In just one generation, Marianne Bueno's family has gone from farm labor in the fields of California to graduate studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Now Bueno, who is studying for a Ph.D. in history at UC Santa Cruz, has added another accomplishment to the family's achievement by earning a $70,000 Ford Foundation Fellowship for Minority Students. The fellowship covers tuition, fees, and health insurance for three years, and provides a stipend for living expenses, research, and travel to conferences.
Bueno's mother visited Santa Cruz for the second time last June, when she came to watch her daughter receive a master's degree in history. Her first visit was about thirty years ago, when she took a day off from her job as a migrant farm worker to see the boardwalk.
Bueno has a message for women of color seeking higher education: "Apply, apply, apply. Apply to graduate school, apply for funding." The strategy has worked well for her.
After completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Texas, San Antonio, Bueno faced down personal insecurity about her qualifications and applied to seven history Ph.D. programs. She chose UC Santa Cruz for the structure of its program and the quality of the faculty and students. When her first attempt for a Ford Fellowship resulted in an honorable mention, she applied again and won the award.
This tenacious spirit might come from Bueno's early life as a self-described "military brat." She was born in Weslaco, Texas and traveled with her family to postings in the United States, Germany, and Japan. Her early interest in history was reinforced by her parents, who took Bueno and her two sisters to visit landmarks and encouraged them to learn about the history of each new city and country.
Bueno's military background has also shaped her research, which focuses on Chicano labor history with an emphasis on the experiences of Chicanas in the American military. She did her master's thesis on the experiences of Mexican American women at air force bases in San Antonio during World War ll.
For most of her life Bueno was educated on military bases at Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools. "The base schools were like mini-NATOs," said Bueno, "everyone was different, but it was no big deal." Classmates and teachers were also accustomed to students entering and leaving school during the academic year, and Bueno said she experienced the environment as "welcoming, and the teachers were very worldly, more like professors." DoDEA schools have high graduation rates and their diverse student populations regularly score above the national average on assessments.
The most difficult transition for Bueno was her family's move to civilian life. She attended three high schools in five months as they traveled from Japan to San Antonio, Texas when she was in 10th grade. Living off base was a new experience, and then she underwent the culture shock of going to a public school.
The de facto social and cultural segregation was "bizarre," said Bueno. "I was in honors classes with the white kids, but eating lunch with the Mexican kids and hanging out with them on the weekends." It was not the welcoming environment she'd experienced in DoDEA schools. For the first time in her life she experienced being seen, and seeing others, as different, and she had to negotiate her identity as a Chicana.
Bueno's self-discovery got a boost when she started her undergraduate degree and began classes in Mexican American studies. She was mentored by Chicano professors, and with their support found a voice and began to understand herself as a young person of Mexican heritage in Texas. "I came to realize that my experience as a Mexican in a military life is the same as my family's experience as Mexicans in Texas," said Bueno. "It's just that I'm coming from the world."
Bueno shares the credit for her educational success with her mother, who encouraged her daughters to graduate from college. Now all three sisters have degrees. "Mom experienced my studies with me," said Bueno, "and my educational accomplishments are hers."