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Graduate's pictures bring awareness to migrant families

Posted at 10:20 AM, May 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-30 10:20:10-04

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — She was selected as the first Latina commencement speaker at Michigan State.
She participated in study abroad programs.
She even completed an internship with the U.S. Department of Education.

But, learning more about the girl behind such a successful college career left some stunned.

"I can’t believe that someone as accomplished as you also went home on every break that you had and picked tomatoes".

That's what someone told Selena Huapilla-Perez when they saw her graduation pictures.

Selena graduated from Michigan State University in May. She majored in Interdisciplinary Humanities, and double minored in Chicano Latino Studies and TESOL.

Like many students do, Selena took senior pictures to share her accomplishment. What made her pictures unique? Her parents were included.

Selena’s parents, Albino & Anatolia, moved from Hidalgo, Mexico to the United States in their teenage years.

They've made their living as migrant workers, traveling throughout the Middle and Southern States - including Immokalee.

She says their main crops included tomatoes, jalapenos, corn, and different agricultural foods.

The Naples-born, Immokalee High School, government intern and now Michigan State graduate grew up helping out her parents.

“I identify as being a migrant farm worker”.

Selena recalls growing up. She says it wasn’t always easy for her and her four siblings.

“I would always move between three to four months. I would make a group of friends, then I’d have to go leave and make another group of friends.”

But, she says picking agricultural crops alongside her parents gave her purpose.

“It's given me a sense of who I am and what I can do for other people.”

That’s why she included Albino and Anatolia in her college graduation pictures.

Her Facebook post alone has 17,000 reactions and over 8,000 shares.

Selena says she didn’t expect that kind of reaction.

“I think within an hour it was just blowing up!”, she says.

She says she’s received tons of messages from people encouraged by her story, and she hopes that it will educate others about the many journeys taken to achieve success.

“It just comes back to people not knowing the we can come from these places. The children of farm workers can go into these spaces, and will go into these spaces”.

Selena also tells me she wanted to include her parents because they work hard - a principle she says they instilled in her and her siblings.

Now that she's graduated, Selena is heading to Denver to work with City Year - a program serving Denver Public School. She says she will most likely head back to Michigan State to pursue her Masters, and possibly her Ph.D.