Immigrants Run Scholarships for Mexicans

The streets of Indaparapeo in Mexico's Michoacan state. i i

The streets of Indaparapeo in Mexico's Michoacan state. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR
The streets of Indaparapeo in Mexico's Michoacan state.

The streets of Indaparapeo in Mexico's Michoacan state.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR
Scholarship students sit around in a group at their weekly meeting in the town of Indaparapeo. i i

Scholarship students sit around in a group at their weekly meeting in the town of Indaparapeo. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR
Scholarship students sit around in a group at their weekly meeting in the town of Indaparapeo.

Scholarship students sit around in a group at their weekly meeting in the town of Indaparapeo.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR
Horacio Tovar sits with scholarship students at Indaparapeo's cultural center.

Horacio Tovar sits with scholarship students at Indaparapeo's cultural center. Tovar's Chicago-based brothers, Luis and Refugio, help raise funds for and manage the scholarship program. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR

Mexicans in the United States send an estimated $17 billion home each year. Much of that money is sent to individual relatives, in hopes of making life better for families left behind. But some of these immigrants are now pooling their money, and the results are transforming entire communities in Mexico.

One such group is called Grupo Indaparapeo. Its members are expatriates from the rural town of Indaparapeo in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Immigrants from Michoacan have formed dozens of groups known as hometown associations, or HTAs, to pool their money to fund projects in their communities of origin. Most of the Michoacan HTAs fund capital-improvement projects. But Grupo Indaparapeo is different: It decided to invest in their community's human capital.

Luis Tovar, the Chicago-based president of Grupo Indaparapeo, works for a local electrical union. He says the group felt strongly that roads and schools should be funded by local officials. "It's their job to fix the streets to provide the basic needs of the people in community. Not for us," Tovar says.

His group wanted to do something that would have a bigger impact, so they decided to fund scholarships for teens to go to college. The hope is that with an education, the town's youth will have more opportunities and be able to find work closer to home.

Luis Tovar says his own father left Indaparapeo to find work in Chicago before he was born. When Tovar was a teen, his mother joined his father. Tovar was raised by his older siblings. "When I was going to school I would see all the other kids with their father and mother," Tovar recalls. "I felt like something was missing in my life."

Eventually, Luis Tovar and his brother, Refugio, also went to Chicago. Only his brother Horacio stayed behind. Now the three brothers are hoping their scholarship program will build a generation in Indaparapeo who won't have to make the journey north to find a better life.

Back in Indaparapeo, Horacio and three of his friends do the hard work of Grupo Indaparapeo's scholarship program. Each Sunday, they meet with the students, who range in age from 16-year-olds to 20-somethings and are drawn from the 25,000 people who live in the area.

The scholarship grants students 1,500 pesos (about $150) a month, until they complete their advanced studies. These students can't take the money and run. While they are on this scholarship they must participate in community service — a rarity in Mexico.

"We don't believe we can stop migration," Horacio Tovar says, "but our real objective is for them to study and then serve their country and the community of Indaparapeo."

Some of the students have started a clean water project. Others have helped the municipality survey the number of disabled children in the community, an effort that ended with new facilities being made available for the disabled.

The scholarship has opened up a new world of possibilities for students like 23-year-old Felix Priciano Cabello. He's the first member of his family to get a shot at an education. Both his father and mother left school when they were about 8. His two older brothers went young to California to work as farm hands. But Cabello, who is married and a father, is now studying to be an accountant.

"When I got married, I stopped going to school," Cabello says. "I worked as a brick maker. And I thought to myself, 'If I don't get to go to school again, I'm going to emigrate."

His mother, Raquel, says she understands the impulse to go. "Here you only make enough to half eat," she says in Spanish. "All you can do here is make bricks. The young people here are always thinking of a better life somewhere else."

They are following an example: At least three generations of people from Indaparapeo have emigrated to the United States.

At the Sunday market in Indaparapeo's main square, young men in flashy pickup trucks circle around, drinking beer and playing their music loudly. Some of the younger children look at them enviously.

Ignacio Rodriguez, 18, is also hanging out at the square, but he is one of the Tovar brothers' scholarship students. Referring to the young men showing off, he says, "Some young people look at these guys and think, 'I need to go to the United States to get that'. But for us now, we see them and think, 'We need to better ourselves here'. Now that we have this opportunity, we need to show them that we, too, can do great things."

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