Parent Leads Move to Honor Chávez Day

Photo of Chavez, founder of UFW and civil rights leader.

César E. Chávez is the late founder and president of the United Farm Workers of America. He was born on a small farm near Yuma, Arizona, on March 31, 1927, and began working in the fields at the age of 10. In 1942, Chavez quit school in the seventh grade. Despite his hardships and lack of education, he went on to create a movement in support of farmworker rights and dignity.

Silvia Rodarte, the ECMHSP Policy Council Vice President, sees many similarities between her own life and that of César Chávez — a man she admires greatly. And like him, she tries to inspire positive change in her own community.

Silvia has lived in Belle Glade, Florida, since she was a little girl. When she was seven, her parents would pack up a few things into a car and drive up with the family to North Carolina to work in the green bean and pumpkin fields during the harvest season. When their work was done, they would make their way back to Florida.

Silvia, ECMSHP Policy Council Vice President, at work.

Silvia remembers fondly how as a child, she would spend hours playing in the chile and cucumber fields, occasionally helping her parents. Once she turned 15, she began working full time in the Florida’s lettuce field. By age 16, her priority became her newborn daughter. She dropped out of high school and focused on making ends meet for her new family; she continued the family’s tradition of migrant farm work.

After having her second child in 2005, she enrolled her newborn and her 3-year-old daughters into the ECMHSP’s Head Start program in Belle Glade, Florida. She was determined to give her children every opportunity to get a high-quality education so that they could have a better life than she had.

Today, Chávez’s legacy is honored on what would have been his 90th birthday. In 2014, former President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as César Chávez Day and hosted a celebration at the White House in his honor, but this day is not recognized as a federal holiday. Yet each year, many states and cities host parades, marches and ceremonies in his honor.

For the first time, ECMHSP will be joining organizations across the country in celebrating César Chávez Day as an official holiday in our offices and centers – and this is thanks to Silvia. While reviewing the ECMHSP holiday calendar, Silvia noticed an important holiday missing: César Chávez Day.

“César Chávez is a very important person in the lives of farmworkers,” she says. “He started the first farmworker union, and made sure people in this country heard the voices of farmworkers and honor their rights.”

She wanted to make sure that he would be remembered by the ECMHSP community, even if it meant one day less of Head Start program services for her own children. She brought this up at the October Policy Council meeting and got the approval from both the Policy Council and the Board of Directors to add this day in place of another federally-recognized holiday. She is so proud of her accomplishment.

On this day, Silvia will be working in Florida’s fields, but with her usual smile even brighter. She is finishing up work in the corn harvest before preparing her family to move to Willard, Ohio, in May for the onion harvest. She works hard to provide many of the fresh fruits and vegetables we are eating, and it’s important to her that everyone remembers that March 31 is the day we honor of the man that continues to inspire farmworkers across the country.

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
— Cesar E. Chavez, 1984

Big Celebrations at the ECMHSP 2017 Annual Conference

Speaker Paul Schmitz at the conference.

ECMHSP hosted our annual conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, from March 14-16. The conference theme was “Looking Towards the Future: Innovation, Leadership, Success.” Everyone in attendance received a wealth of information, with a particular focus on innovative practices to improve the quality of our program.

There were far too many wonderful presentations to share the details of them all with you here. However, we do want to share with you some of the highlights:

  • Dr. Arturo E. Hernandez, the author of the seminal text on bilingualism, The Bilingual Brain, presented a fascinating discussion on the benefits of bilingualism in early childhood education. Our Board President, Dr. David Conde, was so moved by Dr. Hernandez’s presentation, he drafted a recent article on the topic. You can read it here.
  • Training on the new Head Start Program Performance Standards: Our partners from FHI 360, fresh from their own training, oriented us on the new research-based, outcomes-driven performance standards. Eileen Torres and Leida Rivera of FHI 360 shouldered the heaviest presentation burden making more than a dozen presentations during the course of three days.
  • Paul Schmitz, the former Executive Director of the non-profit Public Access, made a riveting presentation on the qualities of leadership and how leaders are formed through a collaborative process, with many individuals supporting those who are anointed with the title of “leader.”
  • Kay Schieffer of the Grant Wood Area Education Agency provided an informative presentation on best practices for trauma-sensitive early childhood classrooms.

In addition to these wonderful presentations, a number of ECMHSP departments stepped up and delivered presentations on important topics, including the Quality Assurance team (led by Beth Zinkand), and the Nutrition team (led by Anteasha Farrell).

Dr. Villa, CEO, and Dr. Conde, Board President, congratulated staff as they were recognized for their years of service at the Annual Conference.

At the closing plenary of the ECMHSP Annual Conference, Dr. David Conde, reflected upon all that we had covered at the conference and shared the Board’s perspective on where ECMHSP is and where ECMHSP is going. Dr. José S. Villa, our Chief Executive Officer, followed Dr. Conde’s presentation with an inspirational message for the ECMHSP community which reminded us that all of our MSHS children are true “road scholars”.

Traci Lasher, HR Director, presented Angel Casiano (left) and Dana Rogers (right) with this year’s Staff Excellence Awards.

The annual conference ended on a celebratory note. ECMHSP is fortunate to have talented and dedicated staff throughout our service areas, and many were recognized for their years of service and their excellent performance. ECMHSP instituted the Staff Award for Commitment to Excellence to give special recognition to employees in all parts of the organization, including the Direct Service operations and Administrative Services. Staff are invited to nominate deserving employees who have made outstanding contributions that improved the life of a migrant or seasonal child or family, or significantly contributed to the professional development of their fellow staff members.This year’s recipients were Angel Casiano, Director of Operations West, and Dana Rogers, South Carolina Head Start Administrator.

ECMHSP wishes Michael Wilcox a happy retirement and thanks him for his years of service.

We also celebrated the retirement of longtime ECMSHP Facilities Manager, Michael Wilcox. We thank him for his hard work in keeping our centers safe and beautiful for our children to learn and play.

We owe a special thanks to the Program Support Department team that did a wonderful job designing our conference, especially Christine Alvarado, Clara Cappiello, and Cynthia Victa Matthews.

ECMHSP on the West Coast for NMSHSA Conference ‘17

The National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its Annual National Conference in Costa Mesa, CA, from March 5 through March 9. A number of our dedicated employees travelled to the conference to learn about the changes to the Head Start Performance Standards, which were rolled out last summer. It was a great opportunity to hear about implementation strategies and the importance of being outcomes-driven in our execution.

Parents from Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs nationwide, including ECMHSP, gathered to learn about their critical role in our programs.

Joining ECMHSP staff at the conference, most for the first time, were the ECMHSP Policy Council Executive Committee members: Cristina Hernandez, President; Silvia Rodarte, Vice-President; Meiby Mora, Treasurer; Leticia Baez, Secretary; and Ramona C. De Loera, Parliamentarian. These farmworker parents were able to attend the workshops on topics ranging from indigenous cultures in Mexico to immigration rights and parent involvement. During the Parent Affiliate meeting, Meiby was elected as Alternate and will represent the group as a member of the NMSHSA Board of Directors. Furthermore, Meiby was elected to fill one of the three Member-at-Large positions on the NSMSHA Board of Directors’ Executive Committee. We are very proud to see Meiby’s continued growth and will provide the support she needs as she goes on to represent and lead parents nationwide in the Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Programs.

Also elected onto the NMSHSA Board of Directors are John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, Patti Kingery, ECMHSP Director of Program Operations-East, and myself. The ECMSHP is honored to bring our perspective from the different levels of our organization as we support the Association’s mission to serve our farmworker families.

Staff and Policy Council members representing ECMHSP at the NMSHSA Conference in California.

Each year, ECMHSP staff are invited to present on best practices and cutting-edge techniques that allow us to provide services of the highest quality. For example, this year, I presented a session entitled, “Head Start Champions: Advocacy for the MSHS Community,” with the assistance of Cristina, the ECMHSP Policy Council President. In the session, Head Start service providers from varying backgrounds and positions learned the basics of advocating for our community and effective strategies. Now more than ever, we need advocates that will help us elevate the successes of our migrant and seasonal Head Start programs.

ECMHSP CEO Dr. Villa (right) discusses national issues affecting ECMHSP programs with COO Javier Gonzalez.

Conference participants were able to listen from the Office of Head Start, with informative presentations from Sandra Carton, Regional Program Manager for Migrant and Seasonal Programs (Region XII) and other staff from the Office of Head Start. Welcomed by John Menditto at the second day plenary, the conference attendees were inspired by the presentation of Dr. Ramon Resa, the author of Out of the Fields: My Journey from Farmworker Boy to Pediatrician. For the final plenary, I had the pleasure of welcoming the conference attendees before the keynote speaker, Kevin Carnes of Lakeshores Learning Materials, was introduced.

At the conference, ECMSHP brought important and much-needed voices to the West Coast. We look forward to more opportunities to represent our community!

Guest Post: A Country Without Immigrant Labor

Dr. David Conde is the President for North America of the Chamber of the Americas.  He currently serves as the President of the ECMHSP Board of Directors and is a contributing writer for La Voz Bilingüe.  This is his latest article.

Dr. David Conde has seen the contributions of the immigrant community from his years of service on the ECMSHP Board of Directors and his personal experience.

You may have been watching a replay of Roots, the Alex Haley classic that traces American Black origins in West Africa.  Roots chronicles their capture and ordeal characterized by centuries of slavery and the loss of identity tied to race, color and place.  The novel and the television series is an expression of an epic attempt to recover what was lost by reconnecting the heritage line to its origins.

Even then, the more recent Black immigrants would fret about their American-born contemporaries’ inability to remember or care about where they came from.  Perhaps this is because their struggle for survival was such that history telling them who they are became a luxury.

Curiously, the over 41 million immigrants in America today could very well repeat the words of Kunta Kinte in a different time, in a different setting and to a different people.  The answer now compared to the answer then from a people facing slavery could sound more like an excuse for not guarding our freedom.

The immigrant community is now facing their own set of issues being played out in the national social, legal and political arena.  Yet, their true place is in the heart of America’s economic well-being.

On Thursday, February 16, a national day without immigrant labor took place in an effort to insert an economic argument that counters the political climate created by a campaign to discredit the value of immigrant work.  Extensive coverage was given to restaurants where 1 out of every 4 workers and almost half of the chefs are immigrants.

The 2015 records indicate that 26.3 million or 16.7 percent of the workforce are foreign-born and half of them are Latinos.  The three principle areas one can find immigrant workers is in the service industry, construction and farming.

The farmworker families served by ECMHSP are a part of the immigrant community that help this country thrive. 

One of the developing outcomes associated with the present administration’s deportation policy is that wages for the farm industry are going up.  The law of supply and demand is making farmers the victims of a political process that they themselves largely supported.

Wages for farm work is up 36 percent in the last decade compared to 27 percent in non-farm work and farm profits have been going down for the fourth consecutive year.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects farm wages to increase another 40 percent in the next 15 years.

This will force farmers to reduce their production by over half of what they are producing today. Fruit production for example, will drop by 61 percent.

That means that since the consumer will require 100 percent on the dining table, the country will have to import that fruit most likely from Mexico and Central America and pay the extra costs of tariffs since there will be no NAFTA.  By the way, this contradicts the very policy that is the basis for an America first theory that questions agreements like NAFTA.

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, is on record as saying, “The farm labor discussion is around whether or not our country wants to import our labor or whether they want to import their food.  I think the American people want to eat food that’s grown in America.”

Given the current political climate, food production may be an unpredictable affair depending on whether the immigrant farm worker feels safe from police raids and is wanted and appreciated.  Americans stand to get a significant hit on their pocketbooks before coming to understand the real value of the worker in the fields that puts food on the table at very economic prices.

[Published in La Voz Bilingüe on March 1, 2017.]