• by Leroy Jackson, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • February 1998 •
I didn’t know if all boys and girls in school spent their summers and winters like I did. I just knew that it was the way of life for my family and me. During the summer, we would travel to different parts of Texas to work in the fields. My recollections of these times were of the blazing heat beating down on my back, the sweat dripping from my brow, the exhausting repetitive work, and my thoughts that one day I wouldn’t have to do this kind of work.
In the winter, the story was pretty much the same – except the weather was usually very cold, not like the 70-degree winters of the Rio Grande Valley. On Thanksgiving day, we always had a nice meal, complete with a stuffed turkey. Following the feast we were off to the fields and back to work. It was a never-ending cycle: the Pecos area and cantaloupe; Bay City, Texas and rice fields; and Raymondville, Texas, and cotton fields.
I didn’t know any other lifestyle, so I guess I didn’t feel sorry for myself, as some would expect a 10-year-old boy to feel. It was really quite the contrary. I thought it was exciting to be able to travel across Texas and meet new people. When I returned to my home and school in Tabasco Viejo (present-day La Joya) and my history teacher spoke of mountain ranges or the Gulf Coast Indians, I could say, “I’ve been there!” The other students in my class thought it was neat.
When I grew older and was able to obtain my driver’s license, I earned a job as a driver and crew leader. This position held a lot of responsibility for me because I had to make sure that the workers arrived at their job site on time and that quotas were met. My grandmother would say that she was very proud of me because I was responsible enough to keep a job, I handled my position with respect for others, and I had dreams of something more.
She was always looking out for me. On one blistering, Friday afternoon, she made a telephone call to me that changed my life.
With the humidity at an all-time high, mosquitoes biting at any area of exposed skin they could find, I was working in a rice field in Bay City, Texas, making sure that the freshly picked rice made it onto the bed of my truck without bruises.
The foreman called out my name and instructed me to call home when we returned to town. Immediately, I began to panic, thinking something horrible had happened to my grandparents back home in Tabasco Viejo. That day felt like the longest day of my life.
When the workday was over, I drove to the nearest convenience store and pulled my pickup truck into the parking lot. I was so eager to call home that I jumped out of the truck before shifting the gear to “park.” Before I knew it, I was already dialing my grandparent’s telephone number from a rotary telephone.
My grandmother answered very cheerfully – totally oblivious of the disastrous thoughts that had been racing through my mind all day. When I told her what I had been thinking, she only laughed and said that she hadn’t called with bad news. She had good news to pass along. Freshmen orientation would begin on Monday morning at the local Pan American College. If I packed my bags and left right away, I would make it to the orientation.
I tried to explain that college was expensive and there would always be time to go later, but she would not accept my excuses. So, there I was with my bags packed, driving my 1953 Ford truck with a broken headlight, heading back to the Rio Grande Valley where a new future lay before me.
I went on to become a teacher of migrant and limited-English-proficient students and then – for 23 years – to direct migrant education activities here in the Valley through the Education Service Center in Region I.
Today – 38 years later – I thank God everyday for my grandmother’s telephone call. It enabled me to make a difference in my life and in the lives of migrant families and children across the United States. I have never forgotten what it was like to work in the fields and to struggle to maintain good grades in the classroom. I suppose I made it my mission in life to ensure that others with an upbringing like mine wouldn’t have to face the same obstacles.
I know that I can’t change the way things are. I do know that – like my grandmother – I will have faith in others, I will not accept excuses, and I will always spread “good news.”
LeRoy Jackson, M.A., is the director of migrant education for the Education Service Center in Region I.
[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 1998 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]