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Son returns to field for every degree he earns to honor immigrant parents

From the tomato field to the medical field, Erick Juárez has never forgotten his roots.
/ Source: TODAY

Erick Juárez knew from a young age he wanted to be a doctor. His parents, who are farmworkers, are his role models.

"I was able to transfer that work ethic from the fields to the books," Juárez told TODAY Parents.

To recognize their sacrifice, the 29-year-old resident physician returns to the fields where his parents have worked since they came to the United States for every degree he earns.

"I wanted to honor my parents by showcasing them to my friends and the world," Juárez said. "What better way than showing the world how far we've come since they immigrated to this great nation with nothing but their hard work ethic and the clothes on their backs?"

Juárez's parents, Loreto and Maricela — each the oldest of 10 siblings — came to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1980s in hopes of a better future.

"They were actually two of the nearly 3 million beneficiaries of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act," Juárez said, adding that both Loreto and Maricela received amnesty after illegally crossing the US-Mexico border, which subsequently gave them legal residency.

They cultivated produce in North Carolina and plucked oranges in South Florida, and later joined a migrant farmworker camp surrounded by tomato fields near Bainbridge, Georgia.

Loreto and Maricela Juárez at the farmworker migrant camp where they raised their family outside of Attapulgus, GA.Courtesy Erick Juárez

"My parents arrived in the U.S. with nothing to lose but everything to gain," Juárez shared.

The second of five children, Juárez was raised outside of Attapulgus in southwest Georgia.

In 2010, he was the first Hispanic valedictorian at Bainbridge High School.

Erick Juarez was the first Hispanic valedictorian at his high school when he graduated in 2010.Courtesy Erick Juarez

After a stint at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Juárez graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in neurobiology.

"I was the first individual from my hometown to graduate from Harvard College," he said.

Erick Juárez with his father at a tomato field in their home county of Decatur County, GA, in 2015 shortly after he graduated from Harvard.Courtesy Erick Juárez

He continued on to the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, where he received his M.D. in Spring 2021.

In June 2021, Juárez began his residency training in neurology at UCLA Health.

"I stand ready to become the first person in family history to earn a white-collar job and to begin serving the various communities I represent, especially the unsung heroes of the pandemic — farmworkers," Juárez said, adding that he hopes to return to Georgia.

One of Juárez's siblings works as an electrician; the others are a soon-to-be teacher, a future engineer, and another an aspiring healthcare worker.

"Despite my parents not fully understanding most of the things I’ve done in life, I know they are proud — of me and my four siblings," Juárez shared.

As Juárez looks toward the future, he said his graduation from medical school was one small step for him, but a bigger step for his family.

"It’s as much, if not more, a victory lap for them as it is for me," he captioned a celebratory Instagram post. "And I couldn’t be prouder of them."