconnected from them.