Strawberries are a fruit many of us can imagine tasting on a warm summer day or blended in a favorite smoothie throughout the year. California is the nation’s leading producer of strawberries. They are a staple in many household diets. For Eunice Gonzales, strawberries are more than a fruit to eat; they are a labor of love. Gonzales is the first generation in her family to attend and graduate college. At 22, she was determined to celebrate that accomplishment with her parents. Gonzales organized a photo shoot in the strawberry fields her mother and father work in with photographs that reflect love and the resilience of family, sharing in the fruits of their hard earned labor. (1)
Strawberry plants or “La fruta del Diablo”—the fruit of the devil, is notoriously difficult to grow. Strawberries are hand picked, often rushed to coolers with huge fans to remove field heat and shipped within 24 hours on refrigerated trucks. Fragile, delicate and extremely temperamental, working strawberry fields is not for the faint of heart. Dependent on natural elements such as sunlight, rain, and wind; strawberry picking is one of the lowest paid and least desirable labor jobs amongst farm workers The crop can be wiped out in an instant with insect infestation or temperature fluctuations. A potentially costly endeavor for farmers. Working in a 2 billion dollar industry, taking care to gently wash and quickly sort to slice, freeze or keep whole can make all the difference in a farmer’s bottom line. (2)(3)
During winter and summer breaks, Gonzales worked the strawberry fields with her parents rising at 5 am to prepare the family for their 12-hour day. Her parents now own their strawberry business. While many owners hand over the daily operations and retire from the grueling fieldwork, the Gonzales family continues with the same intensity they began with so many years ago. Her father manages the day-to-day operations, while her mother carry’s forward in the fields. Their work has motivated their daughter to seize the opportunity for education and instilled insight far beyond her years. Committed to her education during the school year, she applied for over 20 scholarships, while still in school, involved in a multitude of non-profit organizations and scholastic endeavors.
The Wildflower Initiative (TWI) had the opportunity to interview Eunice Gonzalez. An inspirational, true story of persistence, endurance and determination, Gonzalez is an authentic breath of fresh air, finding her voice and gratitude with a family supportive of her education.
Interview with Eunice Gonzalez
Did high-school activities prepare you for college?
EG: I was really active in sports participating in track, tennis and soccer. I was involved in on campus clubs and organizations including youth summer programs and a non-profit called, “Fight Back”. It’s a collaboration that partners with businesses, residents, and government to improve neighborhoods, strengthen families and encourage youth development creating a safe, healthy and thriving environment (Fight Back Partnership).
How were you able to attend UCLA, one of the top ranked schools in the world on scholarships?
EG: I applied to several scholarships in high school before college. It wasn’t just one, but a combination of scholarships. My parents are farm workers, watching them work allowed me to see the importance of education. I was once told, “You can work a minimum wage job or submit a well thought out involved scholarship”. It kept me motivated when I was rejected, to keep trying. I’m very resourceful and I kept trying and applying. I was little embarrassed about how many times I applied through the UCLA Scholarship Department and them seeing my name again and again. But maybe that worked to my benefit. Here’s this person, she keeps coming back.
What are your thoughts on Study Abroad Programs?
EG: I was able to go on two study abroad trips this year. First to Spain, then to Oaxaca where my parents are from. Oaxaca was a transformative experience. I went with a UCLA professor doing work to establish economic strategies in the state. My experience visiting family there was genuinely an amazing experience. The food, culture, economics, I soaked it all it in. It was also an experience in the marginalization and oppression of our culture. Poverty and low wage jobs force migration.
What would you say to students considering applying for a Study Abroad Scholarship?
EG: APPLY! The opportunity to travel and experience another culture and lifestyle can be fleeting especially once you’re out of school. Take advantage and explore the world. You will gain a new perspective. We live in a microcosm.
What does the future hold?
EG: I’m taking time to explore my options. Graduate school will most likely be in my future. I’m considering preparing for both the GRE and LSAT. I’m interested in Immigration Law and the Non Profit Sector. Although the job market is difficult, I think about a Ph.D. to teach at a university.
TWI: Thank you Eunice! Congratulations to you and your family on the accomplishment. We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.
EG: No problem! Thank you. I think what you’re doing is great. It’s organizations like The Wildflower Initiative that make a difference in student’s lives.
**You can follow Eunice on Tumblr at 'Mariposa-Reina'. Click here.
(1)(2) Grotto, Dave. (2015). About Strawberries. Retrieved from: http://www.californiastrawberries.com/about_strawberries
(3) Schlosser, Eric. (2015). In the Strawberry Fields. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/past/issues/95nov/strawber.htm