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Striving for Better: UTRGV Graduate Ready for Next Chapter

by Amanda L. Alaniz

EDINBURG, TEXAS – Family vacations, spending time with friends, taking a break from schoolwork – college students usually envision those as summer break activities.

But for Raquel Perez, a UTRGV bilingual education major, summers consisted of waking up early to work long hours in la labor, helping her family sort produce on a farm in Michigan.

The soon-to-be UTRGV graduate and future educator embraces her roots as a migrant farmworker, and says she appreciates the inspiration and motivation her parents gave her to continue her educational journey.

 

‘SOMETHING NOBODY CAN TAKE AWAY’

The Perez family, from Edinburg, Texas, has been traveling to Michigan for more than 20 years to work at the L. H. Piggott and Girls Farm in Benton Harbor from April to October. When there, the family of six works seven days a week for nearly 12 hours a day.

Raquel started working when she was 12 years old, helping to sort and package produce with her mother and three sisters, while her father worked the machinery on the farmland. She also worked in the fields from time to time, picking fruits and vegetables.

Her schoolwork was important, though, and she was always determined to graduate from high school and go to college.

As a migrant student, she faced more than a few obstacles – like making sure all her credits transferred from the Benton Harbor school to the Edinburg school she attended. But Raquel had the drive to make it happen.

“The work ethic my parents instilled in me helped me when it came to my education, because I know the same work I’m going to put into the field is the same work I’m going to put into my education,” she said. “They stressed how important it is to be educated, because that’s something nobody can take away.”

Raquel, the youngest of four, will be the first in her family to graduate from a university. The journey to get the diploma took five years. She is one of the first at UTRGV to receive the Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers, under the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation.

She says education wasn’t always easy for her: As a migrant worker, she had to move every six months, and that was definitely a struggle. Still, the hard work helped her grow, she said, and it taught her skills she will carry into her career.

Raquel Perez Sr., the graduate’s mother, said she would tell her daughter, “Que le eche ganas,” when it came to her education.

“I would tell her to always put effort into it, and that she always continues going forward,” she said.

During her college career, Raquel kept going to Michigan to work and help her family. Once her finals were over in the spring, she would catch a plane to Michigan, then she would return to Edinburg near the end of August to start the fall semester.

“Being here at this university, and then going back to Michigan every summer – it’s a very big contrast. But I know I’m making it, I’m trying to get there,” she said.

Raquel’s father, Fito Perez, hasn’t missed a day of work, his daughter says. Like clockwork, he wakes up by 5 a.m. and gets ready to be at work by 6 a.m. He’s very strict when it comes to his work ethic, she said.

Her father always impressed on her that education is the basis of any progress.

“I was happy she was going to school, that she would be able to accomplish to get wherever and what she wanted to do,” he said.

Before deciding she wanted to go into bilingual education, Raquel had started out as a psychology major. But having to deal with her own challenges growing up when it came to schooling, she decided she wanted to help contribute to improving bilingual education in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I think that this is my hometown and I feel there’s a lot of growing to do. I have it engraved in me, and I couldn’t see myself anyplace else but here,” she said.

Raquel Perez, the youngest of four and a migrant farmworker, will be the first in her family to graduate from a university when she walks this Saturday at UTRGV Spring Commencement at the McAllen Convention Center. The journey to get the diploma took five years. She is one of the first at UTRGV to receive the Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers, under the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Photo: Silver Salas/UTRGV

READY FOR GRADUATION

Raquel’s high school graduation was a bit unconventional: She wore her Edinburg CISD cap and gown when she walked across the stage at her Benton Harbor graduation.

Now, on Saturday, May 11, 2019, she will walk across the stage at the McAllen Convention Center in her UTRGV cap and gown to accept her bachelor’s degree in bilingual education.

She is sad that her parents won’t be able to attend her UTRGV graduation because they will be in Michigan, but she will have other family members there to support her.

Her graduation day is special, she said. It’s for her and for her family, especially her parents, who instilled in her the drive to push forward and never give up.

“I don’t think they understand how much they’ve done for me,” she said, “and not only financially. I look at them and I feel so motivated. I want to do better. I want to continue to grow.

“And I tell them, they see it when I’m putting in work (at school) … I want them to know it’s all because of them. Without them, I wouldn’t have this passion and work ethic they’ve given me because they’ve always strived for better. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Not content to rest on her laurels, Raquel already has started the job application process and hopes to work with the McAllen Independent School District.

 

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