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Reflecting on Immigrant Heritage Month: Rediscovering My Mexican-American Identity

Posted on 06/30/2015 @ 10:00 AM

This month, LULAC joined a host of other organizations to celebrate the second annual Immigrant Heritage Month. Immigrant heritage means many different things to many different people, and we are privileged to have a staff characterized by so many rich immigrant experiences. Here, LULAC Federal Affairs Intern Erica Ontiveros shares her journey to discover and honor her Mexican heritage.

Photo Credit: Welcome.Us

By: Erica Ontiveros, Federal Affairs Intern, LULAC National

For most of my life, I have wondered about my family’s heritage and where my roots truly come from. By the age of ten, I had moved ten different times, and this lack of stability contributed to the increasing disconnect that I felt with my culture. My dad was deported when I was ten years old, and as a result, I entered the foster care system. I faced many challenges as a Mexican-American foster child unsure of my heritage while growing up in a mixed environment of Hispanics, African-Americans, and Caucasians. I was never really able to fit into one group and could never really identify with one culture because I did not grow up with a defined family.

Moving from home to home was confusing at times, and not understanding a family’s way of life was a constant struggle. Due to being in foster care for some time, I have only vague memories of being connected to Mexican-American culture, such as memories of eating my mom and dad’s delicious home-made Pozole or Caldo de Res. When I entered the foster care system; however, I no longer had that, and ultimately lost touch with those memories.

While in the foster care system, I graduated from a high school in which 85% of the students were Caucasian. Not having the opportunity to interact with other Latinos made it much more difficult to express myself as a Latina because my peers had the expectations that you act a certain “American” way. During this time, I did not quite understand what it was to be fully Mexican or fully American, and I felt caught in the middle of a current that I could not swim against.

At times it can be difficult to deal with the fact that because of the way I look I am expected to know how to speak Spanish or have a “big family” because that is how Latinos are stereotypically perceived by society. These stereotypes, coupled with my environment made it difficult to discover my Latina identity because the people that were key to defining my roots and identity were removed from my life. This left few opportunities to explore who I was as a Latina. When my dad was deported back to Mexico and I never saw him again, I felt that I had lost the connection to my Mexican heritage forever.

Currently I am an intern at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington D.C. and am helping advocate for the Latino community while surrounded by inspiring people. Each day, I am afforded the wonderful opportunity to rediscover my culture by participating in events and activities that enhance my knowledge and personal growth as a Latina in America. Things do not come easy, but the more I learn, the prouder I am of my Latina identity. The circumstances I have endured have shaped me into what I am today, and I am continuing to develop and grow into the person I want to become. Today I strive to be open, considerate of others and their cultures while I work to redefine my Latina identity. While I am influenced by my past, I look forward each day to discovering something new and showing those around me that I am proud of my roots.

Erica Ontiveros is a Federal Affairs Intern at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, D.C. She is a student at California State University Fullerton and hopes to work in a career the combines social work and public policy.

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How Far Have We Really Come? Graduation Rates, Students of Color, and Subgroup Accountability

Posted on 06/23/2015 @ 10:00 AM

By: Tyler Crowe, Policy and Legislation Fellow, LULAC National

This past graduation season was a good one for American education: a record 81% of high school students graduated from high school in 2012-2013, and it looks like those numbers will continue to increase this year, with historically underperforming minority groups showing significant improvements as well. Those improvements, however, obscure another alarming statistic released by the Alliance for Excellent Education: that more than 1,200 American high schools fail to graduate 1/3rd of their students.

It’s no secret that educational success is tied to economic success. As an organization of action, LULAC’s mission is to improve socio-economic conditions for Latinos from coast to coast. Since our founding, LULAC has advocated for greater educational opportunities for our community -- from fighting school segregation in the Supreme Court to encouraging educational success through the Ford Driving Dreams Through Education program. To do this, we work in concert with a number of other organizations, advocacy groups, and passionate volunteers to help lift up Latino students across the country.

However, progress will not come to our community unless it’s matched by progress in Washington. This summer, your representatives in Congress will vote on a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): a critical piece of legislation that would help revitalize American educational success. LULAC supports reauthorization of the ESEA, but not without prioritizing the needs of vulnerable student populations, such as low-income, English language learner, disabled, and minority students. Not surprisingly, these “subgroups” -- the students that need our help the most -- are not just marginalized in the classroom, but on Capitol Hill as well.

For years, accountability standards have quantified when a school is considered “failing”, when certain students are falling behind, and when governments can intervene in a school's’ operations. This imperfect but acceptable approach was furthered with the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2003. But what was once a rather common sense approach to education has now slipped into the mire of partisan politics -- and it puts our students at risk. Under the so-called “Every Child Achieves” Act (ECAA), states would be given the ultimate authority in deciding which schools and students merit interventions -- not the federal government. States would furthermore be given free reign to determine academic standards and expectations.

The removal of the federal government from the national dialogue about education would be nothing short of a huge step back for American students -- creating nothing short of an inadequate means of educating our most vulnerable children. For generations, the federal government has been instrumental in enforcing a number of things that have been good for our country, including universal elementary and secondary education as well as desegregating our schools. Legislation like the ECAA minimizes the important role of the federal government in education and limits how and when the federal government can intervene, leaving our children unprotected while at their most vulnerable.

To put it simply, do you trust your state government to educate your children? Adequately fund their schools? Intervene in a reasonable amount of time to help struggling students? Do you trust legislators in Texas, legislators in Arizona, or legislators in your home state?

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is important to ensure an educational future for our children, but not without strong measures to support historically underserved subgroups of students. LULAC fiercely supports the protection of Latino and Hispanic students most affected by changes to subgroup accountability language. We are furthermore proud to stand with a broad coalition of civil rights groups, students, and teachers to demand protection for our most at-risk youth. We will not be shaken, and we will not stand down.

Tyler R. Crowe is a Policy and Legislation Fellow at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, D.C. He specializes in issues related to the economy, resources, and good governance. He received a BA in Chinese Language and Culture and a Certificate in International Agriculture and Natural Resources from the University of Maryland-College Park.

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