East Coast Makes a Strong Impression in Washington, D.C.

group picLast week, the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its 2018 Public Policy Forum at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC.  Staff and parent leaders representing Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) grantees from across the country came to the nation’s capital to discuss the most pressing issues affecting the farmworker community and to hear from policy officials about the latest developments in the Head Start program.

Attendees had the privilege of welcoming the newly-appointed Director of the Office of Head Start, Dr. Deborah Bergeron.  A former classroom teacher and elementary and high school administrator, Dr. B –as she likes to be called— shared how she will use her three decades of pre-K–12 public education experience to provide unique insights into how Head Start can support our most vulnerable children to become school ready.   She also talked about her recent visit to ECMHSP’s North Carolina Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers.  Of her trip, Dr. Bergeron said, “In one day I got to get a sense of the Migrant Head Start experience from the family, farmer, center, and community partner perspective. It was a 360⁰ view for sure!”

Following Dr. B’s opening remarks, advocates discussed the current state of play in Washington on a range of policy and legislative issues affecting MSHS families in 2018.  In a panel titled, “Washington Update: Policy Issues Impacting Farmworker Families,” panelists provided updates on the federal budget, appropriations, and the impact of tax reform on our communities and the federal programs families rely on, including the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program.

There’s no doubt that immigration reform was among one of the most important subjects covered during the Public Policy Forum.  In a panel discussion moderated by ECMHSP’s John Menditto, speakers highlighted the crucial nature of our advocacy work for farmworker families. Common sense immigration reform can benefit farmworkers, farmers, and everyone who relies on American-grown fresh fruits and vegetables, while providing parents with the security that they will not be separated from their children.  Additionally, farmworkers are losing work opportunities with the increased use of the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers program.

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Javier Gonzalez, ECMHSP COO, Meiby Mora, ECMHSP Policy Council President, and John Menditto,  ECMHSP General Counsel.

At the conclusion of the panel on immigration, Meiby Mora, ECMHSP Policy Council President, shared how in 2015, ECMHSP offered Meiby pro bono immigration services to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) after she was turned away by other lawyers.  The challenges Meiby faced in obtaining her legal protections are some of the same challenges farmworkers face due to their migratory lifestyle and lack of documentation.

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Monica Ramirez with ECMHSP parents.

Following the panel, participants heard the story of Monica Ramirez, the proud daughter and granddaughter of migrant farmworkers.  For more than two decades, she has served Latina farmworkers and immigrant women as an organizer and advocate, and she has focused her work on ending gender-based violence in the workplace and achieving gender equity as the co-founder and President of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas.  Monica Ramirez received a standing ovation for her powerful message to all attendees.

The afternoon panels also highlighted other challenges being felt in the communities MSHS centers serve.  One panel reflected on what advocates see as the greatest challenges and opportunities facing Head Start providers working in rural communities – including hiring and retaining staff, financing and maintaining quality facilities, and transportation.  The final panel of the day discussed the importance of sharing the stories from our communities through various campaigns supporting the immigrant community and Head Start programs.  Farmworker parents shared how their powerful stories have made a difference, whether it was a video, letter or art from their children.

As part of day two of the Forum, the ECMHSP team was invited to discuss the MSHS program and the needs of the farmworker community by members of Congress and their staff.  A total of nine staff members, four parents and two former Head Start students met with Hill staffers to share the great work ECMHSP is doing in their communities and discussed ways we could partner to better support farmworker families.  One ECMHSP advocacy team comprised of Dr. José Villa, Chief Executive Officer, Christine Alvarado, Chief Innovation Officer, and parents Ramona Deloera and Nalleli Trejo, had the most impressive meetings; they had intimate gatherings with US Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson of Florida.

Senator Booker and Erka Aguilar

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Erika Aguilera, NMSHSA Intern.

Although ECMHSP had the opportunity to meet with US Senator Cory Booker’s Legislative Director, later in the day, we ran into Senator Booker while he was shooting a commercial on the steps of the Supreme Court building.  One of NMSHSA’s four interns for the summer, Erika Aguilera, had a quick chat with the Senator to advocate for the Head Start program in New Jersey and throughout the United States. She shares —

 “Running into Senator Booker was quite the surprise. We spoke in Spanish because he felt that it was very important to continue the language. I mentioned to him that migrant families are vital to this country being that they feed America. I emphasized how important the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program is for children because those children can then grow up and receive amazing opportunities, like myself. To give him a better idea, I explained how my father has worked all his life in the fields picking seasonal fruit and in the winter, harvesting grapes, which is a tough job that not everyone can tolerate.”

The NMSHSA 2018 Public Policy Forum was a huge success.  Head Start parents and advocates from the farmworker community shared their stories with important lawmakers in hopes that they can recognize farmworker families for performing one of the toughest jobs in the United States and sharing their support.  ECMHSP will keep uniting with all MSHS programs nationwide to defend farmworker families and to ensure the children of farmworkers are prepared for educational success.

Farmworker Mom a Leader and Dreamer at ECMHSP

Meiby in the fields

Migrant farmworker Meiby Mora Soto is both a leader and a Dreamer at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.  The 29-year-old mother of one has served as the president of ECMHSP’s Policy Council since her election to office by her peers in August 2017.

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Meiby Mora attends the 2017 National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association Public Policy Forum and Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Mora Soto was brought to the United States of America from Mexico at the age of 14 in November 2003.  She attended high school in Bradenton, Florida, for 18 months, but then dropped out and began working a variety of jobs in and around Bradenton.

Beginning in 2010, she found her most steady employment as a migrant farmworker.  She has picked tomatoes in her current hometown of Immokalee, Florida, and has traveled up the East Coast to the low country of South Carolina.  She then travels to the Virginia Eastern Shore to live in a labor camp and work in the fields from July through November.

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Meiby and her son, Jovani.

ECMHSP has taught Jovani the necessary skills to be successful in school.  Meiby tells us that Jovani can easily make friends anywhere he goes.  He’s a healthy and happy five-year-old boy – living proof of ECMHSP’s success.

In addition to being a leader, Meiby is a Dreamer.  In 2015, ECMHSP offered Meiby pro bono immigration services to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  After multiple immigration lawyers had given her no hope of becoming a DACA recipient, staff at ECMHSP worked tirelessly to help Meiby.  Nine months after her application was filed with USCIS, her DACA dream came true.

“ECMHSP not only gave me a safe haven for Jovani while I was at work, they have given me the opportunity to become an advocate for migrant farmworkers,” Meiby says.  “They have shown me that my voice counts.”

Guest Post: Growing Up with a Migrant Mother

Conde La Voz Staff Photo

Photo Credit: La Voz

I recently attended the funeral of our Godmother Lala Esquibel. Her passing was more than an interruption of the life our families.

The closer you got to her two sons in their moment of sorrow, the more devastating was her departure. They say that funerals are a way of coping for those left behind and this certainly was a great example of that purpose.

I lost my mother in 2002 after a relatively long illness. Knowing she would be gone soon, she attended our family reunion in Austin, Texas to say goodbye and ask her younger sister, my Aunt Lydia, to look after us.

We buried Uncle Robert, one of mother’s brothers a week ago in Texas and everyone was there including my Aunt Lydia. My brief moments with her brought back so many memories of living with and loving mom.

As I prepare to celebrate both the Mexican Mothers Day on Thursday, May 10th and Sunday May 13th for those in the United States, I have so much to go over. The spirit and shadow of mother’s power and affection hangs over us as it has always.

My earliest memory of mom was when she was 15 and I was a 1-year old holding a tin cup so that my grandfather, who was milking a cow by hand, could fill it. Drinking that warm milk with mother looking at me with pride was the subject of the first story I wrote for a school project.

I remember her with us in the back of a truck as we prepared to leave South Texas for the harvest fields of the Midwest. Our travel began that year in front of a courthouse where one of the men in the group went in to get a copy of his birth certificate because even then, having your papers in order was important.

It was that year that mom showed her mettle as a 19-year old leader in the migrant community. I was on the floor at my father’s feet in the front cabin of a truck that was headed back home from the harvest fields of Missouri, Ohio, Michigan and Arkansas when we were refused service at a restaurant in Wichita Falls, Texas. My angry mother came from the back of the truck and took over the driver’s seat and the caravan that followed.

She found a restaurant that would serve us because she could read a sign that said, “We serve all the children of God.” She never waited for the right political climate such as today’s “#Me Too” to exercise effective leadership as a woman and her reputation grew in the fields even after we settled in Colorado.

Until shortly before I left to join the Air Force, mom continued to take the family during the summers to work the cotton fields in the South. The last time I spent one of these summers with her, she managed a Black crew from Louisiana that chopped and clean the cotton fields of Central Texas.

In a way she was like an older sister that grew up taking care of a younger sibling. Our closeness came out of growing up together in an atmosphere of unconditional love that only a mother can give.

Mom created a magical world founded in the richness of what she offered even in the middle of poverty and economic challenges. She was a leader of people that always sought to address issues greater than herself and the regular requirements of a loving mother.

[Written by David Conde. Published in La Voz Bilingüe on May 9, 2018.]

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 a Contributing Writer to La Voz Bilingüe. 

ECMHSP Presents at 2017 NAEYC Annual Conference

Clara Cappiello y Emily Diaz

On November 17, Emily Diaz, a preschool teacher with the ECMHSP Loxley Migrant Head Start Center in Alabama, and Clara Cappiello, Training and Development Manager at ECMHSP, were prepared and excited to present at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) annual conference, which took place at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. They were a part of, “Grandes Comienzos,” a special track for the Spanish speaking conference attendees.

The session title: “Currículo y cultura: Cómo incorporar el idioma y la cultura de todas las familias para optimizar el currículo” (Curriculum and Culture: How to Imbed all Families’ Languages and Cultures to Optimize the Curriculum). Emily and Clara were eager to share their experiences in making the curriculum relevant and culturally responsive to migrant and seasonal farmworker children and their families.

Emily Diaz with Dr. Iliana Alanis, a member of NAEYC Board of Directors, and two professors from the University of Texas

After a brief summary of the most recent research on dual language learning and the importance of being responsive to all families’ languages and cultures, Emily and Clara described a process to gather authentic, rather than stereotypical, cultural information from every family. The information gathered is leveraged to develop critical children’s school readiness skills. Emily explained how she made cultural displays, identity books, used family letters and photos, and other learning materials many of them co-created with families. Videos demonstrated how she used these bilingual cultural resources to develop language, early literacy and math skills.

Emily and Clara felt confident attendees gained value from the presentation, as many displayed excitement about the new ideas, congratulated them for their work and expressed gratitude for the information obtained.

 

Guest Post: Migrant Clinicians Network Receives Aetna Grant for Health Education for Farmworker Parents

Migrant Clinicians Network has partnered with ECMHSP to provide health education through a grant from the Aetna Foundation’s Cultivating Healthy Communities program. This is their post about the grant.

Migrant Clinicians Network has been selected as a grantee in the Aetna Foundation’s Cultivating Healthy Communities program and was awarded a $100,000 community grant to implement a new program entitled, It Takes a Community: Protecting Farmworker Children from Environmental Contaminants.

Each year, thousands of farmworkers move between Florida and Maryland for seasonal work. Many of them migrate with their families. Migrant farmworker children are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards including pesticides, lead, and contaminated water. It Takes Community will bring innovative, culturally appropriate health education to farmworker parents who utilize East Coast Migrant Head Start Project (ECMHSP) while migrating for work along the East Coast. By utilizing a “train the trainer” model, It Takes a Community will give hundreds of farmworker parents education and tools to better protect their children from the many environmental hazards that they face.

The Cultivating Healthy Communities program awarded over $2 million in grants to 25 nonprofit organizations in 14 states to advance the Aetna Foundation’s mission to improve health at the local level. Grantees are working on projects that will address social determinants of health such as improving access to healthy foods, promoting biking and physical activity and reducing exposure to air and water contaminants. The grantees were chosen based on the strength of their strategies to improve the health of their communities in at least one of five domains: healthy behaviors, community safety, built environment, social/economic factors and environmental exposures.

Migrant Clinicians Network’s Amy Liebman, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health and project lead, is honored to be chosen by the Aetna Foundation, and notes that It Takes a Community is in step with MCN’s decades of work to improve health for farmworker families.

Child reading with her father. Photo Credit: Migrant Clinicians Network

“The families of those who put food on our tables are often the most exposed to harmful chemicals,” Liebman emphasized. “MCN is excited to work hand-in-hand with our local Migrant Head Start centers to carry out this important program.” On the heels of national crises regarding lead in tap water, and amid frequent reports of pesticide poisonings, drifts, and misuse, It Takes a Community comes at a critical time to address serious threats to farmworker children’s health through a program that empowers farmworker families through community-based education.

“The Aetna Foundation is committed to addressing the social determinants of health in order to reduce health disparities,” said Dr. Garth Graham, president of the Aetna Foundation. “By identifying community-specific challenges, and unique ways to combat them, this year’s grantees are a shining example of organizations who strive to make a measurable and positive local health impact. We are honored to contribute towards the great work they are doing in pursuit of health equity.”

This funding addresses the need to improve opportunities for all Americans—regardless of income, education or ethnic background—to take an active role in living healthier lives. For more information on the Cultivating Healthy Communities program visit, visit www.aetnafoundation.org.

[Written by . Published in Migrant Clinicians Network blog on October 31, 2017.]

Guest Post: Reaching the Top of the Hill

Armando Cendejas is part of the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Program and as a child was enrolled in the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Head Start center in Florida. This is his story.

Armando Cendejas, one of the students selected for the NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017, shares his story at the Closing Celebration in Washington, DC.

My name is Armando Cendejas. I am a 20-year-old sophomore attending Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida, pursuing a degree in Physical Therapy. My younger brother, Alejandro, and I were enrolled in East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Head Start program as young children. My parents were migrant farmworkers and two of the hardest working individuals I know. They have both shaped me to become the person I am today — a person I am proud to be.

While enrolled in ECMHSP, I was just not taught; I was cared for, I was looked after, I was appreciated. I remember one morning in particular, I began to cry as I watched my mom drive away. I stood at the gate yelling for her until my teacher came to me. She didn’t move me; instead, she comforted me by assuring me that my mom would be back for me at the end of her work day.

It’s unbelievable to think back to my transformation. I went from being the shy, chubby kid who would stand at the gate and cry as he watched his mom get in her car, to now hugging my mom goodbye, and having her be the one to cry as I got on a plane to Washington, DC, for the summer.

My time in Washington, DC, made me realize the potential others have seen in me for years and gave me the opportunity to explore possible careers. I was one of four former Head Start students selected to participate in an internship by the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association for two months. I was placed with the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and was involved in drafting resolutions for their Executive Committee Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. For my hard work and commitment, I am proud to say I was invited to attend this meeting. While in Washington, DC, I also attended US Senate briefings at the Capitol, where I sat and listened to legislators debate topics that were related to my resolutions.

Before the internship, I was set on a career in physical therapy.  The work I have done while in Washington, DC, however, has changed my perspective on my future. I met with a few professors from the Georgetown University Law Center, and after listening to my story and of my work, they strongly urged that I consider an education in law. I now want to apply to law school, specifically Georgetown Law, and study law in health.

At times, it feels like something out of a movie. In movies like Field of Dreams, Remember the Titans, and Forrest Gump, things work out for the protagonist even after all the hardships they had to face for long periods of time. I feel like my life is like that.

Every time I think about the opportunity I was given here, I feel blessed. East Coast Migrant Head Start Project changed my life. The tools and skills that were instilled in me while in the Head Start program have aided me in reaching many goals in life, such as being the first in my family to graduate high school and attend college.

To get to college, it meant I needed to perform at a high level and excel in high school. ECMHSP staff were there to assist me if ever I had issues with studying, or crafting essays, or working on projects. They didn’t do the work for me — they provided tips, support, and even constructive criticism.

Armando on his first day in Washington, DC, along with the other members of the NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017.

When I go back to my East Coast Migrant Head Start center in Fort Pierce, I receive the same attention. Many of the teachers, nurses, and staff that were there and cared for me 15 years ago continue to be there and still care. In fact, I regularly would receive phone calls from them asking how I’m doing during my time in Washington D.C. for me to this day. I never take that aspect of ECMHSP for granted. The program continues to open doors for me by nominating me and supporting me during this amazing internship.

As I look forward towards my future, I know ECMHSP will be there to support me. I return to the center often either to volunteer, or to visit my old teachers. And, of course, to visit my mom in her office. My mom started as a field worker, packing citrus, working alongside other women like her. However, my mom had a thirst for knowledge. She taught herself English and earned herself a job inside the Head Start Center. ECMSHP helped her realize her dreams, and now they are helping me realize mine. I’m proud to have been a part of this program.

My mother would always tell me, “Échale ganas.” Only until now do I realize that she saw a bright future for me. It has been tough to get here, but with hard work and persistence, I’ll end up at the top of the hill, where I know I can make a difference in the world.

I believe that I have made the people at my Head Start center proud.

Guest Post: David Conde Feels Strongly About the Future of Latinos in America

Dr. David Conde; Photo Credit: La Voz Bilingüe

David Conde is not a stranger to immigration, immigrant rights or immigrant needs. In fact, he grew up in a migrant home as part of a family that “traveled the country to put food on people’s tables,” as he tells it.

Boards of Directors

Professionally, he has both literally and figuratively continued to put food on people’s tables. Conde has spent most of his life fighting to strengthen and uphold immigrant rights. He is the President of the Board of Directors of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, the largest of its kind in the country. He is on the Board of Directors of the New America Schools and the New America College, both of which serve immigrant students in the Denver area, and he continues to work for the Chamber of the Americas, which specializes in trade and commerce in North, Central and South America.

With his hands in so many pots, it is easy to see why many look to Conde for guidance, especially in these turbulent times for immigrants. When asked if the current administration has made his job more difficult, Conde was candid.

“East Cost [Migrant Head Start Project] is especially experiencing major challenges as the migrant farm workers have to take special precautions as they navigate not only state jurisdictions, but also ICE pressures that limit their travel options,” he said.

La Voz – Commentary

Aside from his exploits in upper education and on many boards or directors, Conde has also contributed to La Voz for 19 years providing an educated look at immigration and many other topics in the United States through his social commentaries.

“Writing commentary over the decades has given me the opportunity to interpret major changes in the Latino human condition that began as an oppressed and marginalized community and now has achieved a space as an emerging power in American politics,” he said. “The agenda I convey to the readers is that with the assistance of Latino immigrants who helped to restore history, identity and language, the community is posed to become a pluralistic majority and faces the pressure to prepare America. Latinos Millennials have already begun that process by eliminating the dropout rate issue nationally and attending college at a higher rate than anyone else including Whites.”

Wave of the Future

It is the new generation of Latinos that Conde often references now as he sees a brighter future on the horizon, but he cautions that the progress made over the decades can be lost, if they forget who they are.

“The new generation of Latinos needs to be better understood by the rest of us as they truly represent a radical departure in lifestyle, motivation and leadership,” he said. “At the same time, they are not burdened by the trauma of oppression experienced by the older generations and feel free to create a multicultural community that will constitute the new majority. For them, the mistake to be avoided is to again forget who they are and where they came from.”

Media scrutiny

As both a contributor to and a consumer of mass media, Conde said he is not oblivious to the scrutiny the media have fallen under over the years.

“The relatively new press outlets such as cable, pod, blogs and social media have changed the way news is presented to the point that almost every slant real or imagined is included,” he said. “Much of this is also caused by a political division in the country resulting from demographic changes that will see the majority become one of the minorities.”

Immigration reform

Also not lost on Conde is immigration reform. A topic both major political parties in the U.S. campaign on, but neither actual does anything to address.

“Comprehensive immigration reform has become less of a priority because of the political climate,” Conde said. “Also, undocumented immigrants have already contributed to the creation of a new generation of American-born citizens that are reaching voting age at a rate over 900,000 a year. When you couple this with the loss of a million votes a year on the part of the majority, it is clear that with or without immigration reform the march toward a new order is well on its way.”

[Written by Joshua Pilkington. Published in La Voz Bilingüe on August 2, 2017.]

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 a Contributing Writer to La Voz Bilingüe.