is one of the heroes of A Choice
for Our Children, by Bonsteel and Bonilla.
Chapter 17, entitled "A Flower Blooms in
the Desert," portrays the miracles she haswrought
at Escuela de la Raza Unida (School of the United People), a
small, community-controlled private school in Blythe. She was a cofounder
of ERU in 1972, a graduate of it, and its director (and one of its
teachers) from 1978 to 1998. Along the way,
she earned a degree in management from the University of Redlands.
At present she is site
director of a child development
center operated by Campesinos Unidos, Inc., a nonprofit
organization serving the migrant farm workers of lower Southern California.
She remains active at ERU by serving on its board of directors.
In 1984, and again in 1989, Carmela was honored by the Riverside
County Board of Supervisors for her work at ERU and for being instrumental
in establishing Blythe's first noncommercial radio station,
KERU (88.5 FM), which is operated by ERU students
and community volunteers.
From 1991 to 1995 she served an elected
term as a public school trustee for the Palo Verde Unified School District.
In 1993 she received the Boardmanship Award of the California School Boards
Association, and she served on the board of directors of Parents for
Educational Choice during the Prop. 174 campaign the Parental Choice
in Education Amendment.
In 1990 she gave testimony
on school dropout prevention to an educational task force headed
by U.S. Secretary of Education Lauro Cavazos. She has also testified
twice before the California Senate on education reform, and
in 1993 she engaged in public debates on Prop. 174 with
then Lt. Governor Gray Davis and State Senator Diane Watson.
Her drive for educational reform and institutional
change has been inspired by the teachings and examples of the
late César Chaveza frequent visitor to ERUand
the United Farm Workers. Her father, Alfredo Figueroa, was
one of Mr. Chavez's most ardent field-labor organizers in the 1960s and 1970s.
A lifelong resident of the lower California
desert, Carmela lives in Blythe with her husband, Rigoberto, and three
of their children, Esthercita, Julio
Cesar, and Rigoberto Jr. Their eldest daughter, Amnesty,