Already the focus of a New York Times article, Hollister’s Oscar Ramos stirred the imagination of Boston PBS writer-director Laura Pacheco, who intends to weave his story into an American “story about education, childhood and circumstance.”
She said the story begins with third-grader José Ansaldo, a migrant student, “telling us what he wants to be when he grows up. With little support at home, José often turns to his teacher, Oscar Ramos, once a migrant farm kid himself. Oscar helps José imagine a future beyond the lettuce fields where his parents work. The documentary ‘East of Salinas’ explores an overlooked part of today’s American dream and asks: what is the impact of America’s immigration laws and farming practices on children?”
For three years, Pacheco and her team have travelled from Boston to Hollister and Salinas to film Ramos. who has taught in Salinas at Sherwood School for 17 years. Pacheco’s early telephone conversations with Ramos convinced her the nation needed to know about Oscar who could have followed other careers with a University of California, Berkeley degree in hand but chose to devote his talents and energies to migrant kids in school today.
Inspired and determined to raise funding for the project, Pacheco created short clips of Ramos as he worked with youngsters and their families in the classroom, on the soccer field, and the Friday-Saturday family events he organized with fellow teachers. Science night, readers’ theater, and a shared meal draw some 90 families together three times a year at Sherwood School. “Nothing beats having the whole family there,” said Ramos, who knows the power of families. He is one of eight children who grew up for the most part at the Jesus L. Quintero, Inc. labor camp on Wright Road in Hollister.
Funding for the documentary in hand, Pacheco pursued the story. Ramos remembers some hard times, moving from Tulare to Visalia to San Jose and finally to Hollister where he also recalls sweet days of playing with other kids at the camp. Sure, he admitted, he would have liked to go to summer school rather than work in the fields, but at the time neither he nor his siblings thought seriously about education beyond high school, at least until League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) student advocates cornered Ramos, his siblings and friends, insisting they run for ASB class officers at San Benito High School. “What? Us kids? Officers?” So with some coaching and prodding, the youngsters not only won ASB seats but went on to higher education, with at least seven of the siblings and friends attending UC Berkeley. Today they are attorneys, teachers, physicians, businessmen, and architects.
But it was fellow student Martin López who “ratted” on young Oscar, telling San Benito High School counselor Jim Caffiero that Ramos wasn’t filling out the applications for college. Caffiero–known affectionately as Mr. C–called Ramos’s mother, asking if he could keep Oscar at school to finish the applications. “Sure! Keep him all night if need be!” she said. Ramos joined his friend Martin as 2013 keynote speakers at the annual Mexican-American Committee on Education (MACE) Cinco de Mayo Scholarship Dinner/Dance. MACE, along with LULAC, has presented scholarships to deserving students every year for 45 years in San Benito County.
In 1992, with a bundle of university acceptance letters in hand, Ramos chose U.C. Berkeley, starting to work right away at local schools, trying out his collection of do’s and dont’s garnered from watching his teachers, especially a favorite fourth-grade teacher, Chuck Obeso-Bradley, at Fremont School. A born teacher, Ramos recalls as a child making mental notes of what he would emulate and what he would do differently in the classroom. Graduating from Berkeley in 1996, he returned to Hollister then went off to California State University Monterey Bay to earn a teaching credential.
Content with his studies, he resisted an appeal by a determined recruiter from Salinas city schools. But when he visited Sherwood, his current site, he knew it was ideal for him. He’s been there 17 years and it is where, in addition to his work in the classroom, he mentors new teachers and volunteers to coach all the sports, both fall and spring; that’s seven teams of flag football, soccer, volleyball, and softball. This last year he and fellow teachers took 22 sixth graders to visit U.C. Berkeley classrooms, labs, dorms, and dining commons.
During one of Pacheco’s last documentary shoots in Salinas this year, she talked of a stroll down the street with Ramos. “It was like the pied piper. Teenagers, moms, grandparents approached Ramos with ‘Do you remember me? You had my son, my grandson in class,” she recalled. Her PBS documentary is due for release in fall 2015.
But when asked if Ramos wanted to become a principal so he could guide other teachers, without hesitation he said, “I don’t want to be a principal. I want to work with the kids. I would miss it so much.”
**LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens). See San Benito County LULAC Council at http://www.sbclulac.org. Council members devote serious energy guiding students, raising scholarship funds, then recognizing their achievements at annual ceremonies. The students who earned LULAC scholarships and their destination universities in 2014 are displayed at https://benitolinkcom.wpengine.com/lulac-and-mace-scholarship-recipients-2014.
***Mexican-American Committee on Education of San Benito County. Find them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com. Find 2014 MACE scholarship recipients at https://benitolinkcom.wpengine.com/lulac-and-mace-scholarship-recipients-2014.