EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — MSU’s College Assistance Migrant Program known as camp was born out of personal struggle.
“Coming from a migrant and seasonal farm worker background, that’s something, you know, something personally special to me,” Migrant Student Services Director, Luis Garcia said.
20 years ago, director Luis Garcia pitched an idea that university administrators didn’t initially believe in.
“Some of the people in the room saying, Luis, are you crazy?” Garcia said. “Do you really think you can convince migrants to come to Michigan state university? I say, well, we recruit people all around the world. Why wouldn’t we be able to do that?”
The program started with only a few students, Elias Lopez was one of the first.
“It’s important to give credit to my life experience. I mean I grew up as a migrant farm worker. That’s all I knew growing up. My family were migrant farm workers from Texas. And we would come to Michigan to work in the fields in West Michigan,” Lopez said.
He says it was by chance that he landed at MSU.
“By pure luck the recruiter for camp knocked on my door looking for someone else and I answered. And that day just changed my life,” Lopez said.
Now, he’s on the other side, helping open doors for other students.
“I still remember my first recruitment assignment and I remember it clearly because I went back to the exact same migrant and housing apartment were I was recruited,” Lopez said. “So I knew that was a sign that I was in the right place. I can’t tell you the feeling of walking into that apartment and getting flashbacks of being in that same position just with the roads flipped.”
But there were moments… he doubted himself.
“I never felt part of the institution, I felt lost in its entirety,” he said.
In fact, one time he packed up all his belongings…and hit the road home. But just a few minutes out of Eat Lansing, his car broke down. He says only one person picked up his call for help.
“I probably waited around three hours before I called that number, because I knew the response I was going to get but after getting tired of waiting by the side of the highway I dialed that number,” Lopez said. “And sure enough like I expected Luis’s response was well I am your ride but this ride only goes one direction. back to campus.”
Lopez has been part of CAMP for nearly 15 years now. He’s seen education open doors for hundreds of migrant students, but many still don’t understand the unique struggles they face.
It’s critical work that has been getting attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s a job that continues to be underpaid. Typically a family of five earns less than $10,000 dollars a year
“We have students who step away from their academic responsibilities to be able to contribute to that family household income.” Eleazar Gutierrez– is one of them.
“I took a year off. when you get stuck in the grind or you don’t really see the end result it can seem very far off and yo I’m never going to be able to achieve this,” Gutierrez said.
It’s the dedication he learned working in the fields that he credits as one of the reasons he finished his degree. Now he’s back at MSU, this time reaping the rewards of his labor as a full time engineer.
“It’s very life changing,” Gutierrez said. “It almost feels like a different lifetime ago, having to wake up and do all that labor. But, I’m very proud of the fact that I was able through taking that year off and come back.
As for Garcia, his life’s harvest, is seeing more than 1,000 migrant students complete their degrees.
And throughout the years his favorite reward is graduation.
“To see the parents show the pictures of their daughters or sons they just say ‘Mira Mija se recibio de la Michigan State University’ I mean that to me is like I’m good,” Garcia said.