Thirty-three years ago, Ventura County officials posthumously named a library in El Rio, a small, unincorporated farming community near Oxnard, after Albert H. Soliz. A high school dropout and a World War II Army veteran, Soliz was a champion for the transformative power of education and sought to keep El Rio youth in school. UCLA undergraduate Sarahy Torres, who was born and raised in El Rio and Nyeland Acres, a neighborhood a few miles south, remembers going to the Albert H. Soliz Library throughout her middle and high school years.

“Every summer, when my mom wasn’t working in the fields, she would take me and my siblings,” Torres said. “My parents have always uplifted education.”

For Torres’ parents, campesinos who emigrated from Mexico and began working in the farmlands of Oxnard in their late teens, a good education opened the door for their children to prosper. Torres, like Soliz and her parents, has found her own way to uplift education for others.

Pivoting from her original plan to become an elementary school teacher, Torres, who will earn her bachelor's degree this June as a double major in Chicana/o and Central American studies and in education and social transformation, conducted undergraduate research focusing on the mental health of students from farm-working backgrounds. In addition to publishing her work in the journal Education Sciences, she presented it at both the Critical Race Studies in Education Association 2023 conference and the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting.

A member of UCLA’s Academic Advancement Program, which offers ongoing mentorship and peer learning opportunities for students from historically underrepresented groups, Torres deepened her research with additional projects she completed as a McNair Research Scholar and a UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center undergraduate researcher. For her McNair study, Torres conducted pláticas — a Chicana/Latina feminist research methodology — with farm-working women to learn more about their level of access to food resources, particularly when they first began working in agriculture as newly arrived immigrants.

“In my research, I want to focus on mujeres trabajadoras agrícolas because I feel that often times literature — and movements in general — tend to focus on male farmworkers,” Torres said. “I definitely want to advocate for and collaborate with them even more in the future.”

To make her dream of attending UCLA possible, Torres diligently pursued and earned a series of scholarships so she could fund the majority of her undergraduate education. And so she has made it a point to share her scholarship knowledge and strategies with other students, delivering presentations through the Future Leaders of America advocacy group as well as directly to high schoolers in her home county.

“To this day, some of my former high school teachers continue to ask me if I can speak with their students, many who also have farm-working backgrounds,” Torres said. “As a non-STEM major, it’s important for me to share all I know about scholarships, internships and research opportunities because I believe that’s what will help them build a community in higher education — just like the one I’ve built at UCLA.”

Staying connected to her hometown remains crucial to Torres. Since 2020, she has overseen the delivery and distribution of food pantry resources for Nyeland Promise, a group of programs that provides the local community with resources, basic needs, advocacy and support.

It has also inspired her to choose her next step: This fall, she will begin her doctoral studies in Chicana/o and Central American studies at UCLA with the ultimate goal of returning full time to her El Rio and Nyeland Acres roots to teach in Ventura County — and, of course, revisit the Albert H. Soliz Library that helped shape her destiny.

On a timeline, the lives of Albert H. Soliz and Sarahy Torres may not have overlapped, but the paths of the hometown hero and the young woman who found her path in the library that bears his name are intertwined by their shared commitment to serving and empowering the people of El Rio and its neighboring communities.

“When I return to my community as a profesora, I hope to get more students from farm-working backgrounds enrolled in college and involved in research,” Torres said. “I owe that to my parents and all those at UCLA — and beyond — who have uplifted me and my work.”