MHS graduate named distinguished alumni for CSU

Feb. 7—Growing up in between Gridley and Marysville in a family of farmworkers, Dr. Armando Ibarra has dedicated much of his work to advocating for Latino working communities.

Having studied Spanish, sociology and public administration at California State University Chico, Ibarra will be honored as a distinguished alumni on March 3 for his research and advocacy for agricultural labor rights.

As a child, Ibarra experienced the challenges of farm labor. By the time he was 5 years old, he began working alongside his parents and siblings, picking prunes left over by harvesters off the orchard grounds. He said that his family was part of a network of other families who continue to perform this kind of agricultural work.

"My parents continue to be farmworkers. Right now, my mom is in her 70s and my dad is in his late 70s, and they continue to this day to exchange their labor in agriculture for their wages. They can't afford to retire because of that. My parents, who have given their life to an industry that maintains sustenance for the rest of us and to this county, are unable to retire in a dignified manner," Ibarra said.

The financial and social impact of farm labor in the Latino community motivates much of his research on the industry. In 2019, Ibarra co-authored "The Latino Question: Politics, Laboring Classes and the Next Left," which analyzes Latino politics in the United States and the forces behind mass immigration. Ibarra is also a professor of labor and working class studies as well as Chicano and Latino studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

To Ibarra, farmworkers have come to symbolize economic growth in the Central Valley and other agricultural areas in the country, but this fact remains uncelebrated in U.S. culture and policy.

"There is no agricultural industry in its current form without the sweat, the labor, the time, the life, the blood of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, and this has been the case for over 100 years. This workforce deserves placement in American society as people that are central not just to the economic order of these regions, but to the culture of California as well. Farmers help feed America. Farmworkers make it possible," Ibarra said.

He believes that on a local level, the Marysville Peach Festival exemplifies how farmworkers are often not recognized in the broader culture.

"You have vendors from all over celebrating this idea of a peach and a peach harvest. What's not central to the celebration are the actual folks that make this celebration possible even though there are thousands of people who harvested this fruit. Something that could be elevated locally is the actual impact of all those farmworkers on the local level," he said.

Through his research, Ibarra analyzes the relationship between agricultural labor and immigration. The vast majority of migrant and seasonal farmworkers are Mexican or Mexican-American, and of these workers, a high percentage have an unauthorized immigration status, he said. With these workers becoming established in their communities after years of performing migrant labor, Ibarra believes that immigration policy should be reformed to their benefit.

"The last time our country had any sort of comprehensive immigration reform was in 1986. So since 1986 to this day, there are people that are working in these industries that are part of communities, that break bread with us. Some of them attend religious services with us. They have children who were born here that contribute and are good people, but they live in fear because of their immigration status," he said. "Let's create some sort of relief for these folks who have given so much and continue to give and are integrated into our communities already by passing national legislation and comprehensive immigration reform."

Before graduating from Marysville High School, Ibarra participated in Upward Bound, a federally funded program that helps high school students enroll in college. He enrolled at Chico State because it was the local option, but soon after becoming established on campus, Ibarra said that he grew to love the university's services and facilities.

"I chose Chico because Chico chose me," he said.

Ibarra changed his major multiple times before settling on sociology. He said that his drive to learn more about policy and migrant workers fueled his decision to continue on this path. After earning a bachelor's degree in sociology, Ibarra earned a master's degree in public administration and later obtained a Ph.D. in political science at the University of California, Irvine.

In his research, Ibarra has tackled topics ranging from the impacts of state-sponsored housing for migrant families to the influence of campaign donations in areas like Orange County. Ibarra has since been given the opportunity to continue his work regarding Latino studies and workers rights in Wisconsin.

"I would have never predicted living in Wisconsin. I would have never predicted having children in Wisconsin. We have three children who were born here in Madison, Wisconsin. They're rooted here. We're rooted here. It's a journey not so different from many other people that migrate for work. We migrated for work and we settled here just like my parents did when they migrated from Mexico to L.A., and from L.A. to the Central Valley," he said.