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.

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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.”

Beyond Beyoncé: Farmworkers Fear the Worst While the Music Plays on

IMG_6464“Let’s just cut to the chase,” writes Jon Caramanica, pop music critic in today’s New York Times, “There’s not likely to be a more meaningful, absorbing, forceful and radical performance by an American musician this year, or any year soon, than Beyoncé’s headlining set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/15/arts/music/beyonce-coachella-review.html

About seven miles down the road from the scene of Beyoncé’s great triumph, a farmworker family spends a blistering hot afternoon in their double-wide trailer, shades drawn.  Gabriel Thompson, a journalist based in Oakland, California, shares this family’s story and the fear that permeates their life in Coachella, Underground, a piece for which I and others at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project were interviewed.

I don’t mean to dis Beyoncé.  In fact, I am a huge fan.  “Sorry” has been a rallying cry for our project since the song’s release in June of 2016.  Our farmworkers celebrate the song’s chorus.  It resonates: Why should we apologize for our presence when “rich or poor, what Americans have on their dining room tables is what we are giving them from our hands.” https://vimeo.com/158226128  I also love the video for “Sorry”, with its allusions to farm work, crew buses, and the stark dividing line that often exists between farm labor and farm capital.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you of the fear of family separation farmworkers experience each day they leave their children in our care and head to the fields and to the packing houses.  When all that stands between our parents and the loss of their American dream is a “broken tail light” and a sheriff’s deputy without a heart.  There are no music festivals to draw attention to it, but in Florida, Alabama, and the rural Mid-Atlantic, our farmworker communities remain persecuted as traffic stops lead to immigration holds that too often lead to removal proceedings.

In the face of these attacks, it’s important to support the causes that serve and uplift farmworker families.  East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is just one non-profit among many that have built a capacity to help farmworkers involved in immigration removal proceedings.  You should support us and you should support our partners.

Meanwhile, our farmworkers will no doubt do what they’ve always done: be resilient, work hard, and have faith that their resilience and hard work will be rewarded.  Until then, deuces up.

 

Celebrating a Bright Future in Palmetto

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Our ribbon-cutting ceremony was led by Dr. Villa, CEO, and Layssa Marie Garcia, President of the Palmetto Parent Committee. Photo credit: Ted Hoffman

Surrounded by parents, children, and community partners, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project celebrated its newest child care center for farmworker families on March 15th in Palmetto, Florida, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The ribbon-cut at Palmetto was the culmination of many years of hard work; but the smiles of the farmworker families attending the ceremony was the best evidence that the hard work was well worth the effort.

The Palmetto Center began as the vision of Director of Program Operations, Angel Casiano, and Florida Head Start Administrator, Dora Sanders. Angel and Dora spent many hours, days, and weeks, exploring ways in which to serve farmworker families living in Palmetto. For years, Angel and Dora had partnered with our transportation team to bring children to our Head Start center in Myakka. But the Myakka Center is almost thirty miles from Palmetto, which is a long bus route for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to experience. Moreover, there were more farmworker children in Palmetto in need of services than we could possibly send on school buses to Myakka.

In April of 2015, all of Angel and Dora’s hard work paid off when the Office of Head Start awarded ECMHSP new funding for the creation of a new center in Palmetto.  ECMHSP quickly mobilized to execute on its plans to serve families in Palmetto. These plans were implemented on two fronts. Through the dedicated efforts of Kate Bloomquist, the Migrant Education Coordinator for the Manatee County, Florida School District, ECMHSP was able to lease classrooms at the Palm View Elementary School in Palmetto. The availability of these classrooms allowed ECMHSP to begin serving families within six months of the funding becoming available. This is a remarkable accomplishment when one considers all of the pre-operational issues that must be tackled before a program commences high-quality and comprehensive Head Start services. http://bit.ly/2GdLhvi

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John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, talks to the children during our ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo credit: Ted Hoffman

The second planning front involved the purchase an abandoned cinder block building at 906 17th Street West in Palmetto and the completion of a major renovation of the building to create engaging classrooms, a state-of-the art kitchen and playground space. Yet again, ECMHSP turned to Labelle architect, Ted Hoffman, to design the space and long-time (now retired) Facilities Manager, Michael Wilcox, to oversee construction. The new Palmetto Center, finished in the summer of 2017, is a welcoming space for farmworker families to have their children learn and grow, so that those children enter public school ready to succeed.

We were honored by the presence of many local dignitaries at the ribbon-cut, including Gary Tibbets, Special Assistant to Congressman Vern Buchanan; Jonathan Davis, the Honorable Vice Mayor of Palmetto, the Palmetto Fire Chief; and members of the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County and representatives from the local Palmetto Library. Ramona De Lorea, the Vice President of the Policy Council and President of the Wauchula Center, spoke to our guests about her work with East Coast and the importance of the new center.

But the most important local dignitaries present were the children and families served at the Palmetto Center. Layssa Marie Garcia, the President of the Palmetto Center, did the honor of cutting the ribbon, and each classroom of children performed songs and danced for our entertainment. Our local Palmetto staff went above and beyond in hosting the ribbon-cutting, proving yet again that our center staff are the beating heart of our Head Start mission.

Tis the Season of Hope & Giving

Today, we are thrilled to kick-off our end of year, annual Friends & Family Giving Campaign.

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is committed to preparing the children of migrant and seasonal farm workers for success.

Our Giving Campaign funds vital support for farmworker families – such as the Michael P. Murphy Family Emergency Assistance Fund and our pro bono immigration services practice. You can learn more about the services and support we provide by visiting our website: http://www.ecmhsp.org

We raised just over $20,000 in our 2016 Giving Campaign and this year we have set a goal of $25,000. We know we can accomplish our goal with your support.

The 2017 Giving Campaign will run from today through January 5th. You can get us off to a great start by donating directly through: https://www.razoo.com/organization/The-East-Coast-Migrant-Head-Start-Project

This holiday season, help us provide hope to our farmworker families. We hope you will join us in supporting East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s mission in 2018. We could not do the work that we do without your generosity.

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project wishes you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!

Norma Flores López on a Global Stage

Photo of Norma Flores López, Governance and Collaboration/Development Manager at ECMHSP.

In June of 2015, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project lured Norma Flores López away from another wonderful non-profit serving farmworkers, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs in Washington, DC. We brought Norma to ECMHSP so she may work on a number of important priorities here: partnering with Maria Rodriguez and Maria Hernandez in supporting the work of the ECMHSP Policy Council; leading our efforts in collaborating with other organizations through her service to the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Collaboration Advisory Board and as a Board Director to the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association; and broadening our fundraising and grant-writing efforts. Along the way, Norma has created this blog, From Harvest to Head Start, and ECMHSP’s Facebook page.

This week, Norma is featured in an interview by Global March, in connection with her work as a Board member to the Global March Against Child Labour. As she states in her interview:

There is a misconception that child labor is an issue that happens abroad, outside of reach, and Americans remain oblivious to the child labor that is present in their own backyards. More people need to be educated on the human cost of the foods they consume each day, and the exploitation of child labor that is intricately involved in the American food production system.

You can read the full interview on the Global March Against Child Labor website.

We are so fortunate to have such a dynamic leader advocating here in the US and around the world for farmworker families.

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.