Heat Stroke, a Conversation
Interview with Nancy Rosales
by Olga Rosales Salinas
*Elizabeth and Nancy Rosales, in 1993, Homecoming Court Aptos High School.
I interviewed my sister Nancy Rosales about her experience going straight from Aptos High School to San Francisco State University. I asked what convinced her to work hard in school, and together we reflected on the who, what, where, and how of her journey.
I want to start by saying that I love being a part of what our scholarship is doing this year. Seeing so many of you donating to this cause and spreading the word through reposts, likes, and comments has given us life, and we appreciate you. When Olga asked me to tell the defining story behind my college success, I really only thought of one experience—working la morra (picking raspberries or field work). I want to tell this story because it describes the moment when I decided to take my schoolwork seriously. Up until that experience, I was a willful mocosa in class, to use one of Olga’s words.
*Moss Landing Power Plant, along the Monterey Bay central coast of CA.
Olga: I think it’s important to start with how old you were when we worked in the fields.
Nancy: I was ten years old when our dad, Abel Rosales, decided we’d spend our summers picking raspberries behind the Moss Landing Power Plant on the coast. This is how I spent every summer of junior high. You were only seven or eight.
Olga: The drive between the Bay Area and the Central Coast goes along Highway 1—the scenic route, as they call it. You can't miss the Moss Landing Power Plant pillars/or smokestacks as they block a lot of the view driving by the beach cliffs, rolling hills, and the Pacific Ocean. Tucked behind the roadside stands selling fresh fruits, oyster shucking stations, and point breaks of surfable waters exists a labor force picking berries of all sorts for $2-$3 a crate. All of that to say that in this part of California there exists two different worlds. Can describe the actual moment when you decided you’d pay attention in class.
Nancy: I remember our dad piling us up in the Ford Pinto for three summer vacations in a row. That Pinto was so embarrassing! Luckily, it was 4 am when we pulled out of town in it. And you, Olga, didn’t always have to go—but Liz, Adriana, and I did. We didn’t have a choice (Christie was a newborn).
Olga: I remember that.
Nancy: We’d wake up and cover ourselves from head to toe in hats, neck scarves, gloves, long pants, and long socks—contrary to what our friends were wearing for their summer breaks. These were worn to protect us from the direct sunlight, the pesticides, and the insects. I remember on one particularly hot day, I was dying. Each of us was given a row of berries to pick from, and my row was hotter than the rest—I swear to it. In the middle of filling one of my crates, I did a complete stop-drop-and-roll. I did it to cover myself up in the mud in front of me, which was cool, since I was boiling up from the heat. It was part desperation and part fight-or-flight. No one stopped me. No one came to my rescue. No one wondered if I had fallen or if I had a bad case of heat stroke. Everyone kept filling crates, hunched over, pushing the crates with their feet, and picking fruit with both hands.
Olga: What did you do?
Nancy: I got up! I looked around and saw that no one noticed or cared that I was covered in mud, and I kept going. I kept filling my crate.
Olga: When was the epiphany?
Nancy: When I got to the end of the row, there was a group of field workers gathered around having lunch. As the mud began to dry, I realized how much harder the day was about to get. Without me saying a word, the group looked at me and understood what I was going through.
As a first-generation student, like the Rosales Sisters, you have a chance— and a choice. ~ Nancy Rosales
Olga: Did you keep working?
Nancy: I had to. Abel Rosales didn’t play. I think I made $25 dollars that day.
Olga: Is there anything you’d like to say to first generation or immigrant students like us, who grew up picking berries in the summer heat?
Nancy: Working the fields is hard work. As a first-generation student, like the Rosales Sisters, you have a chance—and a choice. You have a chance at an education—and a chance at easy work. Don’t let money stop you. Families like ours exist and we’re here to help. Eventually we want to help you fill out your FAFSA, write those essays, and apply for scholarships. Resources are out there—you just have to want it.
Thank you, Nancy!
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