Engaging in Conversations about Mental Health

Posted on 08/05/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: education, intern, health

By: Rebecca Toro Condori, Corporate Relations and Development Intern, LULAC National

Growing up in a Latino household, I noticed that various cultural and ethnic factors exist that influence the perceptions of mental health in our community. Coming from a family of Bolivian immigrants, I often noticed the stigma associated with mental health and the lack of knowledge among Latino families on how to adequately address these issues.

The National Resource Center for Hispanic Mental Health has found that Latinos are at a high risk for depression, substance abuse and anxiety and that 1 in 7 Hispanics have attempted suicide. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suicide is the third leading cause of death for Latino males 18-34.

Within the Latino community, most symptoms of depression are overlooked as simply nervios (nerves), tiredness, physical weakness, or--when talking about youth-- it is simply a phase that they will grow out of. Many of my parents’ Latino friends would belittle psychologists and psychiatrists, saying that they weren’t real doctors or that they would not provide any "real" help.

Even though this problem may be dismissed as minor issues by Latinos, the facts say otherwise, and the stressors that could lead to depression and other mental health issues are numerous.

During the time of the recession, the service industry was hit hard, with thousands of people losing their jobs. With Latinos making up a sizeable portion of the service industry, this resulted in a hard, stressful time period for the Latino community. The 2008 Emotional Health Index (EHI), created by disease management companies Gallop and Healthways, showed that the Hispanic population had the worst emotional health compared to other races.

Latinos work hard to maintain good financial standing in order to take care of their families. When the recession hit, they felt shame and ultimately blamed themselves for their financial troubles. During this time period, my family foreclosed on our home because my father couldn’t keep up with the monthly payments since the construction industry was slow. I could feel the pressure he was experiencing, see his anxiety, and heard many arguments between my parents due to the financial stress.

Another prime stressor for Latino families can be the cultural adaptations that come through immigrating to a new country. When Hispanics learn to adapt to living in the U.S., their traditional values and beliefs often clash with a completely new culture. Others face language barriers and the emotional stress that comes with an insecure immigration status. Knowing that you are at risk of deportation and the sense of helplessness that accompanies it can quickly spiral into depression. Immigration raids can traumatize both parents and children, even if the children were born in the U.S. Many of my childhood friends lived each day in various states of fear and stress, fearing that they would be separated from their loved ones and placed in the foster care system because their parents and/or siblings were undocumented.

It is also difficult for Hispanic youth to cope with being caught in the middle of American culture and the values from home that their parents have taught them. These youth may also face discrimination and marginalization due to struggling to live within two distinct cultures. As a child, I was somewhat oblivious to the fact that I was Bolivian. Being born in the US and spending most of my time at school--my first language was English--I never embraced my heritage until I was much older. When I was in the 6th grade, one of my classmates blatantly told me I wasn’t American. I told him otherwise, but he continued degrading me as if I was less than he was. I simply ignored him, but others may not overcome this ridicule so easily.

Hispanic youth also face other stressful factors such as graduating and attending college. The difficulty of course work and maintaining decent grades alone can cause some to sink into depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s youth risk survey found that Latino youth were at a higher risk of “feeling sad or hopeless (36.3%), to seriously consider suicide (15.9%), and to attempt suicide (10.2%) than white (26.2%, 14.0%, and 5.6%, respectively) and African American (29.2%, 13.2%, and 7.7%) youth”.

During my four years of high school, six students committed suicide. Seeing the halls filled with students crying and having to close off the library to counseling was saddening. Knowing that one of your own classmates would not be sitting in their seat the next day was a strange feeling. The impact on the morale of our community was extensive.

In recognition of Minority Mental Health Month last month, it’s important that we encourage more constructive conversations about mental health in minority communities. With the suicide rate being the tenth leading cause of death and depression affecting 20%-25% of those above the age of 18, this is not an issue to take lightly. Although there are several stressors and situations that Latinos must deal with and overcome, asking for help or informing someone of your thoughts and feelings can be tremendously helpful. No one wants to lose a loved one due to suicide, especially with the variety of different treatment methods we have at our disposal.

Rebecca Toro Condori is currently a Corporate Relations and Development Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. Rebecca will enter her sophomore year this upcoming fall at Virginia Tech with majors in Marketing and Finance. After graduating, she hopes to go into a career that focuses on multicultural marketing or international economic development.

Advocating For Change: Discovering How Democracy Works

Posted on 08/01/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: education, intern, civic engagement

By: Samantha De Forest Davis

During my short time interning at the LULAC National Office over the summer, there have been many memorable moments. In particular, one of my favorite opportunities was when I visited Capitol Hill and informed various senators on LULAC’s policy position concerning the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), the U.S. Senate’s newest rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

As interns, we researched the bill and spoke with staffers in several senate offices about our concerns with language in the current version. This bill affects children from a variety of different vulnerable communities including not only Latino students, but also African-American students, Asian students, students with disabilities, students with low income, and English Language learners. I loved having the opportunity to represent LULAC and talk to staffers on the Hill about issues that are important to me. Advocating and helping others advocate for themselves is a passion fostered in me since I was a young child.

Furthermore, the visit resonated with me on a deeper, more personal level. Identifying as a half African-American and half Caucasian woman, many people questioned why I wanted to intern at LULAC for the summer. Some of my friends and family could not understand why a biracial college student with no Latino roots would spend her summer working at a civil rights organization for Latino citizens. They thought I should be spending my time within my own demographic, serving my own people, and representing my own culture.

Unfortunately, discrimination, inequality and hate affect people across a variety of demographics. Many people try to color-code policy, seeing some issues as “black” issues, others as “Latino” and others as “Asian”. By classifying issues as race or group specific, we imply that those groups should handle their issues on their own.

However, there are a lot of gray areas, and often all minorities are affected in some way by the same inequalities. For example, while informing staffers about the education bill, I testified to how often injustices affect many different groups. If ECAA passes with its current language, there will be no subgroup accountability. This means that when Latino students, African-American students, students with disabilities, etc., fall behind, there is no required intervention to help support them. Policies like these affect many minority groups simultaneously, yet I often see several camps of different minorities working separately on the same issues. Yes, some injustices affect some groups more than others or in different ways; however, I often wonder what these groups could accomplish if they worked together on issues that impact all of our communities.

While interning at LULAC, I have been afforded the opportunity to join forces with other civil rights organizations representing a variety of communities. For example, LULAC is a member of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an organization that brings various groups together to take action on civil rights issues and legislation such as the ECAA. In addition, LULAC worked with the National Urban League, SEARAC and MALDEF on a social media campaign to raise awareness about our concerns with the current ECAA. While the bill ultimately passed without the subgroup accountability amendment, 43 Senators who we contacted voted in favor of adding a subgroup accountability amendment.

Samantha De Forest-Davis is currently a Democracy Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, DC. Samantha is a rising junior at Augustana College in Illinois where she is majoring in Political Science, Sociology, and Africana Studies. She hopes to continue working in community organizing and policy advocacy.

Why are Latinos Pushed to the Back of the Classroom?: The Case for Stronger Accountability in our Schools

Posted on 07/28/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: education, intern

Photo Credit: Huffington Post, Education Blog

By: Lya Ferreyra

“You’re so smart, I always forget that you’re Mexican.” The wide-eyed gaze of my fellow graduates fell upon me, and the room was silent as everyone awaited my response to our host’s comment. I felt anger, embarrassment, but most of all I was perplexed. How after four years of sharing the same classroom, studying for the same AP tests, and even applying to colleges together was I still seen as an anomaly by my classmates? Why was being Latina and a high school graduate something that my peers had such trouble pairing, especially when Latinas have the fastest-growing college graduation rates of any other group of women in the country? It wasn’t until I went to college and met others with similar experiences and questions, that these ideas boiled down to one sentiment: How is it, that despite representing a little over 26% of the overall public school student population, Latinos are consistently pushed to the back of the classroom?

Unfortunately, despite some gains in high school graduation rates and college enrollment, Latinos continue to be overlooked by legislators when it comes to their education. Recently both the Senate and House passed versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that seek to strip away accountability provisions that help ensure the success of students of color. These bills are now in conference. The passed Senate bill titled the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 minimizes federal oversight over school performance, leaving the future of Latino student’s education in the hands of individual states.

Although some would argue that the power to regulate schools is a local one, certain states have repeatedly shown that they are not capable of protecting the essential civil right that is equal opportunity education. Texas test scores, for example, are stagnant, with many advocates blaming the current school funding distribution system which “gives higher-wealth districts about $65,000 more to spend on their elementary classrooms than low-wealth districts.” With these type of blatant inequities taking place with strong federal role and oversight in place, it is unsettling to think what would happen without any federal oversight whatsoever.

Because of these critical gaps in the current Senate ESEA bill, civil rights organizations, like LULAC, advocated for the Senate to adopt amendments to the bill that would better protect Latino and minority students. For example, an amendment that sought to increase accountability failed to pass but was able to garner a sizable 43 votes in the Senate, sending a clear message to conferees that accountability measures will need to be improved if the the final bill wishes to tally a filibuster proof number of votes. One way that civil rights organizations aimed to shield historically under-protected groups was by ensuring that the indicators used to trigger school interventions are focused solely on academic factors, such as graduation rates and state assessment scores.

One would assume that it would be reasonable for schools to be held responsible for their main function, teaching, but unfortunately, as seen by the failure of the aforementioned amendment there are certain organizations and groups of individuals who continue to oppose the work of civil rights organizations. Instead, they blatantly ignore the lack of accountability and suggest expanding possible indicators to include factors such as P.E and attendance. Although physical education and daily attendance are important aspects of a well-rounded education, they direct focus (and funds) away from essential measurements of performance, factors like graduation rates and test scores that directly affect whether or not an individual goes on to pursue higher education.

No longer can our communities endure this marginalization when it comes to our education. We must demand not only that schools and states be held responsible for their students and future constituents, but that the focus remain on the academic success of Latinos and other minority groups. Both the shortcomings of the Senate and House passed ESEA bills must be addressed in conference.

As a student myself, I urge any student, past or present, who has ever felt like an afterthought in the education system, to take action. This could be as simple as sharing this blog, or clicking on an action alert. The goal here is not only to protect and foster Latino communities, but to change the narratives that surround them. In one year I will be a college graduate. At that graduation, much like every other graduate, I hope to be celebrated for not only what I was able to overcome, but for what I was able to achieve.

Lya Ferreyra is currently a Policy and Legislation intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, DC. Lya is a rising senior at Northwestern University and is passionate about immigration issues and policy advocacy. She hopes to one day pursue a career in the nonprofit sector working with and for Latino communities.

No Child Left Behind Rewrite Leaves Many Children Behind

Posted on 07/03/2015 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: policy, education, blog

By Nathan Baker, Policy and Legislation Intern, LULAC National

This year, the perennial “elephant in the room” is finally getting addressed in Congress. After nearly fifteen years of trials and frustration, American public education is finally getting an overhaul.

The new bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), emerged out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee with bipartisan fanfare in mid-April. As it currently stands, the bill would remove nearly all federal accountability standards and defer this responsibility to the individual states; meaning that the states will wield the power to set their own rules. Federal accountability will be absent from everything ranging from testing standards to goal-setting to school intervention tactics.

This language could be especially devastating for minority students, who now represent the new majority of students in U.S. public schools. If minority students, English Language Learners, low-income students, or any other sub-set of students begin to fall behind, there will be no obligation for states to step in and intervene. With the future of so many children at stake, education reform stops being a partisan or fringe issue. No matter the background of the children, zero accountability will negatively affect their education. Minority students aren’t the only ones who would be ignored under this bill. The needs of low-income students, disabled kids, and English-Language Learners of any race or ethnicity would also be swept under the rug. ECAA doesn’t discriminate.

Even though I grew up in a racially homogenous community in Central Pennsylvania, and my school district was predominantly white, my school still experienced the same challenges that more diverse districts faced. A sizeable portion of my high school qualified for free or reduced lunch (myself included), placing us in the “Title I” category, meaning that under the law, we should have received special attention when we faltered academically. Unfortunately, I saw that Title I students were a burden on the school, and were often found in the lowest classes. Instead of helping struggling students succeed, I saw our school give up on them.

I remember sitting in my ninth grade “Careers” class, and the teacher instructed us to put letters on our paper from “A to Z” and write our name at the top, a seemingly routine task for a 14 or 15 year old. A fellow classmate sitting to my left had difficulty correctly remembering the alphabet and how to spell his own name. It was obvious to my ninth grade mind that this student had a learning disability and should have received some sort of individualized attention from the school. Unfortunately, the school had never identified this, and he was relegated to the lowest level of regular classes where he struggled to pass his courses and eventually dropped out.

I didn’t need to look further than my own home to see the consequences of a lack of accountability in schools. My own sister struggled with math throughout her school career. Although she took a particular interest in the arts, in high school, she struggled on our state assessment (the PSSA) and failed the math portion twice. After she showed obvious signs of falling behind, no one investigated the reasons why she was struggling with math, chalking it up to “test day anxiety” instead of providing her with the assistance that she needed to be truly proficient.

At my school, I was a first-hand witness to countless students falling behind, and while we can’t change the past, we can—and should— ensure a better future for our students by holding schools accountable.

How can we do this?

We must require schools to intervene when they see vulnerable sub-groups falling behind. We can’t trust individual states alone to assure that schools intervene, and the U.S. Department of Education must take an active role in overseeing the process.

If low-income students don’t even have the resources to buy their own lunch, how are they supposed to ensure that they receive a quality education? It is the job of the school, state, and national government to protect these students’ right to an excellent education. There are billions of dollars dedicated to education in America originally allocated to provide resources to underprivileged and minority students. These sub-groups need attention, and schools must be held accountable for their needs.

We need strong Federal oversight because states and schools won’t effectively oversee themselves. As students demonstrate their problem areas, schools like the one of my childhood ignore the problem. The Department of Education should be allowed to do its job of overseeing and promoting educational excellence in America.

Coming from a low-income, yet predominantly white area, I have seen the negative effects that an apathetic education system can have on students. Latino students face many of the same challenges, including under-representation at top colleges, lack of resources, and zero sub-group accountability. Unfortunately, these groups aren’t mutually exclusive either: many Latinos are also low-income.

Without these accountability standards and federal oversight, low-income and Latino students will continue to fall behind and the achievement gap will widen even further. We have the opportunity to help these students and guarantee their success, ensuring that all students, no matter their zip code, have access to a quality education.

The fight isn’t over. Join the effort by telling Congress that they must include language that protects sub-groups by clicking here.

Nathan Baker is a Policy and Legislation Intern at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, D.C. He is especially interested in education, international relations, and political development in Latin America. Nathan will graduate with majors in Government and Spanish and minors in Business and Latin American Studies from Cornell University in 2017.

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