My Family Went From Migrant Workers to Middle Class in a Generation by Making Education a Priority

From time to time, people ask me why I went into the field of education. Usually, these are new people I meet, because anyone who has known me for any amount of time knows that this is not a question to ask me—unless you have a few free hours on your hands.

The short answer is that I went into education because I have a tremendous amount of passion for it. The longer answer is that I am passionate about learning and education because I have seen first hand the transformative power education has on the lives of those who make it a priority.

This is a story about one family, but this same tale is true of many families who have committed to making education a priority.

A Family Promise

When my grandfather, Rogerio Gill, was only 15 years old, his mother was passing away. As the family legend goes, she beckoned her only son into her room and had a private talk with him. The exact words are lost to history, but the heart of the message still echoes to this day.

It was something to the effect of,

I will not always be here physically, but I will be watching you throughout your life, and I will always be proud of you and your accomplishments. I know you will have many great achievements and raise this family to such great heights. I believe in you and know you will find a way to improve the lives of this family. I need you to be a role model for your sisters and help your father be strong after I pass.

Rogerio was just an adolescent with a third grade education, but that was enough for him to understand that if he wanted a better life, he should look toward the people who had the life he wanted for his family and see what they did to achieve it. By noticing that doctors, lawyers, engineers and the like all had an education in common, it became evident that education was the key to a better life. Rogerio decided that he would be an advocate for education for his family.

A collage that Mr. De Leon uses as a virtual background on video calls

My grandmother, Consuelo, used to tell me stories of how she would contribute to the family by hand sewing clothes out of old flour and potato sacks because they were too poor to buy clothes. Even though the family was a band of migrant farm workers traversing the United States and picking crops state to state, Rogerio remembered his promise to his mother and knew that education was going to be the key to a better life for his children. If they were ever going to have a chance at a better future, they would need a strong education.

Abuelito would always tell my mother, aunts and uncle,

School comes first! Even if we are only in this town for a week, you will all go to school.

And so, the first stop in every new town was the local school to enroll all the children.

The children would go to school by day and come home to help in the fields until it was too dark to pick any more crops. My family formed their own support group, playing “school” in the labor camps at night and teaching other migrant children who were not fortunate enough to be enrolled in school.

In teaching others, my family was also solidifying their own learning. As they did not have much time to study, the children mixed their play time with their study time in order to find a way to be successful in school, like Rogerio always demanded.

My grandfather used to say,

Education is the key that can open any door when used correctly. The world is hard and the playing field is slanted against us as migrants, as poor, as Hispanics—so you must all work harder than anyone else and focus on your education above all else.

Transformative Power of Education

And what became of my mother and her brother and sisters? They all graduated in the top ten of their high school classes, went on to college, and all earned master’s degrees and doctorates. Thus, in one generation, my family went from migrant farm workers making their own clothes from potato sacks to solidly in the middle class—all because of a commitment to effort, quality and education. What’s more, my generation (my siblings, my cousins and myself) all received the same message from our parents that they received from our grandparents. We all went on to college and then graduate schools to become what our hearts each desired—doctors, lawyers, dentists, international business people, school principals and the like.

Why did I go into the field of education? So that I can help support families who are making a commitment to a better education as a means to a better future. The success of my family shows how a simple, dogged determination to achieve academically can have a tremendous impact, not only on those making the commitment, but also on the entire bloodline of those individuals for generations to come.

So, why do I do what I do? I do it for you. As you are reading this, on a site dedicated to finding the right school for your children, one thing is certain; You are “that” person for your family. You are that person who is showing, through your actions, a commitment to effort, quality, and education and your family will be well served by this.

I commend you for what you are doing in order to ensure your children are able to succeed in the quest to achieve their wildest dreams. I am humbled and honored that you have shared in my family’s story, and I would love the opportunity to support you and your family in the journey toward what we at School of Science and Technology call “better education, better future.”

This piece originally appeared on San Antonio Charter Moms as “Teacher Tales: “You Are My Why” — Abel F. De Leon at The School Of Science and Technology.

By: Abel F. De Leon
Title: My Family Went From Migrant Workers to Middle Class in a Generation by Making Education a Priority
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Published Date: Fri, 06 Nov 2020 17:43:37 +0000