Monthly Archives: August 2011

LATISM-Chicago Tweet Up!

Last night I had the opportunity to participate in the first LATISM-Chicago Chapter Tweet Up at DePaul University. Many thanks to NewFuturo for sponsoring the event which focused on education.

The Tweet Up also gave many of  us #LATISM tweeps the opportunity to finally meet “in real life.”

I did more listening than talking last night. How could I not? It’s always inspiring to hear stories from these passionate Latinos who have dedicated so much of their talents to their respective businesses, causes, and blogs – all in the name of advancing the Latino community’s voice. What became apparent during last night’s discussion is that each of us has a story to tell. All of us have overcome challenges and barriers.

I’m looking forward to seeing many of them again in a couple of months for the LATISM ’11 National Conference, again in Chicago.

Wonderful to see all of you – y nos vemos pronto!

Latinos Stay in College – We Need You

After posting this last night, I found this incredible piece written by Dr. Joseph Villescas after finding out that one his most promising Latino students has decided to leave academic pursuits for non-profit work. It’s a  profound appeal for reconsideration given the lack of Latino representation in higher education. Consider it an addendum to my thoughts from yesterday. Stunning.

All that I can advise him and others like him is to stay in school, be passionate about your studies, find your voice, get ahead on your final projects, finish multiple degree programs and learn how to link your short-term academic interests with your longitudinal civic and professional pursuits. Your own future, and that of 50 million-plus Latinos, depend not just on the completion of your advanced degrees, but that you go through each of these academic milestones increasingly aware of the power you have to shape your country’s future.

An Open Letter to College Newbies

Over the weekend, I spent the morning riding my bike nearby downtown Madison and its surrounding neighborhoods. Since it’s almost September in this college town, scattered among the neighborhoods was a collection of moving vans, trucks, and jam-packed cars being unloaded by eager college students. Their nervy disposition revealed that many were probably incoming freshman (– the “helicopter parents” unloading the Pier 1 swag was also a big give away). During some instances in my journey, I came across heartwarming final goodbyes; the last-minute advice being offered by teary-eyed parents as they drove away leaving their “babies” behind.

It got me thinking what advice I’d share if I was leaving my “babies” behind. Here’s some of what I would share :

Learn to Learn. Some of the best advice I got when I entered college came from a faculty member that was retiring after 31 years of teaching. I was in her last class. She told me that college is more than learning about a specific subject; it’s about learning how to learn. Yes, you might never have a need for a certain math algorithm or the chemical symbol for Sodium (it’s Na by the way) in your career. But you will employ the skills you used in order to apply them. Learning a skill is one thing; application is quite another. Focus on application.

Speak Up: I’m talking to you – yeah you, the person sitting in the back row. As a professor, one recommendation I give to all of my new students is this: EVERYONE has something important to contribute. I find students often fear their experiences aren’t relevant or that their perspectives are trivial. To the contrary, I often find students that share the least often share the most. Remember, it’s about quality not quantity.

Do It For Yourself:  I often hear Latino students say they’re getting their college degree “for their parents, family, grandparents, etc.” While I can appreciate this desire, I often tell Latino students that you need to get this done for yourself. The desire to make your family and loved ones proud is admirable, but I’ll bet they’ll agree with me – do it for you.

Leave the Comfort Zone: We love our family, our friends, and our culture. But sometimes we need to experience new things. Leaving our comfort zones, of course, can be scary sometimes.  And fright is uncomfortable. Many of us have a hard time with that, with discomfort. In life’s succession of choices, many of us will avoid the risks involved in moving toward what we want in order to play it safe and stay comfortable. This fear of finding ourselves outside of our comfort zones only leads to more and more dread — and smaller and smaller comfort zones.

Action Not Words: Be bold, commit and act.  Because, often, the intensity of our commitment and action will determine the intensity of positive response we get from those around us. Be focused on the final goal – your degree. Continue reading

R.I.P. Elvis

I was 14 when Elvis Presley died in 1977.  For some reason his death impacted me. Perhaps it was a passing that, at least for me, ended the thought that success meant invulnerability.  While Elvis had his faults as person, there’s no denying his impact on our culture and society.

One of my favorite Elvis songs invokes a message which is still needed so much today.

Making a Difference: Centro Hispano

In an effort to get acquainted with the Latino community in Madison, I had the pleasure of meeting Kent Craig, the Executive Director of Centro Hispano of Dane County (in Madison). Originally from Indiana, Kent was selected as the first non-Latino Executive Director of the center just a year ago after serving as Deputy Director for six years. His passion and dedication to the Latino community is evident.

Under Kent’s guidance, Centro Hispano’s ComVida Program was the recent recipient of the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) 2011 Family Strengthening Award.  The program provides skills for at-risk Latino youth to succeed while ensuring that youth’s families and their community provide a healthy, supportive living environment.

Kent was very generous with his time and gave me a thoughtful and insightful overview of the issues facing Latinos in my new community. Not surprising, education was a consistent theme during our conversation.

I look forward to working with the dedicated team at Centro Hispano!

It’s More than Culture

Insightful piece by Guy Garcia regarding the plight of male Latinos and educational attainment as compared to Latinas.

Among the possible causes of Latino men’s lack of educational attainment, say Saenz and Ponjuan, are a culturally-ingrained code of “machismo” that prizes swagger over scholarship and urban social peer groups that equate academic success with “acting White.” Other barriers to Latino scholarship include a lack of male teachers and mentors to guide them through the education process and familismo, or a strong identification and attachment to the immediate family unit that discourages individual attainment, even if that means forgoing the life-long advantages of a college education.

While I agree with most of the discussion here, cultural factors impacting the Latino/Latina academic achievement gap go beyond “machismo” and “acting white.” While I think there is a portion of the Latino population that holds that perspective, I think the vast majority of Latinos WANT their children to obtain a good education. Latinos WANT their children to go to college. Indeed, there are cultural struggles between Latino collective cultural traits and the individualistic (independent) culture of the U.S.; however, this becomes less apparent among Latino later generations.

Madison Latina Leaders

Today I came across two cool articles regarding two Madison Latina leaders who are retiring from their respective jobs. As I settle into my new community, it’s cool to see the number of Latinos and Latinas that have already blazed the trail for others.

Debra Amesqua is retiring after 15 years as the City of Madison’s Fire Chief. The daughter of migrant workers from Jalisco, Mexico, Fire Chief Amesqua demonstrated perseverance throughout her tenure, especially after a tumultuous start:

When Amesqua took over as chief in 1996, she was criticized for being an outsider to the department, for having only 13 years of firefighting experience and for lacking a college degree. Her critics dismissed her as an affirmative action hire and claimed the other finalists for the job were more qualified. At her swearing-in, one of her most vocal critics, firefighter, fundamentalist preacher and anti-gay activist Ron Greer, sat at the back of the room holding a sign with Amesqua’s name and a line crossing it out.

Dr. Yolanda Garza spent 26 years working at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as the “academic cop” in the dean of student’s office. In short, she was the enforcer of student academic behavior at a world-class University of 40,000 + students. Active in the University’s  Latino/a Faculty Staff Association (LAFSA), Dr. Garza was also an advisor to the Multicultural Council.

Latinos Don’t Stay Put

Tyler Cowen over at The Atlantic adds his two-cents regarding economic forecasts and the disappearing middle class. However, it was this portion of his discussion that caught my eye:

Third, I find it striking that American mobility peaked sometime in the 1980s.  Today there are people moving to find jobs, but not at anything like previous levels in earlier downturns.  Some of that results from “the problems are in many different places” and that’s bad news.  But some of it is also “being jobless today involves some greater cushions than in earlier times.”  Very few people are facing potential starvation.  For instance many more men have working spouses.  Durable goods have become more durable, or in other words your car is less likely to break down and that makes joblessness somewhat easier to bear.

This is an interesting quote. But I don’t think it fully applies to the Latino workforce. Latinos have a long history of moving to find work and this hasn’t changed – even during our current economic environment. Agriculture and other industries have attracted the Latino workforce and allowed them help rebuild some regions of the country.

The Essence of the Latino College Student Experience

A few Latino students from the University of Nevada share their experiences in the University’s McNair Scholars Summer Research Colloquium. Money quote:

Added Benjamin Del Rosario, a mechanical engineering major, “I learned from this experience that getting your Ph.D. isn’t about having a genius-level IQ. It’s about how willing you are able to be trained … and your willingness to stick with it. … Thanks to this experience, at least we now know 10 other people who have been through the same thing.”

It’s really what it takes – others showing the way so others can walk through the open door.

More about the McNair Scholar Program here.