Oct 7, 2019
Ilda Martinez was 3 years old when she arrived at a migrant Head Start center in Plant City, Florida. Her first language was Mixtec, an indigenous dialogue of Oaxaca, Mexico. She learned Spanish and then English in Head Start programs that serve the children of farmworkers. These migrant and seasonal programs are critical resources for families like Ilda’s that move several times a year to harvest crops, from blueberries in North Carolina to strawberries in Florida and asparagus in Michigan. The work is arduous, the weather can be brutal, and housing situations are often meager. Less noted is that farm work requires significant skill and commitment. And these are jobs which American workers have roundly rejected. As National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association executive director Cleo Rodriguez explains, without migrant farmworkers, the US agricultural sector would collapse.
Ilda's childhood in Head Start led her to the NMSHSA Internship Program, which brings young women and men to Washington for eight weeks each year. They are placed with host families and work in federal agencies and nonprofit organizations, an opportunity that as Ilda describes, is game changing. In fact, Ilda, who was chosen as a Gates Millennium Scholar, completed college, and has returned to DC for graduate studies at George Washington University.
As Ilda explains, the characteristic that best defines migrant families is resilience. Listen to Ilda and you cannot miss how well the word describes her as well. And remember her name because Ilda will be an influential voice for social justice well into the future.