Deya Nevarez grew up in San Luis, AZ. She attended a mostly-Mexican high school in the largely-segregated Yuma, Arizona school system. Her parents were both immigrant farm workers, and themselves the children of Mexican farm workers. Her Sinaloa-born maternal grandfather came to America as part of the Brazeros guest worker program of the late 1940s to late 1950s in which Anglo landowners would sponsor Mexican farm workers as a path to citizenship. Her Durango, Mexico born father picked crops all around the United States from the age of 12, following in the footsteps of his father. Nevarez’ family continued to spend six months in San Luis, Arizona and six months in California migrant camps until she was 12.
As Nevarez notes, all that constant moving made many children of farm workers shy and reluctant to make friends. But it made her more outgoing and eager to make as many friends in short time as possible. She saw great injustices growing up among the migrant population. She tells of landowners, who had to pay their workers on Friday, calling the INS to report undocumented workers on Thursday so they would be deported and would not have to be paid for their week’s work. This has made her eager to do as much as possible for underrepresented and vulnerable populations.
The 25-year-old came to Tucson in 2004 to study biology at the University of Arizona. But while she quickly regretted that major, she fell in love with Tucson’s warm embrace of its multicultural past. “I felt more at home here than I did in Yuma,” she says. An elective course in Latin American perspectives got her re-oriented toward a degree in political science and Latin American studies. In her senior year she got an internship with Congressman Raúl Grijalva, and upon graduation in 2008 began working for his campaign. The Tucson Unified School District’s Ethnic Studies Program had long been one of the congressman’s personal interests, and it resonated with Nevarez as well. So in September, 2010, Nevarez moved over to spearhead the campaign to fight HB 2281. “They’re trying to turn back the clock on all of the advances we’ve made,” she says.