July 28, 2022 – Liz Fuller
This article was originally published by MSU Undergraduate Education here: https://undergrad.msu.edu/news/view/id/413
Rising sophomore political science student Luz Vazquez Hernandez was back home in Mulberry, Florida when she learned she had been selected to speak at the Office’s annual directors’ meeting. of Migrant Education (OME) 2022. She felt nervous and a bit scared by the prospect, but also excited. She would receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. for the event and join other students on stage to share her story. When Luz fearlessly took to the podium on July 20, 2022, she represented not only herself, but also her fellow college students in MSU’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP).
Since childhood, Luz has spent summers moving with her family from Florida to Michigan so that her parents, migrant farmers for more than 20 years, could pick the crops. Although as a little girl she didn’t fully understand what motivated this annual trek (she thought it was just a summer road trip), Luz was used to working hard alongside her family. From an early age, she got up early every day to help her mother cook and look after her younger siblings. At 14, she got her first job working with her parents and older brother picking blueberries, a difficult skill she would perfect for five more years but never really feel comfortable with. This experience taught her that she wanted something more. In her remarks at the annual OMG directors’ meeting, Luz explained, “I really wanted to go to school. I really wanted to get a degree and help my parents.
When it came to choosing a college, Michigan State University was the standout option. Luz’s older brother was already a student there and Michigan, although far from home, was a familiar place for her and her family. MSU is also home to CAMP, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that helps freshmen who are migrant or seasonal farm workers, or children of them. This help can include funding for students’ daily needs, from academic items such as textbooks to personal items such as eyeglasses, as well as help with practical life skills such as creating a resume or subscription to insurance. CAMP also provides students with a connection and support system during what can be an experience of isolation being away from home for the first time. “The CAMP program really tries to involve everyone,” Luz said. “I knew everyone there was also coming to a whole new environment.” Luz had heard about CAMP in high school and seen how it benefited her older brother, who was due to graduate at the end of his fourth year. She thought CAMP might also benefit her. Beyond financial needs, CAMP students are also supported in their academic journey through regular check-ins, mentoring, and tutoring opportunities.
It was through her connection to CAMP that Luz found herself standing on the podium in Washington DC to tell her story. She had been with the program for a year, and during that time had impressed program officials with her determination and strength of character. They decided to nominate her for this prestigious opportunity to share her words in front of program directors from across the country. After being cast, Luz said it wasn’t until she was physically in DC that she fully realized the extent of what she had undertaken. She was able to experience part of the OME event after her arrival, and she also had time to explore the city itself, which she fondly remembers, especially hearing so many different languages on the streets of the capital.
The next day, she goes on stage. Her story is humble and powerful, noting her parents’ perseverance that laid the foundation for the work ethic she would apply in school and in life, evoking the struggles that inspired her to seek another career in higher education, describing how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the lives of his parents, like those of so many migrant workers, in ways that endure to this day. “I was like a voice for the same people, just like me,” Luz observed, recalling how her mother told her, “You should be proud. You are a voice for many of us. Many of your cousins, they have the same past as you, they are trying to go to university.
After the event, Luz expressed her gratitude. “I was really grateful for this opportunity… seeing the other speakers and meeting the other DC interns, I heard their stories and they too expressed how grateful they were because, of all the others, we we were chosen to speak to DC”
Majoring in political science with a pre-law background, Luz works as a paralegal in a private law firm and hopes to become a lawyer herself one day. As she continues down this path in her undergraduate career at MSU, she hopes to become a CAMP mentor in the short term. She has already guided students back home who are thinking about college but feeling scared and uncertain. Luz says, “I told them I felt the same. I told them it was going to be exciting and it was going to be great to be there.
Watch Luz’s speech at the 2022 OME Annual Directors Meeting (38:10)