Marissa Harrington

Marissa Harrington

Please tell us about your family background. Are your parents natives of California? Are you?

Since we're migrant workers we pretty much moved throughout California. I have three sisters and one brother. I have a sister that's ten years older than me. And then it's myself. Then it's my brother. There's a one-year gap there. And after that, it's my two younger sisters.

I was actually born in Torrance, California, but we didn't really settle there. Throughout Coachella, Indio, Strathmore, Terra Bella, wherever the job was, that's where my parents would go. So we really didn't settle until, in Bakersfield, you know myself in 2003, was when I first moved to Bakersfield.

My parents came from Michoacán, Mexico. I haven't gone myself for a few years but my parents try to make it a yearly habit to go over there and visit family, at least during the holidays. As a child when we were growing up, we would stay here during the season for crops. And then when it would be the slow season, we would then go to Mexico and spend the months there. So it was a back and forth thing.

So both of your parents worked as migrant laborers?

Yes, they were agricultural workers. They did basically grapes. They did olives. They did oranges. They did avocados. So just different kinds of fruits and vegetables.

So growing up, since you moved around a lot, was it hard to make friends in school?

It was. And, you know, you kind of isolate yourself 'cause at first it's very difficult. You would make friends and then you would have to say goodbye to those friends. You have those friends, but you try not to develop a strong friendship 'cause you don't know how long you're going to be there. And you know that sooner or later your parents are going move on to another town, another city. So that's the only thing that you know.

What did you hope to do and be when you grew up? Was there a moment when your vision of your future changed?

When I was in high school, I did want to pursue higher education because I would see the way my parents were struggling. It was difficult. Just the fact that my parents never got the opportunity, not even to go to kindergarten. They do not know how to read or write, so I was the translator. I was basically a little bit of everything. I wanted to pursue a higher education but at the same time I knew how much my parents needed me.

And at the same time, I did not know how. I didn't know where to go. I had no one to guide me, telling me, "Hey you need to go here to register. You need to do this." I had no guidelines so I remember finally, once I graduated high school, you know what, I need to do this, and I decided to do it myself. I went to the Porterville Community College and I was very lost. I didn't know about financial aid. I was just lost. I had a counselor guide me. I didn't even know there was even counselors available. So a counselor told me, "You need to register. You need to do this. Have you even put in an application? No?" So I had a counselor guide me through, and once that process took place and I started college classes, they were so different from high school classes, 'cause now you're independent. You're on your own. If you show up. If you don't, you don't. So it was a bomb to me.

And trying to get used to the whole college thing, not having anyone to go to for help, I just felt like I can't even go to my parents if I had a question. My older sister, she kind of stopped at high school and didn't pursue any higher education, 'cause we didn't know about it, so. It was told to us, "Go ahead, you know we want the best for you." But at the same time, it was not something that was pushed on us. And for that reason, I felt lost and after about a quarter or two, I kind of just, I can't do this. It's too difficult, and I stepped away. But then I realized, you know, through my job, I kind of looked around and said, "Is this really what I want for myself. Do I want to continue living and working at a minimum wage? Do I want to do that? 'Cause you can't survive on that." And that was my reality check. And then I remember seeing my parents, how they were struggling. And so that kind of hit me I said, "No, I need to go back." So I decided to go back, this time enrolling at Bakersfield College and I haven't stopped since, so...

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?

They didn't discourage me. It was more like, you know, if you want to pursue it, go ahead. But at the same time, it was, you know, we really need you here. So they never discouraged it, but they also knew that they needed me at home. Though they were not saying it in words, you get a sense, you know. And so that kind of made it difficult.

Were there any cultural pressures on you to, maybe instead of going to college, maybe getting married or settling down with kids?

There wasn't. I didn't feel that pressure. I think practically, again, because I isolated myself. And so my parents, in their mind, they had made a decision that, you know, Marissa is never going to get married. She's never going to get with anyone. She's going to be with us forever kind of thing. And because of that, I isolated myself. Now on the other hand, we have my sister, that was kind of expected. The marriage, you know, have your kids. And I think it's because we were so different in character.

And so, going through high school and all this stuff, when you needed help on homework, you said you couldn't go home to your parents-

I would try to figure it out myself. And I know that I, my gosh, sometimes I would be up, it was four in the morning and I knew I had to get up in a couple hours to go to school, and I was still trying to figure this out. And there was times where I would cry 'cause I just did not know. You know, thinking about it right now, I did not know what to do. It was hard.

What about your younger siblings now? Do they turn to you?

Yes, they do.

And you say your brother is a year younger?

Correct. Like I said, I have a sister that's 10 years older and then it's myself. And then I have a sister right now that's 24, and then I have another sister that's going to turn 21 in February so.

And so are they also pursuing college?

My younger one is. My 24 year old, I say mine because I kind of feel like, you know, I was there so, my 24 year old. She is slowly going into community college. She hasn't been in school since high school, so she's slowly trying classes at the community college here at Bakersfield College. My brother, he did not pursue higher education. He finished at high school and got married young. Had his kids and moved on.

So if you think back to your graduation day, the whole family was there, so and you're the first to get your college degree-

It was amazing. My parents were so proud. It was just a great feeling. They were very excited. My sister took time off work. She did posters, which she found out she couldn't take with her, but you know they just went all out. They're extremely proud of me. It just felt really good. Not only for myself but just to see, you know, my parents, just to see their expression. I know that my dad got all emotional about it. And my dad doesn't show emotion very well. So for him to get emotional about it, I know it meant a lot. And of course my mom, she's always emotional. So she was excited. I also think that's when it hit my sisters too, that, you know, we need to do something ourselves, and so it was nice to see that.

So when did you decide that you wanted to do an MBA?

Once I knew I was going to graduate, I was struggling with whether or not to go for the MBA. Due to the fact that I have a full schedule already at work. And I'm also a mom of two boys. So having you know a family to take care of, as well as school and work, you get burned out. And after thinking about it, thinking about it, I spoke to Dr. Bidgoli. And he talked about the program and just hearing him talk about it, it seemed like a great idea. And I thought about myself. And thought, "You know, I already have a schedule. I already know what it is to go to school full time, go to work full time, and take care of my family. I know that if I stop, it's going to be difficult for me to come back." So since I already have my schedule established I figured, why not go for my master's and just you know try to accomplish that goal now. And so what did your family think when you said you were going to-

"Estas loca." They were happy for me, but it's like, how much more school do you want? So, little things like that, but they're like you know what, go for it. We know you could do it.

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?

MH: When I think back, it gave me stability. Which I wanted, and I longed for. Knowing that I'm providing for my children with stability. We're not constantly moving. And it also gave a safety net. Yes, I might not right now make what a CEO makes. I'm just a district manager, but I make enough to be able not to be afraid: am I going to have enough money to feed my children the next week, or even the next day. I've learned to budget myself. I've learned that fear, not having that fear feels so good. Knowing that you could provide a meal to your family. And not having to think, "Ok, what about, if tomorrow, they stop us at work? Or, what about if it rains and now we're off, and our check is missing four days." Things of that nature.

And have you talked to your sons already about college and those kinds of things?

Yes. I hope they would. I'm going to let them choose. 'Cause ultimately it's your choice. If you're forced into college, you are not going to enjoy your experience there. And at the same time you just want to get there and get out. And you're not going in there to learn the concepts, to take it all in. So I don't think forcing them is a good choice. It should be up to the child, whether to go.

How would you motivate them?

The way I motivate them is that they see their mother going to school still. I motivate them by saying, "Hey we, you know, let's go, it's time to go to school." I don't say, "You have to go to school. Get up. You have to go to this." I feel that by saying the word "have" to you're already putting that in their mind you know like you're forcing them. Come on, make it fun. I know I have my boy, that's six, he loves putting things together, taking things apart. So I motivate him saying, "You know, if you go to college, they'll teach you how to put this together. Or how to figure out how to build your own robot." And you slowly start seeing what you're child likes and trying to work on that. And I kind of throw the college thing in there. Well, if you go here you know they could teach you how to apply that. They could teach you how to. And they're like, "Really?" And they get all excited about it, and so that's how I motivate them.

Had you had that motivation, do you think you'd be doing anything different than what you're doing now?

I think if I would have had that motivation from my parents, I feel like I would have not been so lost. I feel like, how do I explain this. It would not have taken me so long to realize that this is the right path for me to take. And sometimes I look back and I see, wow, I've lost so many years when I could have just went straight through. And that's the thing, you know, but I see myself in the same place I am now. It just wouldn't have taken me so long to get here.

You said at Porterville you had some counselors that helped you, but were there any programs like the CAMP program or anything like that, that you knew of, or that you signed up with?

That's the thing, no. When I went, the only reason I found out about a counselor was because I did not know how to register, so the lady at the registration office said, "Well, you know you can make an appointment with the counselor." But nothing was told to me about, you know, there's these programs. I did not know there was clubs or things you could join. It was never, Hey, if you join this club, they could actually guide you through. Or if you do this, they could show you the ropes around or, get a college buddy, some kind of buddy system that could walk you around campus. It was me trying to figure it out myself.

And so now that you know all of that, have you taken advantage of any of those kinds of programs?

Right now, the CSUB alumni, as well as the CSUB MBA students, are trying to put together a chapter of NSHMBA, National Society of Hispanics. NSHMBA is well-known throughout the U.S., the closest chapter we have is in LA, so we're trying to make a chapter here in Bakersfield. And we're actually going to take our proposal to the Orlando conference, in October, in hopes that they will consider making Bakersfield a chapter also.

I feel I want to give something back to the community. I know what it is to be out there. I've been there without having guidance. And it's needed. So because of that, I want to be able to help. I would love, you know, that's one of the things that we've been talking about with our group. The vice president right now of NSHMBA, he is talking about those at-risk youths, for us going over there, talking to them and encouraging them to seek higher education. And so, that would be our goal to go to the high schools. Speak to them. Let them know, if you need help we are here. And guiding them through the process. And that is something that would satisfy me too. 'Cause I'm making a difference. It just would fulfill me as a person.

What is your profession or career? How satisfied are you with your career?

At this time I currently work for Kern County Airports, which is also known Meadows Field Airport, as a marketing and promotions assistant. I started off as an office service technician but then got moved and promoted up to that title. And I've been there since 2007 working at that department.

Five or six years down the road I want to be in a management position. If I'm not a manager of a private corporation, or at least of a public, then I plan on opening up my own business. And that would be with my husband doing some kind of drafting, blue print kind of services, since he does that, and me managing it. We were actually thinking about it before the housing market kind of went down. So, that would be another thing, owning my own business, being my own manager.

And so do you think the education has prepared you for-

Yes. It showed me the steps to take to achieve those goals. It's giving me networking opportunities. And that's one thing students don't realize, how important networking is. They feel like, okay you just go to school, you graduate, that's it. You'll be given this great job. No. You have to go, you need to apply yourself. There's internships you can do, at least for the summer. There's the networking, something, a gathering, whether it be through the Greater Chamber of Commerce, or even the mixers through the MBA. And you go and you network, and you get to meet managers, owners, just different individuals that could assist you at ultimately achieving your career goals. And I did not learn that until I entered the MBA. The importance of networking, and that has paid off.

What kinds of advice would you have for any other kid who might be the first in their family to go to college?

I don't think "I can't" should be used, because right away you're already thinking negatively. You're not even opening up yourself to that opportunity. Right away you're already shutting that door. I mean how do you know you can't, if you haven't tried it. So, my suggestion is try it, you know, it doesn't hurt. Just go for it, try it, and yes there might be struggles at the beginning, try to adjust yourself, or try to get used to it, but trust me at the end it's worth it. Just don't shut yourself and say, "You know what? I'm not even going to look at it." I guess what I'm trying to say is, have the self-confidence to go for it, you're worth it. You are worth it. And by you shutting that door and saying, "I can't," you're saying I'm not worth that opportunity. So I would suggest, just try it, go for it, and you'd be completely surprised on how much you could achieve, by just believing in yourself to do that.