Valley Voices

Come in good, leave better, return to serve in the Valley. That is his new calling

The working hands of Miguel Bueno’s father, who toils as a farm laborer.
The working hands of Miguel Bueno’s father, who toils as a farm laborer. Courtesy

“Bonus intra, melior exi.”

Last summer I attended a Fourth of July pool party in Old Fig Garden with one of my close friends. While there, he introduced me to an old colleague of his. “This is Miguel. He just graduated Fresno State.”

He shook my hand. “Nice! What’d you receive your degree in?” he asked.

“A bachelor’s degree in economics and second bachelor’s in mathematics,” I responded.

“Wow! Great, that’s amazing!” he replied. “And what do your parents do?”

I paused, then without hesitation I answered, “My dad is a migrant farm worker, and my mother is a crew member at McDonalds.”

He then paused. He nodded his head, and he warmly whispered, “Wow.”

Miguel Bueno, Fresno State graduate with two majors Miguel Bueno Courtesy

The reality is that many of us who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley are not people of great privilege. Many of us did not have an upstairs bedroom growing up. We didn’t celebrate the holidays watching the fireworks show at Disneyland. We didn’t have the opportunity to enroll in AP or SAT courses, and on our 18th birthday we didn’t get a car — we just turned 18. Anytime my younger sisters seem to forget that, I lift my father’s hands and tell them, “Look!”

For those of us who comprise the region’s most vulnerable communities, the burden is even greater. Oftentimes we must endure socioeconomic obstacles that disrupt our path to success: parental drug abuse, parental gang involvement, parental incarceration, domestic abuse, single parent households, language barriers, and lack of transportation. Oftentimes as children, we were tasked with the responsibility to not only care for ourselves but also for our siblings. Sometimes this meant disrobing them, squeezing a quarter-size portion of a Dawn dish soap into the tub, and scrubbing them with a rag — all while trying not to get soap in their eyes. Other times it meant simultaneously heating three Nissin Cup Noodles in the microwave, pouring them into a pot, and calling that “dinner” for the night.

I consider myself a byproduct of the conditions that have afflicted the San Joaquin Valley and people of color. As such, economics to me is not about portfolio diversification and stock returns. It isn’t about production functions and utility maximization. For me, its central tenet is about creating a system that works for everyone, especially the region’s most vulnerable communities. A system that produces great efficiency, while simultaneously fostering great equity.

miguel mom
Miguel Bueno’s mother works at a fast-food restaurant. Miguel Bueno Courtesy

It is because of experiencing these conditions, and my own personal journey, that I have accepted an offer from the University of California, Santa Cruz to pursue a master’s degree in applied economics and finance later this fall.

My same friend often recites the Latin epigram: “Bonus intra. Melior exi.” It means, “Come in good. Leave better.” I’m no wordsmith, but if I may, I am adjusting the proverb slightly for my future and me: “Come in good. Leave better. Return to serve.” This is exactly what I intend to do.

Miguel Bueno graduated from Kerman High School and holds two bachelor’s degrees from Fresno State. He was the recipient of the Bulldog Pride Fund: USP President’s Award of $2,000 in 2017-18.