Monday, April 26, 2010

The Economic Crisis and Latino Education

I was having dinner with a college friend, Marisol, who is a faculty member at one of the arts and sciences colleges in the California university system. We were remembering our stories from our undergraduate years in New York. It’s interesting how time seems to lessen the pain of those years. While we ate our appetizers, at a restaurant overlooking Biscayne Bay with a panoramic view of the downtown Miami skyline, we joked about how many times our meal cards had a zero balance, and the nice elderly Latina lady from Panama who worked in the cafeteria would let us eat any way. She was so proud that two young Latinas, one from Puerto Rico and the other from the Dominican were attending such a fine university that the fact that we were too poor to eat in the student cafeteria, did not phase her at all.

During our main course, Marisol and I laughed at how we never had enough money to buy all the assigned textbooks for our classes. So we approached the lack of funds for textbooks in a tripartite process. First, we bought what we could. Second, we asked our professors if we could “borrow for a few days” their extra copy of the textbooks. No one ever mentioned that “a few days” was always for the entire semester. Third, we read the copies that the professors had placed on reserve. We were always careful not to write in the reserved copies, primarily out of respect for our professors who were considerate enough to place textbook copies on reserve, as if they knew two young Latinas one from San Juan via the streets of El Barrio in Spanish Harlem, and the other from Puerto Plata via the streets of Flatbush Brooklyn could not afford to purchase all the requisite textbooks because our scholarships only covered tuition, room, and board. Our families were supposed to pay for textbooks. I guess our moms never got a copy of the financial aid distribution letters.

During desert, Marisol and I stopped laughing. Nostalgia had run its course. Almost simultaneously, we began to talk about something that has been troubling both of us. Although the Latino population is increasing exponentially in the United States, Latino students are not getting into the higher education pipeline. And, although Latino faculty has increased we also noticed that Latino faculty members born, raised and educated in Latin America tend to be from privileged backgrounds because the majority of the people in Latin America are poor. Therefore, if one has the money to go to college in Latin America, you are almost certainly from a well-to-do family. It is only in the United States that Latinos have the upward mobility to go from poverty-to-working-class-to-university-to-middle-class-to-upper-middle-class-to-very-well-off-to-wealthy. At least, that’s the way it has been in the past. There seems to be a growing class divide within the U.S. Latino community circulating around the concept of education, the access to education and the benefits of education.

Marisol shared that California’s economic collapse will have a devastating impact on education in the Latino community because California has been the state that has produced the highest number of educated Latinos. I had no idea. For some reason, I thought New York had produced the highest number of educated Latinos. If Marisol is correct, then California’s economic collapse will prove disastrous for all Latinos, not just those in California because in times of economic turmoil, when state legislatures tighten their collective belts, programs for minorities especially education opportunity programs are one of the most expendable programs. For example, during the dot com bubble and subsequent crash, the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996, ended affirmative action in admissions to the California university system, including the University of California, the state’s flagship university and one of the most distinguished universities in the world. The California university system had to come up with a different way to diversify its student body. It did. But the long-term effects have included a dramatic drop in the number of Latino and African American students. In 2006, marking the ten-year anniversary of the passage of Proposition 209, “The Nation” magazine noted that the incoming University of California class had only 100 African Americans out of 4,802 new students. Latinos were not mentioned in the report at all. I guess we were statistically “insignificant,” which is to say that the number of Latino students that matriculated into the California university system in 2006 was so small that in terms of statistical regression analysis (the number of Latino students is so far away from the median or mean of Caucasian students in the California university system), that the number of Latino students is “irrelevant.” It is as if there were no Latino students that matriculated into the California university system in 2006.

Access to education is a major problem for the Latino community. We are running way behind the “norm.” The less education our community, in particular our children receives the greater the economic, political and class divide. As we become the largest minority in the United States, our children must be adequately educated to effectively participate in every fabric of American society from Wall Street to Main Street to the legislature to the courts to the ivy halls to medical schools to Hollywood to the White House. We cannot afford to leave any child behind.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Lydie. I'm also very concerned about the growth of the Latino population and the lack of support given to assure their success. Educational institutions have yet to wake up to the fact that Latinos are the economic future of this country - given the expected statistics over the next two decades.


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