GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Lupe Ramos-Montigny has been synonymous with activism in West Michigan for decades, but her story didn’t begin in Michigan.
“The story started in Weslaco, Texas. My family and I would travel from Weslaco, Texas to Michigan. Mostly to the thumb area and then we’d go to Old Mission Peninsula Just above Traverse City and we would pick cherries. Then we’d travel to Indiana to pick tomatoes. Then we would gather all the family and we would go back to Weslaco, Texas because our father didn’t want us to miss school,” she said.
But after a few years, Ramos-Montigny and her family stopped coming to Michigan for the harvest, but she never forgot the place that made a big impact on her young life.
“But I fell in love with Misson Peninsula. It’s so beautiful over there and I always wanted to come back,” Ramos-Montigny said.
Just as she was about to graduate from Pan American University, she got her chance to return to the Great Lakes State.
”In my senior year, some people from the Michigan Migrant Program went to Edinburg, Texas where I was going to school, and they wanted to recruit bi-lingual teachers, Spanish and English. And then I said this is my chance to go back to a beautiful country, the water, the cherries and all that I remembered. So I said, ‘yes I want to go,'” she said.
And when she came back she didn’t just come back as an educator, but she came back to some of those same migrant areas she visited as a child but now was the teacher instead of the student.
“It was a tremendous milestone for me. I was like 21, 22. But I always had that feeling of the migrant farm workers and the work that they did, that I had been there, I had worked hard,” she said.
For more than three and a half decades, Ramos-Montigny taught in Grand Rapids Public Schools in the classroom and administration, all the while still focusing on teaching migrant children.
Then it came time to retire, sort of.
“I retired from the classroom but I didn’t retire from the community,” Ramos-Montigny said.
Not by a long shot. She stayed busy as the Chair of the Committee to Honor Cesar Chavez and all its associated endeavors including working with local universities and schools to better educate the public about the important role the Hispanic community has played historically as well as serving on the State Board of Education after standing for state-wide election.
Retired in name only, she looks back with no signs of slowing down.
When asked to assess the progress the community has made and what the future looks like Ramos-Montigny had this to say.
“So I think we have made many strides on the shoulders of many other Hispanos that saw the struggles at the point when they were living and moved the needle forward and then my generation has gone even further and then it will continue,” she said. “We’re part of the fabric, we’re part of the conversation. We’re part of the planning… we’re citizens, we matter, we’re part of this. And so I think we’ve come long strides. Now are we there yet? No, no sense of the word but I’m real thankful for the progress we have made.”