By Luis Cruz

This year, the theme of our Children in the Fields Campaign (CIFC) Essay and Art Contest is “Flourishing in the Fields.” Beyond simply growing, truly flourishing means living in a way that makes you and those that know you proud. The contest is a platform which has exposed countless talented role models among youth from migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds: one of those is Teresita Paz. Check out what this young woman has accomplished already throughout her life, and after becoming one winner of the 2017 CIFC contest (read her winning essay here). Her cousin Luis – himself an accomplished trainer in farmworker health and safety and the second in the family to hold a master’s degree – shares Teresita’s inspirational path.


“It’s a privilege to share Teresita’s life and experiences thus far as I’m sure we can all learn from her struggles and how to overcome barriers. Teresita has excelled in her school work throughout her early college high school career, while taking a vigorous academic schedule. Teresita is a nice and respectful young lady. Although quiet – and whether she’s at school, home, or church – she always does what is asked of her with a positive attitude. She is a leader by example and a role model to her younger siblings. While things have not always been easy for Teresita, she is a hard worker who is committed to success. After the passing of her mother during her early high school years, Teresita took a new role in helping take care of her siblings and still never lost focus in her studies.

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Teresita and her mother. Photo: Luis Cruz

Teresita Daniela Paz at the age of eighteen has overcome many obstacles that Mexican-American children often go through. She began to work in the fields at the early age of twelve picking blueberries, sweet potatoes and harvesting tobacco. Both her parents, Teresita Santiago and Jorge Paz, were farm labor contractors which left her no choice but to go out in the fields with them on her days off from school. She did not have a childhood like typical children her age; she had to grow up in the fields which provided food for her family and everyone else in the country. However, growing up in those fields made Teresita realize that life is not easy, and that if she did not take her education seriously then she would have to be in the fields her whole life.

Education was important for Teresita and her family, and no matter what obstacles came her way Teresita always figured out a way to overcome them. Her cousin Luis Cruz, who was the first in the family to graduate from college, and her sister Yanet Paz who would graduate with her bachelors and then master’s degree, made her even more committed to focusing on her education and future. Teresita’s hard work and dedication has finally paid off, and in May of this year she will graduate from Sampson Early College High School with three associate’s degrees and has received two full-ride scholarships to two universities: Fayetteville State University and Appalachian State University. After doing her research and visiting both schools, she committed to Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.

Teresita and her family celebrating the graduation of her older sister, Yanet – first in the family to obtain a master’s degree. Photo: Luis Cruz

I feel confident that Teresita will make a contribution the farm community as she becomes a professional. Her past experiences will lead her back to helping and fighting for the rights of farmworkers. At an early age, Teresita possessed the characteristics needed to be successful. She is a true scholar and is deserving in every way to be recognized for her hard work. We can all learn from Teresita as the hardships of her family, her experiences working in the fields, and her perseverance for a better life helped her stay focused in school and led her to obtain a dream come true: two full college scholarships. I’m sure we will hear more about Teresita’s accomplishments and work in the near future.”


Role models aren’t always easy to find. We at AFOP are honored to have offered Teresita another platform from which to shine her light, and we celebrate with her as she continues her dream of higher education.

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Luis (purple shirt) and Teresita (green shirt) celebrating alongside family. Photo: Luis Cruz


Are you aged 11-18 from a migrant or seasonal farmworker family background? Shine your light with us in the 2018 CIFC Essay and Art Contest.


Luis Cruz. Photo: courtesy of Luis Cruz

Luis Cruz has been a Farmworker Health & Safety Educator and Worker Protection Standard Trainer with North Carolina Cooperative Extension for four years and counting. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Fayetteville State University, and a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from North Carolina State University. Luis is Teresita’s cousin and serves as a mentor, role model, and counselor to her and all his cousins.