Photo: Oscar Ramos (right) with his student José, whose parents are migrant farm workers. Photo from PBS documentary East of Salinas, 2015.
Oscar Ramos is a teacher at Sherwood Elementary School in East Salinas, California. His story appears in VOW’s Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture.
Oscar’s students are often amazed when they hear his story—a kid from the fields who graduated from college? “Yes,” he tells them. “And you can do the same.”
When Oscar arrived in the U.S. at age five as an undocumented immigrant, his family settled in a labor camp near Salinas, California, where he worked in the fields harvesting difficult crops like garlic and lettuce. In school he’d watch his teacher and think, “I can do this job; I can be a good teacher.” In 8th grade he stopped working the fields and became a teacher’s assistant in a local labor camp. “I helped the teacher with the migrant kids. So that only solidified my decision to be a teacher… I remember wanting to help people, and it felt great.”
After a supportive high school counselor recognized his potential, Oscar finished his college applications and was accepted everywhere he applied.
Today, Oscar is a UC Berkeley alum and has been teaching for 20 years at Sherwood Elementary in East Salinas. The vast majority of his students are low-income, English language learners (ELL), and the children of farmworkers.
Now Oscar is changing the lives of generations of immigrant students after him. He intimately understands how their parents’ early work hours can disrupt their sleep, how moving each season to chase the harvest breaks up their school year. He tells his story to show his students that college is possible, and works with their parents to get them there. If parents need to travel for a harvest, Oscar helps them find temporary housing options for their children so that they can stay in school.
“They’re looking at the long term now. They want their child to graduate high school and go to college and get a degree and a career,” says Oscar.