Students learn aboutmigrant lifestyle

by Andrew Tellijohn

Emily Schug remembers how rudely the checkout person at a Renville, Minn., supermarket treated the migrant workers in front of her. But when it was her turn to go through the line, the checker was pleasant and cheerful.
Though she expected a certain amount of prejudice in the small town, Schug was surprised at just how blatant these actions were. In Renville, migrant workers arrive each summer during sugar beet season.
“It was as if the community members were thinking, `I don’t understand why they’re coming up here taking resources away from our economy,'” Schug said. “I guess I expected it, but not to that degree.”
Schug, a senior in the College of Human Ecology, was one of nine interns who participated in the state-wide U-Migrant Project summer program.
An estimated 20,000 migrant workers come each year to Minnesota on a seasonal basis to work in vegetable canning factories and meat processing plants. The majority of migrant farm workers that come to Minnesota in the summer are U.S. citizens or permanent residents of Texas who are of Chicano or Latino descent.
U-Migrant Program Director Lisa Sass Zaragoza and Program Associate Mark Sinclair started the program in 1994 because of a lack of public awareness of migrant issues at the University, Sass Zaragoza said.
To get involved in the University’s migrant program, students must first take a class offered under the Chicano Studies program entitled “The Migrant Experience in Minnesota.”
“As a Latino professor, we know we’re supposed to defend this group to death,” said Sass Zaragoza, a teaching assistant for the class. “But we don’t know too much about the migrant worker.”
Sass Zaragoza said the program’s main goals are twofold: to educate the University community about migrant worker issues and to provide challenging learning opportunities for students and staff who are involved in the program.
“We aim to work in service to the migrant workers and the organizations that serve them,” she said.
Schug became interested in an internship with the program after taking the class. She had studied in Mexico a few years earlier and when she saw a flyer on the internship program, she decided to participate. It was a decision she said she doesn’t regret.
As a participant in the program, she held two internships. In one of the internships she worked as a teaching assistant in the Migrant Head Start Program with children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old whose parents worked during the day. As a social work intern for Renville County Human Services, she spent time working with the families themselves.
The six weeks that she worked with the Head Start program coincided with the sugar beet growing season in that area of the state.
Schug and the other participants will share their experience with the University community at informational meetings on the program. They might also speak to students during classes.
“We haven’t really organized anything like that yet,” she said. “But that’s definitely something we’re going to think about doing.”