Written by Berenice Sanchez and Luz Peña, New America Media
With tousled hair and an infectious smile, 18-year-old Analleli Gallardo had been looking forward to her first semester at San Francisco State University this fall. Going away to college, after all, was only possible because Gallardo was willing to literally sweat for it.
“(To pay for college) I thought of financial aid and scholarships, [but they] didn’t cover much,” said Gallardo. With $1,100 in local scholarships nowhere near enough to meet tuition, Gallardo opted to spend the summer months toiling in the hot central valley fields to save up money for her education.
To supplement her financial aid, Gallardo – a graduate of Arvin High School, located some 15 miles outside Bakersfield, with 3.3 GPA – took a job at a small vineyard in Lamont where she picked grapes and earned less than $1,400 per month; only a drop in the bucket toward the estimated $24,000 she’ll need to cover the cost of this year’s tuition and living expenses at SFSU.
In this part of south Kern County, where summer temperatures regularly hit triple digits, doing farm work is no easy task. In fact, heat stroke can be a major hazard for central valley farm workers, and in seasons past the tough weather conditions have even taken lives.
“I’ve hallucinated (due to the heat) many times,” said Gallardo.
But the opportunity to continue her schooling outside of Lamont — a small farming town with a population of 15,000 that is 95 percent Latino, located just off Interstate 5 in southeast Kern County — was all the motivation Gallardo needed.
“I can’t just quit. I can’t be a quitter. I think about the money,” said Gallardo during an interview with South Kern Sol last July.
Gallardo’s father Antonio, 49, is proud of his daughter’s determination and work ethic, but the elder Gallardo wants a life outside the fields for his daughter. He came to the U.S. as a young man in his 20’s from Guanajuato, Mexico, seeking a better life for himself.
“I don’t want her to work in the fields as a career because it’s a lot of labor and little pay,” he said. “The reason I (first) took her to the fields is because I wanted to show her how difficult, how painful it is; and to encourage her to go to college.”
Gallardo remembers vividly how her parents struggled to make ends meet and how they commonly said “no” to family outings in order to have enough money to pay for bills and food.
“One main reason I’m going to college is to get a job. It’s for financial and educational reasons. My parents never had extra money. Also, my parents never had those educational opportunities,” said Gallardo. “Instead of going to the mall, my parents went to yard sales and swap meets. My sister, who grew up in Mexico, never really questioned where we were going (to shop) like I did… My dad would say to me, ‘You should appreciate money.’ Now, I appreciate money.”
Gallardo said she has also seen how a lifetime of farm work has taken a physical toll on both of her parents. Only after decades of hard labor was her dad promoted to the position of contractor, in charge of his cuadrilla (work crew).
“I’ve seen all their physical pains and mental pains from working in the fields. My mother tripped over a grape crate once and she has (developed) really bad pains in her hands,” she said. “I admire how they never gave up. No matter what they’ve had to do, they don’t give up.”
Known as one of largest grape producing regions in the country, agriculture is at the heart of the Lamont community, both economically and culturally speaking. Among other farm companies, the town is home to Guimarra Vineyards and Grimmway Farms, which produce carrots, onions and potatoes.
The summer before she left for college, the young Gallardo’s workday began at 4:50 a.m. — dressing for work, slathering on sunscreen and grabbing a quick snack of milk and cookies. Then it was off with her father to pick up other crewmembers. They would all arrive at the worksite, greeted by row upon row of green vines, ripe with the red and green pearls of fruity sweetness. Shuffling out of their vans, trucks, and cars, they would make their way toward the fields, the morning sun just beginning to crack the horizon.
“I get [to the worksite], start setting up boxes, putting on labels and I put on my paños (bandanas),” she said. “I only get two breaks, at 9 a.m. for 15 to 20 minutes and then I think it’s a 30 minute break at [noon].”
Gallardo isn’t alone. She said she’s seen days where up to half of the work crew is composed of high school students, from freshmen to seniors.
In Sonoma this past summer, Daniela Angel, 18, also sought a summer job in farm work. The Sonoma State University freshman from Lamont said it was a way for her to ease the burden of a $24,000 yearly bill for tuition and housing.
“It’s going to be tough because right now the (tuition) fees went up, (so) my fees went up,” she said.
According to the Cal State University website, the CSU Board of Trustees voted to increase tuition by 12 percent – $294 per semester for full time undergraduates – effective this fall; the university’s second tuition increase in as many years. A 10 percent increase had already gone into effect in November of 2010.
Angel’s 3.83 GPA earned her $2,000 in scholarships and she also qualified for financial aid. However, said Angel, the money will not be enough to pay for everything.
“FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) covers housing and tuition, but not book service. You’ve still got to come up with the money,” she said.
Like Gallardo, Angel too knows other high school and college-age youth who turned to farm work as a summer job or as a way to pay for college.
Both Gallardo and Angel remain optimistic that they’ll be able to find part-time jobs during the school year to continue meeting their financial obligation to their college. However, Angel knows what will happen if the money is not there.
“If I can’t get a job (during the school year), I’m gonna have to talk to my parents and figure this all out,” she said. “Money shouldn’t be an issue for (getting) a higher education.”
As for Gallardo, she plans to come back to Lamont after she graduates from San Francisco State, and wants to work in her community to create more LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) resources.
“I want to work with people, maybe in public policy,” said Gallardo. “There is a lot to improve in our community. I definitely want come back and work in my community, to take it back to where I came from.”
This post was originally published by New America Media.