Mar 312005
Authors: Daniel Linn

Guadalupe Salazar would have marched with Cesar Chavez if she had been able to.

She, too, experienced exactly how challenges can shape the future, and she marched against incredible odds – in a cap and gown.

Salazar is the director of El Centro Student Services, CSU's advocacy office for the recruitment, retention, graduation and cultural pride of Latinos/Hispanics. Born into a migrant fieldworker family in Texas, Salazar helped her parents and siblings work in various crop fields across the Southwest.

Salazar recalls her father hauling produce with his truck and her mother and nine other siblings working the fields.

"My father was very adamant about the children learning the value of hard work," Salazar said.

Salazar's family labored in locations such as Florida, Colorado, Texas and Nebraska. In addition to suffering through frequent moves, her mother worked the cotton fields while raising children, literally carrying both at once.

"I remember her sharing stories about her out there in the cotton fields with two little girls in a carriage," Salazar said. "If you've ever seen people carrying cotton, you'll notice the sack is really long and you have to drag it."

A normal day consisted of her mother waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. to make tortillas for breakfast. Salazar and her family would then go out to the fields around 5 a.m.

Salazar said her day was often filled with educational opportunities.

"There's a lot of education when you're out in the field. My father would tell me, 'You need this many rows for an acre.' You get paid by rows and acres," Salazar said.

Her family traveled to Florida, where they lived in a migrant camp with races separated into different locations. Her mother became unable to work the cotton fields because of asthma, so her father became the family's main provider.

During his father's trips between Texas and Florida, Salazar recalls him being told not to stop in a certain Georgia town.

"He was told to make sure that prior to that town he had enough gasoline, there was enough food with him, because my father took workers with him," Salazar said.

She remembers asking him why they had to be careful where they went.

"I always asked questions and I got into a lot of trouble as a little girl. When we stopped I saw signs that no Mexicans were allowed," Salazar said. "I always asked my father why we have to go to the other restaurants for colored people. He just told me to be quiet. 'Quiete' he would say to me in Spanish, which basically meant to shut up. And he would say that that was how things were."

As Salazar grew older, she took on more household responsibilities, such as memorizing her mother's shopping list when her father and her went to the store, washing laundry and helping raise her siblings. Salazar attributes her work ethic and education to her parents.

"They had an incredible common sense," Salazar said.

Salazar remembers her third-grade teacher telling her she would never amount to anything because of her race, and all she would ever do is work in the fields.

"I was confused, because I wasn't from Mexico. I was born here in the United States," Salazar said. "As far as I knew, Texas was still a part of the United States."

As Salazar continued to grow in her education, she learned about Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. and the work they did for civil rights.

"Everything started to come together about the racism in this country," Salazar said.

Salazar came to school in Colorado where she received her General Education Degree in 10 weeks.

"That was my ammunition," Salazar said.

She attended Aims Community College and received a legal secretary degree. This was a field a school counselor told her would be a good profession for "her type."

Although graduating with a 3.8 grade point average, Salazar recalls not being satisfied with her degree.

"I said, 'You know, Aims doesn't have a cap and gown.' And that cap and gown was what I wanted, so I enrolled at (The University of Northern Colorado)."

UNC counselors recommended teaching or social work, but Salazar chose a business degree because of concern about supporting her children.

Salazar had trouble her first semester and remembers being shocked to tears when she first saw her grades.

But she graduated from UNC with degrees in business and Spanish.

"I had the cap and gown, the children were there, my youngest brother was there, my mother was there, she was very ill, and my father was there, and they were so proud," Salazar said with tears in her eyes. "I wouldn't trade that moment for anything in the world. It was a wonderful gift that I could give to him. And then I wanted a master's."

Salazar's children now have college degrees and careers, and her grandchildren are talking about college.

"Everything I have done, everything my parents have done, it has all paid off. And now I want a doctorate. I want to be Dr. Guadalupe Salazar," she said.

Salazar said although she looks forward to her retirement years, she still wants to continue her education. She wants to learn more about technology, the human body and how to "age gracefully."

"I am living proof that 'my type' can do it," Salazar said.

Through Salazar's many years of trial and success, people who work with her in the El Centro office have felt the effects.

Bianca Garcia, a sophomore psychology student, said her parents brought her to El Centro because they thought the resources would be valuable to her.

"She's always willing to help anyone," Garcia said. "She's very approachable."

Shirley Guitron, an administrator for El Centro, said Salazar helped her learn to see things from different perspectives.

"She's taught me a great deal about diversity and meeting students' needs," Guitron said.

She said Salazar has everyone's best interest f at heart and a wonderful sense of humor.

"She keeps you going," Guitron said.

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