Ricardo Morales

Ricardo Morales

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

I was born in Tamaulipas, Mexico, March 18, 1986. Both of my parents are from Mexico. My mom is from Durango, and my dad is from Michoacán, but they met in the state of Tamaulipas. When we were living in Mexico, they actually had work visas so they came to the U.S., and did a lot of agricultural work. My sister who is the oldest would take care of the rest of us, so they would come to the US, and stay in the U.S. for months at a time. And we would stay back in Mexico with my sister.

I still remember the day when we crossed over to the U.S. We actually came here illegally. What they call a "coyote" smuggled my brothers and I into the U.S.A. when I was 3 years old.

Sometimes you see in the movies, or you hear that everybody crosses the Rio Grande, and we did cross some bodies of water, but it wasn't anything extreme like a big river like that. I just remember my dad holding me. I think I slept a lot of the time.

Where and when did one or both of your parents work as migrant laborers?

We actually had family in Moorpark, California, which is by the Oxnard/Ventura area. And one of our relatives, my aunt, she had built a room in the back of her house, and allowed us to stay there till we got on our feet. And at the time my parents were working. My dad was picking celery, and my mom was picking strawberries. So my parents immediately started working in the agriculture doing farm work and whatnot. And that's all that my parents have ever done.

I know that my grandfather was part of the Bracero Program when it was in effect and he came and worked over here. As far as how that influenced my mom and my dad, to move over here and that kind of a thing I'm not too sure, if that had anything to do with it.

I recall my first year of kindergarten. My mom was at work, and so was my dad. They'd be out of the house by four or five in the morning, so I would have to go to my neighbor, and they would get me ready for school. And they were the ones that took me, you know, my first day of kindergarten. I still remember that. Her taking me to class.

My brothers were older. I actually got to see them working in the fields. They would go to work with my dad in the fields because we needed income. And that was our way of sustaining our house. And so that I would say was something, another factor that kind of made me really think about college, because I watched the struggles that they went through, you know, just to have a new pair of jeans was kind of difficult. And I knew that I didn't want to grow up that way.

Have you ever worked as a migrant laborer?

I didn't. Luckily, I didn't have to work in the fields. I was still young. By the time I hit high school, we were pretty stable, and so there wasn't a need for me to be doing that. Like I said, just watching my brothers come home, dirty and tired, that just kind of made me think about, well, that's not something that I want to do.

Where did you live when your parents and your brothers were working as migrant laborers?

We moved to Bakersfield when I was 6 years old. So we lived in Moorpark for 3 years. And we actually, there's a distant cousin of my dad that lived out here- living was so much cheaper out here. So that was part of the American Dream, to own your own home in the United States.

When we moved over here, my mom pretty much took the role of a stay at home mom. And my dad continued working out in Ventura. So my dad would be in the home for the weekends, and he would leave Monday mornings. So my mom was doing a lot of the dad, mom/dad role, while my dad continued to work picking celery.

How much education did your parents have? Do you know if they wanted more than they had?

They only made it up to junior high level. In Mexico, the lifestyle's a lot more different than here. And so they married and started working. The expectation or just the norm is that once you hit a certain age, usually by the time you're in high school or you graduate high school, that you're an adult, and you find a job. You get married. But definitely I know that my dad wishes that he would have continued his education. And he's always said that, to all of us, that a higher education is the way to go. And my mom as well, so they really instilled that in us.

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?

RM: My dad always said, although he was and still is out of the home a lot, I remember growing up, he would always tell me, "I want you to get an education so that you can choose a job that you want to have, not the job that you have to have." And I think that that's why I decided to go to college. I wanted to make sure that I had a job that I enjoyed doing as opposed to waking up every day and saying, "Ugh, I have to go to work." You know, he used himself as an example, he said, "Look at me. I mean I'm always out working, he would say "quebrandome la espalda." I'm breaking my back doing this kind of work just so that I can be able to support you guys." So that really kind of encouraged me to pursue a higher education.

When I was growing up, my parents tried to help me with schoolwork. But because of the language barrier it was oftentimes difficult for them to help me with my homework. My dad, by the time I was in junior high and high school, he was a truck driver now, working still in agriculture. And so he was out of the house pretty much all the time, sometimes up to six, seven months continuously, and so my mom, all she pretty much could do was encourage me and really support me. But there wasn't much she could actually sit down and help me with because of the language barrier. So it was, it was kind of difficult for her to do that, but she was very supportive. When it came to awards ceremonies or me being recognized for something I had done, I do recall my mom would made every effort to be there, every time something like that happened.

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

Growing up, when I was little, I wanted to be a firefighter. I loved fire trucks and sirens and all of that. But it wasn't until about junior high, maybe high school, I decided that I wanted to do something in the field of criminal justice, either as a police officer or, just helping others. And actually I think that right now I'm in a position where I definitely do help others, so I'm happy doing what I do right now.

There were times when I struggled. And I felt like I had no option, like there was no one that could help me. Because I thought, "Well, if my parents can't help me, who's going to be able to help me?" And, I think that growing up, going through those experiences helped me decide what I wanted to do with my career, which is what I do now. Helping at-risk youth, by mentoring them, and kind of encouraging them and guiding them into the right path.

Did anyone other than your family influence you to go to college, or discourage you from doing so?

My parents definitely influenced me, just the pep talks that they would give me - higher education is the way to go, you don't want to end up like me working in the fields. And one of my sisters-in-law, she was pretty good about letting me know that college was the way to go. So I would say that all of my family members at one point were an influencing factor in me going to college.

I actually have junior high teachers who I still keep in touch with every now and then. Mr. Johnson who was my history teacher at Sequoia. He was very good about the real world, and telling us what the real world was really like. He didn't hold back. He told us the truth you know and I always remember his speeches, you know once you get to high school, that's it, it's not a game, it's part of the real world. Ms. Bozina ,who was my English teacher, same thing. They were very encouraging and they were very supportive of their students getting a higher education and going to college. I wouldn't say that anyone discouraged me.

How did you decide where to go to college?

Actually I went to Cal State here in Bakersfield, right out of high school. I still remember two CSUB representatives come on campus. I remember the day they called me out of class to the career center and I had no idea what it was for. And I remember the two gentlemen standing there, and they gave me a letter, they shook my hand, and they just said, "Congratulations, you've been accepted to CSU." And I was confused, 'cause I hadn't applied, you know. But I guess my grades got me there, and so I still remember that day. It was one of the happiest days of my life because I was the first one to make it that far. And I knew that I was going to make my mom proud from that day on. And I do remember going home and I read the letter to my mom. It was in English, but I translated it for her, and you know when I saw the tears coming out of her eyes, I knew they were tears of happiness, and that's what really made me realize that what I was doing was the right thing.

My junior year I was in the National Honors Society, and so that program did a good job of exposing me to different universities. And we had taken a campus tour of UC Riverside and UC Irvine, and when this opportunity came along enroll at Cal State, at CSUB, I kind of started wondering you know, what would be the best choice for me. And since my degree is in criminal justice, Cal State has a pretty good criminal justice department. I initially wanted to go to UC Irvine, but then again I must admit I'm kind of a momma's boy so, you know, the thought of moving away at 18 was kind of scary. It was kind of comforting knowing that I could stay in my hometown and still be around my mom.

What challenges did you encounter in college? How did you overcome challenges in college Did you have any guides or mentors?

I will have to say, though, that since I was the first one in my family to make it that far, it was a bit difficult for me to learn my way around campus, and how to choose classes, and do the things that a freshman student needed to do to be on track. Those were the only hardships that I had. And just not knowing who to talk to, or who to ask questions. I've always been kind of a really quiet person, and I kind of keep to myself, and during college that was the case, where I wanted to figure things out for myself. Kind of like learning the hard way. So that was one of the hard things that I struggled with.

The first quarter was the most difficult quarter because I still was trying to figure out what I was doing. You know, I knew I had made it to college, but I didn't know for what. Then one of my professors, a criminal justice professor, who later became my advisor pretty much all four years, she really was there to encourage me, guide me. So she helped me with classes that I needed to take. She really pointed me in the right direction. So I definitely looked up to her a lot. Actually graduation day, she was there and I got to express my thanks for everything that she did for me, so definitely she was a mentor, during my four-year stay at CSUB.

I definitely had difficulty getting financial aid. Many kids once they graduate high school, they don't realize how much help is out there financially. And for me, that was something that I figured out on my own, not knowing how to fill out a FAFSA, not knowing how to, or to decide if to take students loans or not. So just the fact that I was doing everything on my own, kind of blindsided. I figured it out the hard way sometimes. I have to say was the most difficult part. Now that I went through college, I can definitely say, when we have kids who want to enroll, even at BC, I'm able to help with financial aid. I'm very familiar with FAFSA. I'm able to help them pick their general ed. classes. It's just very rewarding to know I'm able to help somebody, knowing how it feels to not have someone there for you.

When you were at CSUB, did you participate in the College Assistant Migrant Program or CAMP?

I was in the CAMP program when I first enrolled. I believe I was only in it for a few quarters. It helped. Once I knew that they were there at my disposal, for me to ask questions and for them to help me. They helped me get the right classes 'cause I had enrolled in 2 classes that I didn't need. And so they were the ones that helped me kind of straighten out my career plans, and class schedule and whatnot. So they were very helpful.

How did you decide on your course of study? What factors and individuals influenced your choice of discipline and degree?

When we were younger, my brothers were going down the wrong, the wrong path. So they had been in and out of the criminal justice systems, whether it be in jail or just with the wrong crowd, so I started seeing a lot of what police officers do and that kind of thing.

When we were growing up, there was an incident that occurred in our home that really made me decide that I wanted to be a criminal justice major. Or be part of the criminal justice system. Our house was raided. We had officers in our backyard. They barged into our home, and pretty much woke us, got us out of bed, flipped the mattresses, pretty much turned the house upside down. And us not knowing our rights, we didn't know what to do. We just thought that that was ok; that they were able to do that. And when that happened, I knew that there was something that we could have done, that we did have rights and so, I decided to go into criminal justice because I wanted to know more about our rights as civilians. You learn about the search warrant, about the 24 hours, having a prior notice and what not.

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?

I have a younger brother who is a senior at West High now, and I think, or I hope that I have been kind of a mentor for him, in a sense, since I went through college. And it helped me really talk to him about the benefits of having a college degree. When I was growing up, I didn't really have my brothers there to tell me the importance of that, or my dad so much, because he didn't have a high school education. So definitely the fact that I have a degree is very rewarding ,but also the fact that I'm able to share my experiences. And even my younger nieces and nephews, I have a niece who just started at BC and she's 18. Just being able to share and help her out with financial aid, that kind of thing, is very rewarding in itself.

Now how about with your siblings who didn't attend college - has your college education influenced your relationship with them at all, or with your parents?

I think definitely it has influenced. Our relationship has gotten better. It's a great feeling to know that I'm a role model in the family. That they're able to say, "Well Uncle Ricky went to college, you know, if he can do it, it, you can do it." Anyone can, it can be done. Just because us parents didn't get that opportunity or didn't do this, doesn't mean that you have to follow in our footsteps. So it's definitely broadened a great relationship with my parents and my brothers.

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

Currently I'm a youth mentor/coordinator. We work in the high schools. We work with at-risk kids who are in opportunity class. It's the kids that need the guidance and the encouragement to get on their feet, just making the right choices. So in a way, it kind of falls along the lines of the lifestyle that I lived when I was growing up. I do have a degree in criminal justice and my ultimate goal in life is to be part of the FBI. Maybe not necessarily an FBI agent, but just working within the department. But like I said I really enjoy helping others, which is what I'm doing now, so I'm happy here.

What differences has obtaining a college degree made in your personal life? And in your professional life?

I think that anybody who makes it through four years of college, the mature level skyrockets, you know. When you're going through high school, it's not taken serious because you think it's just high school. And when you're in college, it's like that money that you're paying for those classes is coming out of you pocket or, student loans, or whatnot. But it's an investment that you're making in yourself. I definitely think that the maturity level of anyone that goes through college gets a lot better.

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

RM: For anyone who is a first-time college student, just period, or the first in their family, definitely it's a scary feeling. It's a scary experience, but know that you're not alone and don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to seek advice from professors, from other peers, or even other organizations within the community. Like I said one of my duties here is to help youth make that transition. So oftentimes I've helped kids fill out their financial aid. Or I've even gone out to their campuses to do a campus tour with them. And just get 'em familiar with that. So don't be afraid or think that you're in it on your own. You know, there are going to be times when school is going to be a little hectic, it could be tough, but it can be done. It can be done, and definitely at the end it will be a very, very rewarding thing to have done. A great accomplishment.

I think because I grew up with English as my second language, I think there are definitely a lot of kids out there who sometimes can be discouraged because we might have an accent. Or it might be difficult to comprehend what other people are saying. But you know, don't let that be a burden in your life, treasure that , that you come from wherever you come from. Adding that high school or college degree to your list of accomplishments is definitely something they should look forward to. A milestone like that in life is amazing. It's very rewarding when you see your parents watching you cross the stage, when you see younger siblings knowing that you have made it that far, and now there are kids who are looking up to you. Just keep going. Don't give up.