Whatever you do, 'don't look back' | WBEZ
Skip to main content


Migrant farm worker sacrifices for son's college dream

Roberto Olivera’s entire family worked as migrant farm workers. His stepfather came from Jalisco, a largely agricultural area on the west coast of Mexico, and was not particularly educated. There was domestic abuse and alcohol in the home.

Roberto says his stepfather was a cruel man.

Roberto found refuge in school and at work. One day, his high school counselor called Roberto in and told him that he had a strong aptitude to succeed. He told him about a summer bridge program at the University of Santa Barbara, in preparation for going to college.

"'There’s no way I can do that,’” Roberto remembers thinking. “‘My stepfather will never let me leave home.’”

Then, on one weekend, the director of the program—baldheaded, Jewish man—showed up unexpectedly on Roberto’s doorstep and asked to speak to his stepfather.

The discussion did not go well. “He’s not going anywhere,” his stepfather said. “No way.”

Shorty thereafter, the acceptance letter came.

“So, now I had a choice,” Roberto said. “Was I going to go to school? Or was I going to stay and work in the fields?”

One day, Roberto’s mother was waiting for him in the dark of their kitchen. She was smoking a cigarette. It was after midnight.

Roberto had just come home from work at a restaurant, and as he lay down on his cot, his mother broke the silence.

“I packed a suitcase,” she said. “It’s in the garage. Next Saturday, go. And don’t look back. Whatever you do, do not look back.”

“I left her to that miserable man and all the people that were a part of it,” Roberto said.

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.