Heat Stroke, a Conversation
with Nancy Rosales, Entrepreneur and Watsonville Native
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 moment behind my college success, I 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.
Olga: I think it’s important to start with how old you were when we worked in the fields.
*Moss Landing Power Plant, along the Monterey Bay central coast of CA.
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 my junior high years. You were only seven or eight.
Olga: The drive between the Bay Area and the Central Coast can all be done completely on Highway 1—the scenic route, as they call it. You might miss the Moss Landing Power Plant pillars/or smokestacks—if you’re distracted by the scenery of beach cliffs, rolling hills, and the Pacific Ocean. Unless, of course, you grew up picking raspberries behind those pillars like we did. 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. At least that was the going rate in ‘89.
Maybe you should describe the actual moment, or the what. The moment 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: That’s fair.
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. Does that sound familiar? It’s a FEMA fire drill taught in schools. 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. Interestingly, 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 filling crates to my left and right just kept picking berries, hunched over, pushing crates with their feet, and pulling sweet 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 I was drenched in began to dry, I realized how much harder the day was about to get. Without me saying a word, the group understood what I was going through.
As a first-generation student, like the Rosales Sisters, you have a chance— and a choice.
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: No one will ever convince me that field work is not the hardest work out there. As a first-generation student, like us 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. Fill out your FAFSA, write those essays and apply for scholarships either through your school or through the internet. Resources are out there—you just have to want it.
Thank you, Nancy!
Please join us in our efforts to raise $32,000 by May 2022. This year our goal is to give scholarships to students at Aptos High School as well as Watsonville High School.
If you would like to join us in this effort, please donate to our fund directly. The Rosales Sisters' Scholarship is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, tax ID #87-1608363.