County Attorney
José R. Rodríguez


Monday - Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm

500 E. San Antonio
5th Floor, Suite 503
El Paso, Texas 79901
Phone (915) 546-2050
Fax (915) 546-2133
comments
@ca.epcounty.com

 

  • El Paso County Attorney UTEP H.S. Equivalency Graduation Speech
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  • Migrant Program - May 31, 2002

    GOOD EVENING:

    IT IS WITH GREAT PLEASURE AND TREMENDOUS PRIDE THAT I TOO WELCOME THE GRADUATES AND YOUR FAMILIES TO THIS GRADUATION CEREMONY. I THANK HECTOR ACOSTA, DR. PADILLA, AND THE UTEP MIGRANT HEP PROGRAM FOR GIVING ME THIS OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE SOME THOUGHTS WITH YOU AS YOU REACH AN IMPORTANT MILESTONE IN YOUR LIFE. AS A FORMER SEASONAL AND MIGRANT FARMWORKER, WHO FACED MANY OF THE CHALLENGES YOU HAVE FACED, I CAN TRULY APPRECIATE WHAT THIS MOMENT MEANS TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES. I WANT TO SPEAK TO YOU TONIGHT ABOUT YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT AND THE IMPORTANCE OF AN EDUCATION IN TODAY'S WORLD, IN TODAY'S GLOBAL ECONOMY.

    BUT FIRST, LET ME BRIEFLY DESCRIBE WHAT I DO AS COUNTY ATTORNEY. I AM AN ELECTED OFFICIAL RESPONSIBLE FOR AN OFFICE OF 84 STAFF PEOPLE, 34 OF WHOM ARE LAWYERS. THE REST ARE LEGAL ASSISTANTS, INVESTIGATORS, LEGAL SECRETARIES, AND CLERKS. THE COUNTY ATTORNEY REPRESENTS THE COUNTY AND ITS ELECTED OFFICIALS, AS WELL AS THE EL PASO COUNTY HOSPITAL DISTRICT (THOMASON). IN ADDITION, WE PROSECUTE JUVENILE CRIME, CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT, ELDERLY ABUSE, FAMILY VIOLENCE, AND MENTAL COMMITMENTS. I AM ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR PROSECUTING HOT CHECK WRITERS, DECEPTIVE BUSINESS PRACTICES, AND ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH LAW VIOATIONS, INCLUDING COLONIA AND SUBDIVISION REGULATIONS. GIVEN ALL OF THE DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF MY OFFICE, I AM MAINLY AN ADMINISTRATIVE MANAGER, RESPONSIBLE FOR ENSURING THAT THE COUNTY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE MEETS ALL OF ITS OBLIGATIONS.

    ROBERT FROST, OUR NATIONAL POET, IN HIS FAMOUS POEM "THE ROAD NOT TAKEN,"TALKED ABOUT COMING TO A FORK ON A ROAD AND CHOOSING TO TRAVEL ON ONE ROAD AND NOT TAKING THE OTHER, AND WHAT THAT DECISION CAN MEAN IN A PERSON'S LIFE. WE MIGRANT FARMWORKERS HAVE INDEED TRAVELLED MANY ROADS, BOTH LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY, AND WE HAVE HAD TO MAKE MANY CRITICAL CHOICES THAT WILL AFFECT US FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES. TONIGHT, WE CELEBRATE ONE OF THOSE LIFE ALTERING CHOICES YOU HAVE MADE BY GOING DOWN THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED BY MANY MIGRANTS, THE ROAD OF LEARNING, OF OBTAINING AN EDUCATION. I SAY ROAD LESS TRAVELLED BECAUSE THE LATEST REPORTS INDICATE THAT OVER 5O% OF HISPANICS IN TEXAS DROP OUT OF SCHOOL; FOR MIGRANT STUDENTS ITS HIGHER.

    LIKE YOU, I HAD TO CONFRONT THAT VERY DIFFICULT DECISION: DO I STAY OUT OF SCHOOL TO WORK AND HELP MY FAMILY, OR DO I AND MY FAMILY SACRIFICE WHILE I CONTINUED WITH MY SCHOOLING. FOR WE ALL UNDERSTAND THAT THE LIFE OF MIGRANTS IS A HARD ONE, REQUIRING THE SWEAT AND LABOR OF EACH AND EVERY FAMILY MEMBER TO EARN ENOUGH MONEY TO SURVIVE, TO PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE. GOING TO SCHOOL IN MY CASE, AS IT WAS FOR MANY OF YOU, COULD BE SEEN AS AN UNNECESSARY LUXURY, AS A DISTRACTION FROM THE REAL AND IMMEDIATE NEEDS AT HAND: OBTAINING FOOD, SHELTER, AND CLOTHING FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY.

    MOREOVER, GOING TO SCHOOL POSED MANY OTHER CHALLENGES NOT FACED BY OTHER STUDENTS. FOR EXAMPLE, I ALWAYS HAD TO PUT UP WITH THE PEER PRESSURE TO DROP OUT LIKE MOST OF MY MIGRANT FRIENDS. I REMEMBER MY FRIENDS SAYING TO ME, " COME ON JOSE, YOU'RE ALREADY 16 YEARS OLD; YOU'RE TOO OLD TO BE GOING TO SCHOOL; DROP OUT AND HELP YOUR JEFITOS LIKE THE REST OF US." I WAS TEMPTED TO FOLLOW THEIR ADVICE BUT NOW LOOKING BACK, KNOWING THE HARD LIVES MY FRIENDS HAVE LED, SOME OF WHOM ARE NO LONGER WITH US, I KNOW I MADE THE RIGHT DECISION. ANOTHER CHALLENGE FOR ME WAS LEAVING SCHOOL BEFORE IT ENDED IN MAY AND RETURNING AFTER IT HAD STARTED IN SEPTEMBER, AND THUS ALWAYS HAVING TO CATCH UP WITH THE REST OF THE CLASS. THIS OF COURSE MEANT HAVING TO DO MORE SCHOOLWORK, MAKING ARRANGEMENTS WITH TEACHERS FOR CLASS ASSIGNMENTS, AND HAVING TO ADJUST TO CLASSES ALREADY UNDERWAY.

    FINALLY, BECAUSE OF SCHOOL SCHEDULES, I WAS NOT ABLE TO FULLY PARICIPATE IN CERTAIN CLASS ACTIVITIES OR EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES. FOR EXAMPLE, I WAS IN A DRAMA CLASS IN MY SENIOR YEAR (I KNOW ITS HARD TO IMAGINE A MIGRANT FARMWORKER IN DRAMA CLASS), AND WHILE I PARTICIPATED IN SOME PLAYS, I MISSED OTHERS, LIKE THE SENIOR PLAY, BECAUSE I WAS OUT IN THE MIGRANT STREAM.

    BUT DESPITE THESE OBSTACLES, LIKE YOU I MADE THE DECISION TO GET A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA, TO GET AN EDUCATION. AT THE TIME, I SAW IT AS A WAY OF GETTING OUT OF THE MIGRANT LIFE CYCLE, OF LEAVING THE GREAT MIGRANT STREAMS WE TRAVELED FROM CALIFORNIA AND IDAHO IN THE WEST COAST TO THE GREAT PLAINS IN MONTANA AND NORTH DAKOTA TO MICHIGAN AND INDIANA IN THE MIDWEST, AND BACK TO THE COTTON FIELDS OF TEXAS AND OUR HOME BASE IN THE LOWER RIO GRANDE VALLEY. MY MOTHER SAW IT AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR ME TO GET OUT OF BACK BREAKING LABOR AND GET A JOB IN A "TIENDA", "AFUERA DEL SOL". FOR HER, SUCCESS WAS ME GETTING A JOB WHERE I COULD WEAR A WHITE SHIRT. FOR IN THOSE DAYS, THE BEST A FARMWORKER WITHOUT A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA COULD DO WAS TO FIND WORK IN A PACKING SHED OR CANNERY, OR IF YOU WERE LUCKY IN A GASOLINE STATION.

    BUT ONCE I MADE THAT CHOICE TO GET MY DIPLOMA I DID NOT STOP THERE; I DECIDED IF I COULD MAKE IT THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL, I COULD GO TO COLLEGE. FOR IN THE VERY PROCESS OF ACQUIRING A HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION I BECAME AWARE, WITH THE HELP OF SOME TEACHERS, THAT I HAD POTENTIAL TO GO EVEN FURTHER IN MY EDUCATION; THAT IF I WORKED AT IT, A COLLEGE DEGREE WAS POSSIBLE; AND, AFTER COLLEGE, THAT MY DREAM OF BECOMING A LAWYER WAS NOT AN EMPTY ONE. THOSE BOOKS I WAS NOW CONSTANTLY READING NOT ONLY CARRIED ME MOMENTARILY OUT OF THE FIELDS BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY OPENED A WHOLE NEW WORLD FULL OF POSSIBILITIES.

    SO I WENT TO PAN AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN SOUTH TEXAS ON A MIGRANT SCHOLARSHIP AWARDED BY A MINNESOTA SUGAR BEET COMPANY. IT CERTAINLY NEVER OCCURRED TO ME WHEN I WAS A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD WORKING FROM SUN UP TO SUN DOWN HOEING SUGAR BEETS IN NORTH DAKOTA AND MONTANA THAT MY COLLEGE EDUCATION WOULD ONE DAY BE PARTIALLY PAID FOR BY SOMEONE IN MINNESOTA. IN THOSE DAYS THERE WERE NO HEP PROGRAMS TO HELP MIGRANT STUDENTS GET THEIR HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS AND GO INTO COLLEGE.

    EVEN WHILE ATTENDING COLLEGE, I MIGRATED TO WISCONSIN DURING MY SOPHMORE YEAR TO WORK DURING THE SUMMER IN A CANNERY. PROCESSING CORN AND OTHER VEGETABLES. BUT I STILL DID NOT LOSE SIGHT OF MY GOAL TO GET MY COLLEGE DEGREE AND THEN GO TO LAW SCHOOL. FINALLY, IN 1971, THAT DREAM WAS REALIZED WHEN I WAS ACCEPTED BY THE NATIONAL LAW CENTER AT THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN WASHINGTON D.C.

    SO I STAND HERE BEFORE YOU AS A SYMBOL OF DETERMINATION, OF ONLY ONE OF SEVEN CHILDREN TO GRADUATE FROM COLLEGE; OF SOMEONE LIKE YOU WHO CHOSE TO TAKE THE FORK ON THE ROAD TO LEARNING, TO BETTER YOURSELVES AND YOUR FAMILIES. WHAT DOES YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT MEAN?

    IT MEANS THAT YOU HAVE TAKEN THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS IMPROVING NOT ONLY YOUR OWN PERSONAL AND ECONOMIC GROWTH BUT ALSO THAT OF YOUR WHOLE COMMUNITY. STUDIES SHOW THAT FARMWORKERS ARE THE POOREST WAGE EARNERS IN THE UNITED STATES EARNING AN AVERAGE OF $7,500 A YEAR, WITH OVER TWO THIRDS OF THE COUNTRY'S MIGRANT HOUSEHOLDS LIVING BELOW THE POVERTY LEVEL. WITHOUT A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA, THE AVERAGE ANNUAL INCOME FOR ALL WAGE EARNERS IS $20,000 BUT WITH A HIGH SCHOOL DEGREE THE POTENTIAL EARNINGS INCREASE TO $31,000, AND WITH A COLLEGE DEGREE THE AMOUNT INCREASES TO $55,OOO. IN TERMS OF LIFETIME INCOME, THE EARNINGS WITH A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA TRANSLATE TO $1.2M AND WITH A COLLEGE DEGREE, THEY ALMOST DOUBLE TO $2.2M. SO YOUR OPPORTUNITIES FOR MAKING MONEY HAVE DEFINITELY INCREASED WITH YOUR HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA.

    AT THE SAME TIME, YOU HAVE ALSO IMPROVED THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC OUTLOOK IN YOUR COMMUNITY. AS YOU ARE AWARE, WE LIVE IN THE POOREST URBAN AREA IN THE NATION WITH LOW PER CAPITA INCOME (THE AMOUNT OF MONEY EARNED BY EACH PERSON IN A COMMUNITY), HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT, AND VERY FEW HIGH PAYING JOBS. OUR HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT RATES ARE AMONG THE HIGHEST IN THE COUNTRY AND ONLY____% OF US HAVE A COLLEGE DEGREE COMPARED TO ___% IN THE REST OF THE STATE. WITH YOUR EDUCATION AND YOUR NEW DIPLOMA YOU HAVE POSITIONED YOURSELVES TO CHANGE THESE CONDITIONS.

    BUT TO REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE, YOU MUST NOW TAKE THE NEXT CRITICAL STEP: GETTING YOUR COLLEGE DEGREE. FOR IN THE AGE OF NAFTA AND THE GLOBAL ECONOMY, A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA MAY NOT BE ENOUGH TO OPEN YOUR DOORS TO THE HIGHER PAYING JOBS, TO THE CREATIVE AND CHALLENGING JOBS, TO THE JOBS THAT CAN DRAMATICALLY CHANGE THE QUALITY OF LIFE NOT ONLY FOR YOU BUT ALSO FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD. IN THIS INFORMATION AND TECHNOLOGY AGE THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THE HIGHLY EDUCATED AND SKILLED WORKERS WHO ARE KNOWLEDGEABLE WITH COMPUTERS AND CAN TRAVEL THE DIGITAL WORLD AS EASILY AS OTHERS DID WITH THEIR TYPEWRITERS YEARS AGO. GOING TO COLLEGE WILL HELP YOU GET THERE.

    AND YOU SHOULD GO TO COLLEGE NOT JUST TO INCREASE YOUR EARNING POTENTIAL. YOU SHOULD ALSO DO IT TO EXPAND YOUR MIND, TO LEARN ABOUT OTHER CULTURES AND IDEAS, AND TO LEARN CREATIVE APPROACHES TO SOLVING PROBLEMS. WITH YOUR NEW KNOWLEDGE YOU CAN HELP TACKLE THE MANY ISSUES FACED BY OUR COMMUNITY, SUCH AS: ATTRACTING NEW INDUSTRY TO INCREASE OUR TAX BASE WHICH IS NECESSARY FOR THE ECONOMIC GROWTH OF A COMMUNITY; OBTAINING ACCESS TO HEATH CARE FOR THE 1/3 RD OF OUR POPULATION WITHOUT HEALTH INSURANCE AND WITHOUT A SUFFICIENT NUMBER OF DOCTORS TO PROVIDE CARE; GETTING ADEQUATE FINANCING FOR OUR POOR SCHOOLS; AND, CREATING NEW JOB OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE SO THEY CAN STAY IN EL PASO AND WE CAN FINALLY STOP OUR BRAIN DRAIN.

    YOU KNOW, I'LL NEVER FORGET WHEN I SPOKE TO ABOUT 600 STUDENTS AT ONE OF OUR LOCAL HIGH SCHOOLS AND I ASKED HOW MANY OF THEM EXPECTED TO LEAVE EL PASO AFTER THEIR GRADUATION. ABOUT 90 % RAISED THEIR HANDS, CITING THE USUAL REASONS: NOT ENOUGH JOBS, LOW PAY, LACK OF RECREATIONAL FACILITIES AND THINGS TO DO IN El Paso. EVEN MORE SHOCKING WAS THE FACT THAT NOT ONE OF THEM RAISED THEIR HAND WHEN I ASKED WHETHER THEY EXPECTED TO RETURN TO EL PASO AFTER THEY GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE. IT WOULD NOT SURPRISE ME IF MANY OF YOU FELT THE SAME WAY.

    IN CLOSING, I THINK THAT YOU CAN OVERCOME THESE CHALLENGES; THAT YOU HAVE THE ABILITY TO CHANGE THINGS SO THAT THE POTENTIAL OF THIS COMMUNITY CAN BE REACHED. DO NOT LET YOUR OPPORTUNITIES TO PURSUE HIGHER LEARNING GO BY THE WAYSIDE. IF SOMEONE LIKE ME CAN STAND BEFORE YOU TODAY, SO CAN EACH OF YOU TOMORROW. DO NOT FIND YOURSELF A FEW YEARS FROM NOW LOOKING BACK AND WONDERING WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN, IF ONLY YOU HAD CONTINUED ON THAT ROAD THAT LED HIGHER LEARNING AND TO A BRIGHTER FUTURE. REMEMBER ROBERT FROST'S WORDS:

    "TWO ROADS DIVERGED IN A WOOD, AND I---I TOOK THE ONE LESS TRAVELED BY, AND THAT HAS MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE."

    ADELANTE Y BUENA SUERTE.