Dr. Oliver A. Rosales

Dr. Oliver A. Rosales is Professor of History at Bakersfield College and Advisory Board member of California Humanities.

I half-jokingly tell my wife every day before I go to work that “I’m off to work in the fields, please make sure dinner is ready when I come home.” The joke, of course, being that I am not going to harvest fruits and vegetables, but to the Bakersfield College Delano campus to teach.

After a long, hard day in the fields, what breadwinner doesn’t deserve a hot meal? My wife’s good sense of humor and tolerance for my patronizing aside, there is another side to this simple phrase that is illuminating.

Grape orchards north of Cecil Avenue and south toward Garces Highway surround the Bakersfield College Delano campus. West of Highway 99, where the BC Delano campus is located, was historically where the farmworker population settled, notes renowned investigative journalist John Dunne in his account of the farmworker movement, “Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike.”

I commute to Delano three times a week for classes and office hours. Each day I traverse Highway 99 for half an hour each way. Although dubbed the most dangerous road in America, I rather enjoy my time on Highway 99. The 30 minutes of silence allows me to lesson plan, catch up on podcasts, or think about my students and their learning.

I finished my Ph.D. in 2012. The job market for humanities was challenging then, as it is now. I had multiple offers at different institutions across the country but chose to come to Bakersfield College.

There are tremendous needs in this community and, conversely, tremendous opportunities for making a real impact on people’s lives. I have always enjoyed challenges. Delano is a challenge for Bakersfield College. That’s why the center was built in the first place: to educate the children of farm workers. It is a campus center in the middle of the fields, surrounded by high levels of poverty, poor health outcomes, and low educational attainment.

BC Delano is also surrounded, though, by fields of dreams. My Delano students are the reason I love going to work every day. They ground me and keep me content, “working in the fields” every day as I jokingly tell my wife.

Many of my students work in the fields from morning to late afternoon, clean up, and make my evening California history class, or other night classes we offer. For my California history class, one of our assignments is an oral history interview. Inevitably, people interview farmworkers and discuss issues like migration, transnational identity, working conditions, familial networks across borders, and other issues unique to rural California. I could not find that kind of student along the coast or interior part of the country. It is unique to this area, not a detriment, but a rich cultural resource.

Measure J expands opportunities to teach students of the field. The Bakersfield College Delano campus has been around for more than four decades, first located on Randolph Street (now the Wonderful Academy) and now located west of Highway 99 next to Robert Kennedy High School. Measure J will expand the BC Delano campus by developing additional physical space for students to study, collaborate with faculty, and learn. It is not far-fetched to say that students at BC Delano literally study in the fields.

Let’s pass Measure J and continue to give them the opportunity to dream big and change their communities for the better for decades to come.

Oliver A. Rosales is a professor of history at the Bakersfield College Delano Campus.

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