For as long as she could remember, Jazmin Barrita Barrita helped her parents harvest black beans and corn in the fields of her native Oaxaca. But it was a gray November morning in a Bakersfield grape vineyard when she was 11 that convinced this inquisitive, sensitive girl that farm work was not for her. Ice had formed on the vines and seemed to seep into her bones. It never got that cold in Mexico, she remembered thinking.
“I felt like I couldn’t move, so I lay down there on the ground. My dad told me to get up because I was going to get colder.
“He would call the pruning shears in his hand his computer. ‘If you don’t want this kind of computer, go to school.’”
Heeding his wise advice — “Echale!” he would tell her, roughly translating to “give it all you’ve got” — Barrita will graduate from CSUB with a degree in accounting and a minor in economics in the spring.
But before she does, this daughter of Mexico and the San Joaquin Valley — who did not speak a word of English until she was 13 — will receive the highest honor conferred upon students of the California State University: The 2021 CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. Of the 500,000 students enrolled in the largest, most diverse system of public higher education in this country, Jazmin is one of only 23 throughout the CSU to receive the honor.
As the Michael A. and Debe Lucki scholar, Barrita will receive a $6,000 scholarship.
“I couldn’t believe it, honestly,” Barrita said, recalling her reaction to the news. “It makes me feel so proud, that everything I’ve done has been worth it. This is my American dream, because I am an immigrant.”
CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny praised Barrita for her outstanding scholarship and selfless service to others.
“It is impossible to overstate the significance of this honor,” Dr. Zelezny said. “I want to congratulate Jazmin and her parents. As a mother myself, I know the great joy that comes when your children reveal their character through perseverance and hard work. Jazmin’s parents raised a brilliant, compassionate daughter, who is a bright light for our university and entire region.”
Barrita’s parents, Juan Barrita Reyes and Leticia Barrita Ramirez, said their daughter has always had their unconditional support to pursue her education.
“She is where she is because of who she is,” her father said in Spanish. “She is the daughter of farmworkers, and she will be the first to graduate from university in our family. Apart from everything she is and what she is achieving, she is our life, and we love her very much.”
Barrita appreciates all that her parents have sacrificed to allow her to pursue her degree at CSUB.
“Last summer was the last time I ever worked in the fields,” said Barrita, who will turn 21 in October. “I hope I don’t ever have to again. It’s very hard work.”
OUR CAMP ‘FAMILIA’
The Barrita family made their final move from Mexico to Bakersfield when Jazmin was 13. Her parents hadn’t intended to stay as they navigated the process to become legal residents of this country, but complications emerged and they were afraid to leave the United States. For the first few months of their life in Bakersfield, the family of seven lived in a one-room garage, and the children, including Jazmin, didn’t go to school. It was the lowest point of her life, she said.
“I missed my home, my friends, my family, even the food,” she said. “But I was afraid to go to school, too. I didn’t know any English, and I felt so helpless.”
Eventually, Barrita enrolled at East Bakersfield High and was welcomed by a system of support designed to help migrant children.
During her senior year, Barrita met Jisel Cornejo, a college adviser at East Bakersfield High who recognized in Jazmin a driven student who was willing to put in the considerable work required to learn English and navigate the often mystifying college application process.
“Students who come from migrant backgrounds go through many obstacles,” said Cornejo, a CSUB alumna, who now works as an adviser at the university’s Academic Advising and Resource Center.
“Language is a big obstacle. For migrant families, it can be difficult to have parents be present at school or to be able to attend evening workshops.”
Cornejo persuaded Jazmin to apply to several colleges, and the Barrita family invested their hopes in CSUB. Because the family lived in east Bakersfield, Cornejo personally drove to CSUB to drop off the required forms.
“That is when I remembered about the CAMP program,” Cornejo said.
The College Assistance Migrant Program, which accepts 75 CSUB students per academic year, is funded and administered by the U.S. Department of Education to assist farmworkers or their children enrolled in the first year of undergraduate studies.
CAMP was established at CSUB in 2000. Records for the campus program go back as far as 2010, and between then and 2019, about 700 students at CSUB have benefited from the counseling, advising, tutoring and personal encouragement provided by the program.
Barrita was one of those students and now helps others as a CAMP academic mentor.
“I am thankful for the support that the CAMP program has provided me at CSUB. My parents don’t know anything about college or what it is to be in college. I can’t ask them for advice. That’s why CAMP means so much to me. We call it our CAMP familia.”
Just as Jazmin helps migrant students find their footing at the university, she uses her accounting education to assist low-income families file their tax returns through a program coordinated by Community Action Partnership of Kern.
“I took my first accounting course in seventh grade in Mexico,” she said. “It’s not as easy because it’s no longer seventh grade, but I still like it.”
Barrita intends to become a certified public accountant when she graduates from CSUB and hopes to find a job in the community that has become home to her and her family.
“One of my goals is to help my parents financially. It is impossible to pay for all their sacrifices, but I hope to help them out one day when they get older.”
But Barrita already has honored their sacrifices, her mother said, through her accomplishments and the example she has set for her brothers and sisters.
“She knows how to do everything — work in the fields, work in an office, study. She is a very good girl — una niña muy buena.”
Jennifer Self is the university's public information officer.