Simon Silva told his life story in Quincy Saturday as the keynote speaker for the Dreams to Reality Scholarship Workshop. Silva is an artist, author and motivational speaker who has traveled nationwide, speaking and encouraging Latino students to take control of their lives.
"Dreams to Reality is showing parents and students that they can change their lives. Today we have about 30 kids and 20 parents to show them how they can go to college and take advantage of the opportunities that are open to them. We're showing them that there is hope for everyone," said Maria Pouncey, director of the Migrant Education Program, part of the Panhandle Area Education Consortium.
Silva knows his audience well. He, like many of the students in attendance, grew up working in the field as a migrant worker. He said here is nothing romantic about field work. He talked about the humiliation of going to school a week or two later than other children with purple hands, stained with the color of the vegetables most recently picked. It hurt, Silva said, when other children talked about their summer vacations and going to Disneyland and living in hotels with pools. He longed to go to school and be a regular child.
He knows their lives, he said.
"You can't complain about the situation unless you do something about it. We need people who have wisdom. It is important that children have varied and positive experiences. You make the decision what you do with your time," Silva said.
He told parents to take control.
"Turn the TV off. Read a book, a newspaper, a magazine. It's important for your children to see you reading. Take the time to go to the library with your children so they can see you continuing to learn," he said, adding, "Books show you the truth and take away the control of the television media has over us."
From the age of 8, Silva worked every Saturday and Sunday, every holiday and all summer doing field work. The typical work day started at 5 a.m. and workers had to be in the fields by 6 a.m.
But he always wanted to go to school and he wanted to go to college. One of 11 children, Silva was needed to work to help the family. When he asked his mother to discuss with his father the possibility of his going to college, his father threatened to put him out of the house. Going to college, his father felt, was a waste of time. When he went to college, his father put him out for a summer.
But he later graduated from Imperial Valley College, where he majored in art.
"The only books in our house growing up was the Bible and the Yellow Pages, " he said.
Then his brother-in-law loaned him a book, "Bless Me, Ultima," by Rudolfo Anaya. It was the first book he had ever read in which the characters and story lines were familiar and contained some of the things he had gone through. Literature, he said, saved him.
In 1998 Silva published his first novel, "Small Town Browny," which is a collection of autobiographical short stories of his childhood.
Following Silva's presentation, students attended a college roundtable where they learned how to apply for college, research scholarships and about financial aid.