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From Migrant Worker to University Professor

About half of those Americans who are raised in poverty stay there as a result, a study by Swedish economists suggests.

We dug into the problems of desolated American communities through one life, the life of an onion picker in the past and a young university-level professor at present. His name is Daniel Perez.

He was born to a family of migrant workers. His parents didn’t have any formal education and identified themselves as onion pickers.

At the age of nine, his father left the family and Daniel, his mother and two siblings had to not only tighten their belts but also work, every one of them.

He picked onions on the vast farms of Arizona. Whether under scorching sun or in the middle of night in a cold desert winter, Daniel helped his family to survive.

However, he was a gifted child. He loved to read and in adolescence didn’t care much about conventional paths kids from his neighborhood took: gangs, early pregnancies, drugs and alcohol.

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Daniel Perez looks back at his past and says that people lack identity in communities like his; youth don’t know who they are.

“I’m a professor of Chicano-Latino studies at University of Nevada, Reno, and still get students who say I’m their first Latino professor. Even to these days,” Perez said.

He recognizes himself in these young men and women.

The turning point of his life was when he discovered he was gay. But again, being Latino, with a bit darker skin and looking different, he couldn’t associate himself with a gay community, at least not with the one that was portrayed in mainstream media.

He talked with "KNPR's State of Nevada" about the transformation of his identity and the role his sexuality played in his life.


Daniel Perez, professor of Chicano-Latino studies at University of Nevada, Reno

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