Advancing the Lives of Migrant Families
Angel Casiano, ECMHSP’s Director of Programs Operations – Florida, shares his experience working with the migrant community during the last 20 years. I invite you to learn more about his story in the following interview.
What is your family’s background?
I am from Puerto Rico. My mom is from Puerto Rico and my dad from Dominican Republican. I have 11 siblings and most of them work in the health industry. We have four doctors, three nurses, and one dentist. I left Puerto Rico in 1974 and went to Mexico, which is where I met my wife. She was born in Mexico and has nine siblings. I lived in Mexico for seven years, then I joined the army in the United States. I got sent to Germany for seven years, then moved to El Paso, Texas for 11 years. My wife is a dentist and had her office in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, so she would go back and forth between El Paso and Mexico. We have three children and they’re bilingual. They want to keep their traditions. The food in our house is completely mixed. My wife cooks Mexican food during family gatherings. We have kept our traditions throughout the years. For example, during Christmas at the middle of the night we have a tradition of eating 12 grapes, then it’s dinnertime.
What motivated you to join East Coast Migrant Head Start Project?
I worked three years at the Texas Migrant Council. My position was the Health Services Specialist in the Rio Grande Valley. I was responsible for training 18 Head Start centers, which served more than 2,000 children. In 1999, I moved to Wisconsin and started working for United Migrant Opportunity Services, Inc. (UMOS). I first started as a Health Manager, then was promoted to State Director. In 2008, I was at a conference in Washington, D.C., where I ran into Rafael Guerra, ECMHSP Chief Executive Officer at that time. He encouraged me to apply to an open position in Alabama as Center Director for the Chandler Mountain Center. This center served more than 130 children that first season. Later, I helped open Alabama’s regional office in 2010. In 2012, I moved to Lakeland, Florida to become the ECMHSP Director of Program Operations for Florida West and Alabama.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishments during your time with ECMHSP?
Opening the regional office in Alabama and hiring all the staff for its three Head Start centers. Applying for the Head Start grants and opening the Early Head Start Centers in Palmetto, Wauchula, and Jennings were all memorable.
What does National Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
For me, it’s time to recognize where we come from. Celebrations vary depending on which community you go to. Organizations recognize the traditions from our different communities. In Tampa they have festivals, food, and celebration. I have noticed many Latinos moving to this city. After living seven years in Lakeland, Florida, several organizations recently coordinated a Latino festival for the first time.
In your opinion, how has National Hispanic Heritage Month changed in the last couple of decades?
In general, there’s more recognition of the Latino community. We are one of the fastest growing groups in the nation, directly affecting the economy with our buying power. I remember only being able to buy quenepas, a typical fruit from Puerto Rico, back home. Now I can go to my local grocery store chain in Florida and buy it. That says a lot.
Since most of our farmworker families are Hispanic, what is the best advice you can give them so their children grow up being proud of their heritage?
Never drop the language or culture. Embrace bilingual skills and their development will be higher. Be involved in your children’s education and get an education for yourself. Be an example for your children.
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