FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 12, 2003
CONTACT: Ward Mullens
CANTÚS SUCCESS HIGHLIGHTS
EASTERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITYS
RECOGNITION OF SOCIAL WORK MONTH
YPSILANTI Officially, Norma Viola Cantú has been involved
with social work since she enrolled at Eastern Michigan University six years
ago. Unofficially, Cantú has been helping others since she was a young
girl growing up in rural Texas.
Eastern Michigan University is celebrating Cantús accomplishments
and her fellow students as part of its recognition of Social Work Month in March.
This year EMUs 186 social work students are serving internships in 154
social agencies, schools, and hospitals. These students will provide 80,500
hours of community service in southeast Michigan and northeast Ohio.
Cantús journey from public assistance recipient to social worker
is not over but will take a pivotal turn in when she graduates in June from
EMU with a masters degree in social work.
I was getting prepped and didnt realize it, said the 52-year-old
single mother of two.
Working as migrant farmers was part of life for most of the Mexican families
in her hometown. Growing up as the oldest of six children, Cantú and
her siblings were expected to work in the fields at a very young age.
As soon as we could walk, we would work with our parents, Cantú
said. We picked cantaloupes, green peppers, chili peppers, cucumbers and
whatever else was in season to be picked.
At age six, I was known as the best little cotton picker in the migrant
camps, Cantú remembers proudly.
Despite long hot days, cold mornings, and the stench of pesticides, Cantú
said she remembers the strong sense of community within the camp.
In our Mexican culture families and communities help each other,
That same culture almost kept Cantú from following her dream to go to
As females we were expected to marry, have kids and become caretakers,
Even when she had the opportunity to go to school came along; Cantú
said it was limited to a junior college vocational experience to gain secretarial
Cantú said she saw her chance for something different when she was 24.
She met a man in the military, got married and moved to various bases throughout
The journey took Cantú through Virginia, Montana, Mississippi, Colorado,
Ohio and Michigan. It also included a divorce.
Along the way, Cantú continued to help others. She worked with ESL (English as a Second Language) students at various educational institutions; volunteered with the Red Cross at a Veterans Hospital; and worked with community groups advocating for underrepresented and impoverished people.
I was doing community work but didnt see it as that, said
A friend of mine who was a single parent also went to college and told
me that I could do it. I took two classes, but wasnt doing well because
I was working as a custodian and trying to take care of my children. Thats
when I went on public assistance, said Cantú.
Public assistance and child support allowed Cantú to focus on school
and help her take care of her children.
My kids are my driving force in persevering through adversity. There
have been times when we have had nothing but government commodities and boxes
for furniture, but we have each other, she said. I dont want
my kids to get lost in the system.
After earning a bachelors degree Cantú decided to pursue a masters
degree. Her hard work was recognized and she earned a graduate assistant position
in the social work department. Cantú said the stipend she earns as a
GA really helps because it doesnt affect her eligibility for food stamps
Cantús leadership ability has not gone unnoticed either. She was
recently elected to a two-year seat on the National Association of Social Workers
(NASW). As a representative, she advocates for basic human rights and for the
enhanced lives of underprivileged and homeless families and children. She also
was appointed to the board of trustees with NASWs Political Action Candidate
Election (PACE), which endorses candidates for U.S. House and Senate seats.
Closer to home, Cantú is affiliated with EMUs Latino Alumni Chapter,
Organization of Latino Social Workers (OLASW), the Stoic Society, and is president
of Welfare Rights at EMU.
The first words that come to my mind when I think of Norma are commitment
and passion, said John Gunther, department head for EMUs social
work department. She is committed to the worth and dignity of all human
beings and has a keen sense of social justice in putting forth activities that
let people empower themselves. She is a rare person with a gentle spirit, but
yet a strong assertive voice for those most in need.
Upon finishing school, Cantú said she will return to Texas so that she can try to help others. But just like the rest of her journey, she knows it wont be easy.
Because I am a female educated Mexican, I will be an outsider. I know
its going to be a challenge, she said with a smile.
My experience doesnt mean I know, but that I have some idea.