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Determination leads to graduation for farm worker-head of her family

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune Madera High senior Griselda Lopez-Chavez receives The Juan Garcia Farmworker Scholarship during a ceremony in the Joe Flores Gym.


To say it took perseverance for a local graduate to make it through high school with not only one, but 10 scholarships for college, is an understatement. A big understatement.

Griselda Lopez-Chavez will be graduating from Madera High School on June 6 with the kind of fierce determination to persevere through struggles you only see in the movies. The heartfelt ones that make you cry. But the difference is Griselda is local to the Central Valley, and her story is worthy of everyone’s attention.

Lopez-Chavez is unique because her story resonates with the mission of the Juan Garcia Farm Worker Scholarship, one of the 10 monetary awards she received this year to go towards college. The scholarship is given to children of farm workers to honor the sacrifices families undergo and to pay respect to the difficulties they have faced getting through school.

Lopez-Chavez’s high school experience was filled with the extracurricular activities that are often looked highly upon when applying for college. She spent time with the Maya Club on campus, volunteering with soup kitchens and helping the local community out. She joined cross country her sophomore year and discovered a love for running, the rush of adrenaline to help her when she feels stressed out, especially at this time of the year.

She still goes into various fields in Madera County on Saturdays, dropping almonds from trees or trimming onions with a scissor knife. She sticks to less intensive work now that she’s preparing for college, like cleaning weeds from the base of chili plants. Her focus has been family, then school. Come fall, her focus will solely be on entering the new world that awaits her at UC Merced. But not without honoring the struggles it took to get there.

Griselda’s father, Maximo Lopez, was a hardworking man who immigrated from Mexico to the United States in his 20s, hoping to make a new life. He brought his wife Juana to the Central Valley from Mexico and together they started a family. Though he was strict on the children, five in total, Griselda now understands it was for the greater good. It helped instill a drive in her that would later become useful under tragic circumstances.

During her junior year of high school, Maximo fell ill with devastating health problems, and the hospital bills became too expensive for the family to bear. He was determined to go back to Mexico, so he could spend spend his last days in the place he grew up. Juana left with Maximo on his journey so he wouldn’t be alone on the bus ride south. Maria, their eldest daughter, was to care for Griselda and their three younger siblings Joanna, Esteban and Ruben.

Shortly after they entered Mexico, Maximo died on the bus en route to his hometown. The money that had been saved up was suddenly used to cover sooner-than-expected funeral expenses and Juana was unable to return.

“I cried a lot when I received the news,” Lopez-Chavez said. “It was harder to see my siblings because I had to be the parent now for them, I had to mature.”

Lopez-Chavez and her siblings didn’t expect Juana would be stuck in Mexico. Ruben, the youngest, took the sudden shift in family dynamics the hardest. Without his mom, it was difficult for him to cope. Weighing their options, the family decided to send him to Mexico to be with his mom so he’d have the least amount of difficulty under the circumstances.

Lopez-Chavez and her siblings are playing a waiting game, suspended between the moment Juana left and the unknown future of her return, all while Griselda kept her focus on making it through school. They have tried to bring Juana back but re-entrance to the United States is an arduous task, to say the least, Lopez-Chavez said.

Both she and her sister Maria had to assume the role as caregivers to the younger siblings. Maria dropped out of college and began working in the fields. “It was a big sacrifice she had to make for us,” Lopez-Chavez said.

The sudden changes never stopped her from continuing to stay on top of her studies. She honors the sacrifices her family has made as a way to elevate herself to inspire others.

Despite the distance, Griselda talks to her mother frequently, at least once a week. She credits Juana’s sense of humor as one of the many qualities she was fortunate to inherit. It’s one of the qualities she passes along to her siblings because she loves to make them laugh.

But there’s another aspect of her story that overarches her position in the Central Valley. The heightened political forums about immigration and undocumented workers hits close to home for Griselda.

“It’s a really big deal,” she said about the way undocumented workers are treated, especially in regards to ICE and talks about the border wall between Mexico and the United States. “Saying negative stuff is affecting a part of the community and needs to be taken seriously.”

Her story has the power to influence many other young women and men in the Valley to stay strong in spite of difficulties they face, especially as children who come from farm-worker backgrounds.

Lopez-Chavez’s work ethic is as strong as the muscles she toned working in the fields, starting at age 12, alongside Maximo. She will be graduating from Madera High School this year with an impressive 4.17 GPA, despite the hardship placed on her family during the last year of her studies. Lopez-Chavez learned that being early and on time was the keystone to success. Though she is undecided on a major at this time, her interests are giving back to people and helping to instill a positive change in their lives.

“Sometimes I think it’s impossible with so many people in the world,” she said. “But I have a dream that I can change and impact one or two people.” Without a doubt, as she carries that drive through college she will undoubtedly impact others with a fresh outlook on what perseverance looks like.

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