When Eunice Gonzalez graduated from UCLA in June, it was an important, odds-defying moment—and the 22-year-old second-generation American wanted to do something special for her parents in particular. She decided to pay tribute to them in a photoshoot in the fields where they have picked strawberries for more than 20 years.Her mother and father are immigrants from Mexico who spent the past two decades doing field work in California, mostly picking strawberries. At the age of 12, Gonzalez started working with her parents (her two older sisters did the same) and 10 years later, as a graduate of UCLA's Department of Chicana/o Studies, she decided to pay homage to the people who drove her to succeed.
"I acknowledged that farm workers were seldom given the spotlight, I saw this as an opportunity to honor the hard work of my parents, and farm workers all over the country," Gonzalez told ATTN:. "They are the hardest working people in the world, and hardly ever are given the dignity and respect they deserve. I needed them to see, this wasn’t simply my success, this was a success of 22 years in the fields, this was all them."
The road to success was not easy. For one, while picking strawberries is considered one of the more profitable jobs for day laborers, it is also one of the most difficult and exhausting. Eunice Gonzalez started as a record keeper of sorts, tallying the number of boxes each worker filled so that they were paid fairly."For a few years I did that, but when I got a little older I started picking strawberries,"she told VIVALA. "I could only do six boxes while my mother did nearly eighty boxes."
Throughout her childhood, Gonzalez would wake up at 5 a.m., prep lunch, and work in the fields for 12 hours each day. They struggled—not just with picking strawberries, nicknamed "la fruta del diablo" or "Devil fruit," because it requires intensive labor to collect, but to make ends meet as well. To feed a family of five on a day laborer's budget took a lot of work, to be sure, and that anxiety weighed on her parents' minds constantly.
Born and raised in Santa Maria, California, Gonzalez found strength in her small, largely immigrant community; the barrio was termed "La Tijuanaita," or little Tijuana. Though they spoke only Spanish, her parents managed to grow their own strawberry picking business—quite literally from the ground up—and support the family.
Like her parents, Gonzalez was a hard worker, both in the fields and the classroom, and she was eventually offered admission into UCLA on a full-ride scholarship. It was an accomplishment of the highest caliber, and for many children of immigrants in this country, the opportunity might be there, but financial and social hardships often derail them on the path to success.
"I applied to over 20 scholarships because I knew my parents could not pay for my education. I couldn’t have myself go into higher education and have my parents pick up the burden of financing me through a better future," she said.
There are about 20 million second-generation Americans like Gonzalez living in the states today, according to the Pew Research Center.
"Some scholars of immigration have questioned whether today's immigrants and their offspring will be able to match the high levels of intergenerational upward mobility experience by much of the immigrant stock of the 19th and early 20th centuries," Pew writes. "What we can say with certainty is that members of the second generation will have a major impact on this nation's destiny for decades."
"Immigrants don’t always have easy times in the United States, we struggle, we fight, we prosper. However, this success isn’t easy. I’d like to believe I am the pesadilla of the American dream, I am naming what this American Dream truly embodies, struggle, and we’re finally waking up," Gonzalez said.