Faculty voice:

Luis Alonzo Garcia: My family love story from the fields

April 1, 2020

Luis Alonzo Garcia is the director of MSU’s Migrant Student Services.

It was April 27, 1997, in Alma, Michigan. It was on this cold and windy day that we were burying my father, Lorenzo Martinez Garcia.

I remember my mother, seated in her wheelchair, surrounded by her daughters Marina, Nieves, Regina, Estella and my twin sisters Valeria and Barbara.

You see, I come from a family of twelve brothers and sisters. My mother, despite her tears and frailness, showed a moment of firmness. She was demanding from my sisters, "Where are the things I asked you to bring?" I walked up to her and asked what she needed. Then, one of my sisters handed her what she had asked of them.

In addition to the many years of working in the fields, raising 12 migrant farmworker children had worn on my mother. At that time, she had survived a stroke that limited her ability to walk, move and limited the strength in her arms.

My sister had placed two pecans in my mother's hand, and she was attempting to break them open. One of my sisters quickly grabbed the pecans and broke them open for her, handing them back to my mother who was looking at my father’s casket. My mother began to talk to my father, tears running from her eyes — her voice so quiet that her words could not be understood. When she finished sharing those words with my father, she tossed the pecans on his casket as it went into the grave.

My siblings and I stood with my mother and prayed. We cried and trembled in the cold windy weather to the point we could no longer stand. We finally wheeled my mother to the car and drove home.

The months quickly turned to years and I finally asked my mother about the significance of the pecans. She positioned herself on the bed and began to tell me a story.

At the age of 15, my mother, along with her brothers and sister, worked in the burning hot Texas fields. It so happens that my father and his family also worked in the same fields, hoeing weeds from the endless rows of cotton.

Both were in the prime age and my mother was constantly under the watchful eye of her family, brothers, father and mother. As my mother was hoeing weeds, she intentionally sped up so that she could be ahead of her family.

As she vigorously continued to remove the weeds from her assigned row, she realized that a young man was working in the row next to her, and he was working towards her.

Finally, they reached a point that they were at each other’s side. This young man, my father, reached down to the ground and picked up a pecan. The interesting thing about the pecan he found is that it was in the middle of a cotton field, and there were no pecan trees in sight for miles. My mother says that perhaps a bird lost the pecan in flight, thus allowing my father to find it.

As the young Lorenzo reached Maria, my mother, he took the pecan, broke it open, and split the two pecan hearts apart. Lorenzo took one of the pecan hearts and gave it to my mother. He told her that he has split his heart for her and that from this point on they will be together until they die.

When my father died, my mother returned her pecan heart to him so that he could be free till they meet again in the next world.

**

My work here at MSU is unique, partially because I am reaching the students who mirror my experience as a former migrant worker from a migrant family. As the director of MSU’s Migrant Student Services, I recruit students whose families’ livelihood is rooted in the fields.

I identify students who are ready to take a risk that will change the trajectory of their future. 99% of the students I work with are the first in their families to seek a college degree. And, for many of them, it’s not so much the academic rigor that is most daunting.

The strong familial bond and the expectation to stay connected to one’s family is fierce. When I recruit a student, I must also recruit the family to embrace MSU.

The lessons and stories learned from the fields are profound. They shape our hearts to value the meaningful things in life and teach us to have hope when all seems lost.

Throughout my professional career, I have applied these lessons and values as we promote student success. Sometimes one just needs a reminder of the simplicity and beauty of life, regardless of the endless obstacles.