First Latino to graduate from Gervais High returns to reward school
By Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
Gervais, OR — In 1966 Miguel A. Salinas graduated from Gervais High School with a diploma in hand. As the first student with Mexican heritage, Salinas symbolically opened the door to Gervais High School to hundreds of Latino students.
Some 46 years later Salinas returned to a larger, modern new Gervais High School to share memories with other Latino pioneers, many of whom have lived a half century or more in Marion County.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s very few Hispanics lived in this region. Since then things have changed considerably. As Salinas noted about “our family” — “We are so many now we need a have a gymnasium to have a reunion.”
Indeed, Gervais High School Principal Mike Solem estimated that 67 percent of his students are now Hispanic.
The date of the celebration — Friday, Oct. 12 — provided its own symbolism. In the United States, Oct. 12 is a national holiday — Columbus Day. In Central and South America, Oct.12 marks Indigenous People’s Resistance Day.
Despite his own library of historical data, Salinas, modestly describes himself as a student of history. Scholar or amateur, he chose this date to introduce a new website that will become the reference source of the Tejano migration from Texas to Oregon.
The scholar remembers
As a warm-up to the celebration at Gervais, Salinas went around the room, microphone in hand, stopping at every family’s table. From his memory he recounted stories about each family’s pioneers.
Recalling the early days, he noted, “If you had a truck and a lot of kids, you had it made,” he said. He reasoned that a large family would have enough members to pick a large field.
Failing that, the family would have more hand labor for whatever the farmer wanted. “Farmers would often ask people to bring more families,” he said. “Families who were needy knew how to work — and work hard. Farmers noted this dependable quality.”
From his own background, Salinas remembered his boyhood berry-picking days. His father, Arturo Salinas, introduced the young Miguel to berry picking. Salinas still remembers how the stickers of the berry vines penetrated his tender young hands. That experience provided a good incentive for him to study harder — a decision that led him to succeed in both corporate and educational worlds.
The people who migrated to Marion County in the 1950s and 1960s, Salinas said poetically, “are now saying goodbye to their friends.” Now is the time, he said, for those of retirement age to provide firsthand accounts of their experiences lest they be lost in the sands of time.
A website about Hispanic pioneers
To defeat those shifting sands, Salinas and his wife, Lidia Saldaña Salinas, have spent most of 2012 creating a new website —texmexorusa.org — that contains photos of pioneers in their younger days. Several stories are already online, although the site is still under construction.
“Visitors will see a swell of photos, audio clips and stories that only an observer of that era can construct,” Salinas promised. “I have been blessed with this opportunity.”
Although the first stories flowed through Salinas’s pen, he requested all those living in Marion County — Salem, Keizer, Woodburn, Gervais, and other towns — to contribute their memories. “We’d like to know your story,” he said. People will be able to send their stories to Salinas via the website when it is completed.
With the site projected on a large screen, Salinas punched the “click here” button. That leads to a page titled “Windows of Migrant Life.” Several pages lead to options such as a photo gallery, pioneer families, migrant history, education, culture, social causes and events, and interviews.
The contact page notes, “Not all information presented here is to be taken as absolute fact due to the nature of the information. Memories change over time and interpretations are subjective.”
From our family …
Salinas recalled many staff members at Gervais High during his formative years. Among the most impressive were, he said, were Vice Principal Robert Glasscock and the librarian, “Mr. Manning.”
Salinas acknowledged the debt he owed to the community, but he pondered the best way to say, “Thank you.” He hit upon creating a scholarship for Gervais students. The grant will be the first at Gervais to be sponsored by a family — in this case the Salinas and Saldaña families.
“Civic participation is born out of a knowledge base,” Salinas said. “Our scholarship will be a grain of sand in an ocean of need.”
Perhaps these civic ventures will inspire others to emulate these acts and build a stronger, more educated community.
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
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