In the News

"Why would anyone who is as smart as you come here [Wenatchee, Lake Chelan, and the Yakima Valley] to harvest the crops under the scorching sun and at such low wages?"

My farm worker colleagues have asked me this same question thousands of times since I was in high school. Their faces in awe as I climb my ladder to reach the bushel of cherries at the very tip top of the tree that has been assigned to me.

Here is part of my answer: I love waking up at four in the morning and watching the sunrise as cars with entire families inside, make their way to the fields ready to harvest the crops of the season. I love the adrenaline of risking a fall from 10 (sometimes even more) feet in the air. The sound of Spanish--from the chit chat of the workers, to the radio blasting everything from corridos to durangense, to the lunch ladies' shouting out what food they have for those who forgot or didn't have time to pack a lunch--it makes me feel at home, comfortable and safe.

Most importantly though, I want people to understand that scholars who have left their hometowns to attend college, often have the desire to go back to their communities and be involved in the work of their friends and family. I know I do. Just because I am considered to be "educated", doesn't mean that I am somehow disconnected from the neighborhood where I grew up.

When I am back in the Yakima Valley (as I am now), my sociology studies at Whitworth University help me understand things like how the educative Opportunity/Achievement Gap prevents kids from going into post-secondary education; how youth in my community have had their dreams to go to college crushed by others (many times by their own family members); or even why U.S politics are despised here instead of just criticized like in the rest of the nation.

All this to say that education is amazing! Education can help you calculate the best cost: benefit ratio when you are looking at working in the hops in Wapato versus picking plums in Zillah. It can be used when designing cold-air fans that keep fruit from frosting over in the winter. It's also helpful when trying to translate what a high school transcript says to a migrant parent that never went to middle school. Education is everywhere-even the agriculturally based communities.

Where did I get my education and how did I get there?

One important facilitator has been the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP). Not only did it get me to a great institution of higher education (Let's go BUCS!-WU's mascot), but it has also provided me with the experience of the GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy (GUALA), which surpassed all of my expectations of what an education advocacy, policy, and leadership training could look like.

Not to mention, that GEAR UP also helped me participate in the Youth Congress in San Francisco this past July where I had the honor of working with fabulous groups of kids from all over the nation, to become strong leaders (and followers), gain more courage to be themselves, and use education to break free from the issues that sometimes infest low-income, high diversity populations (drugs, violence, ignorance, etc).

I am blessed with opportunities that have allowed me to grow so much thus far, but I can't help but wonder what great things my friends could be doing too had someone invested in their potential, such as some of my mentors have in mine.

In summary, I wish that more people could value education and the returning of those who are seen as scholarly and/or successful. We are all responsible for the improvement of our communities and for the increase in our self-confidence to make a difference. Sometimes it seems like school is unnecessary, a waste of time, or "dumb" (ironically), but I would challenge anyone to find anything in their lives that did not involve education.

#GEARUPworks  #lovemyGUALAmates  #iloveed  #nerdforlife #amoamigente #sisepuede

**A special thanks to the following organizations for believing in me and guiding me to a life full of everyday learning: as previously mentioned, GEAR UP and all of its resources/support for learning, exploring, and pursuing post secondary education; The Toppenish School District and all of its staff, faculty, and students (past, present, and future);  and Seattle Biomedical Research Institute for fostering the idea that education is the key to making dreams a reality-even seemingly impossible global health ones.

Thanks for reading, and "talk to you soon" because this girl continues to learn!

Alma Irene Aguilar