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

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

Tags: policy, education, blog

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.

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

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

Tags: policy, education, blog

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.

Education Expands to Include Incarceration

Posted on 06/20/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: policy, intern, blog

Photo Credit: Youth Justice Coalition

By: Michael Hidalgo, LULAC National Programs Intern

We live in a country where we like to think that with the right amount of hard work, anyone can get ahead. Unfortunately, just as policies enacted before the rulings of Brown v. Board of Education and Mendez v. Westminster prevented minorities from acquiring a fair and quality education, policies in today’s schools continue to push minority students out of schools and directly into prisons.

The lack of funding in today’s school systems has forced our educators to revert to the ineffective discipline policies that were deemed harmful to our youth in the 1990s, one of these being zero-tolerance policies. While these policies were effective at reducing drug use and school violence rates, they were later eliminated as more modern discipline reform policies focused educators on rehabilitative approaches, intending to give at-risk students the resources they lacked and the opportunities they needed to succeed.

Unfortunately, the school administrators and educators of today have reverted to these aggressive discipline policies in the name of school safety. These policies often go as far as replacing hall monitors with police officers who monitor students like prison guards, fencing in school property, installing metal detectors, and reinstating zero-tolerance policies. Schools have zero-tolerance policies against violence, smoking, classroom disruption, public display of affection, and disrespecting security guards. In many instances, these policies provide little to no opportunity for school administrators to use their own judgment when evaluating and addressing student discipline infractions. Under zero-tolerance policies, the charge for carrying cough syrup could face the same consequences as carrying cocaine.

Today, those students most in need of assistance and attention are often the ones experiencing the damaging effects of zero-tolerance policies. Minorities in particular are being deprived of fair discipline methods in schools across the country. Black students are suspended four times more than whites, but worse than the rate of racially biased suspensions,only 5% of all school suspensions were for serious offences in 2012. Countless students are losing valuable education time by being disciplined for minor offences.

Effective discipline methods must encourage personal growth and promote graduation. Racial discrepancies in enforcement have resulted in Black and Latino students being twice as likely not to graduate and much more likely to fill future jail cells.

Education needs to be equipped to handle distressed and disadvantaged youth and attack the reasons they act out. In my personal experience, I have volunteered with many students who have major family issues whose school behavior had put them in the criminal justice system. Instead of defaulting to the justice system, we should be looking into more creative, community-based solutions to rehabilitate our youth, not locking them away and throwing away the key.

As a Criminology, Law, and Society student, I recognize that the justice system is not always the best system for handling distress. Unfortunately, it is not designed to deal with the underlying causes of crime, but only able to dole out punishment. Studying the justice system is often discouraging as you learn that poor investment in our youth results in equally poor opportunities for their future. My experience with troubled youth has taught me that investing in our youth, and providing them with support from an early age translates into increased opportunities and fewer discipline problems in the future.

Latino youth are resilient, and LULAC is dedicated to ensuring our youth do not fall victim to the school to prison pipeline. Our programs across the country are dedicated to encouraging at-risk youth to take initiative and become engaged with their schools and communities. Programs like our Ford Driving Dreams Through Education Program bring mentors, tutoring, and other services to our youth to ensure success in school. Another program, Adelante America, brings leadership opportunities to at-risk youth, motivating and encouraging them to be positive advocates of the community.

Empowering youth with the tools to overcome personal obstacles in a healthy way provides them with a means to take ownership of their life and their choices, reducing the likelihood of discipline problems in school. By combining early intervention and more rehabilitative discipline methods, we can put our youth on the path to success, and permanently disrupt the school to prison pipeline.

Michael Hidalgo is a National Programs Intern at LULAC National. He studies Criminology, Law, and Society at University of California Irvine and graduates in June 2015.

Senate Education Bill In Need of Critical Changes, Current Version Fails to Address Concerns of LULAC and Civil Rights Community

Posted on 06/18/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: policy, education, blog

By: Luis Torres, Director of Policy and Legislation, LULAC National

As part of its legislative work this summer, the full Senate is expected to consider legislation to revamp the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), possibly as early as this week.

Proposed by Senators Lamar Alexander (TN) and Patty Murray (WA), the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions respectively; the current ESEA rewrite, The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA), does not reflect the strong civil rights foundation of ESEA. Without this strong foundation, this bill cannot become law.

ESEA is a civil rights law that has been the nation’s greatest driver of greater equity in education.

Since its passage in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, ESEA has been our nation’s driving force for educational equity. It was LULAC’s early advocacy role in the Mendez v. Westminster case that helped desegregate California schools that served as the precedent for the Brown decision, and LULAC continues to dedicate itself to ensuring educational equity for all students in America. For students of color, students with disabilities, Native students, English Language learners, and low-income students—a strong ESEA is vital to ensuring that states and school districts are living up to their obligations to provide a quality education to all on an equal basis—not just for the most privileged or wealthy.

The current Senate ESEA bill, the Every Child Achieves Act, betrays the law’s rich legacy and would weaken protections for the students it’s intended to serve.

The Every Child Achieves Act certainly makes progress on the abhorrent proposal in the House (H.R. 5), but in its current state, it fails to live up to its promise as a civil rights law.

The Every Child Achieves Act CAN and SHOULD be improved on the Senate floor with four fixes.

LULAC, along with other civil rights organizations, is working to add language to the current version of the ESEA that will expand opportunities, resources, and outcomes for all students.

• ESEA must require that states intervene when vulnerable students fall behind.

The current version of the ECAA allow schools and districts to skirt their responsibility to close the massive gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color, students with disabilities, Native students, low-income students, and English Language learners. Solving this educational crisis should be America’s number one priority to ensure a strong and vibrant future. Allowing schools to avoid responsibility for properly educating all students is effectively gutting the civil rights foundation of the ESEA and undermining the law’s very purpose. LULAC is requesting that language be added to the current bill that would require states to intervene should subgroups of students like Latinos, African Americans, students with disabilities, and others, fall behind for two consecutive years. Because the high school drop-out rates are much higher for many of these subgroups, we are also requesting language in ESEA that would focus attention and resources on schools with high drop-out rates.

• ESEA must provide the transparency and disaggregated data that families and communities need in order to advocate for their children.

Without the necessary language, this proposal denies parents and advocates of the knowledge of how these subgroups are faring in schools. In addition, the bill fails to adapt to the diversity of our nation’s children by lumping all Asian-American students together, ignoring the diversity of experiences and cultural backgrounds of one of the nation’s largest subgroups.

• ESEA must require that states intervene to correct the massive resource disparities that plague our nation’s schools.

Districts that predominately serve students of color receive approximately $1,200 less per student than districts that predominately serve white students. This translates to substandard educational facilities, underqualified teachers using old textbooks, and outdated technology. Many states have even under-resourced these schools and districts in defiance of their own state courts and constitutions. The current version of ESEA doesn’t do enough to correct these disparities.

• There must be proper oversight from the U.S. Department of Education to make sure that federal funds are used to protect vulnerable students.

The current proposal strips the U.S. Department of Education of its authority to hold states and districts accountable for the federal money they receive. Without federal oversight, there will be no accountability in making sure that federal funds serve the students that need it the most.

LULAC opposes the current version of the Every Child Achieves Act and believes that without these four fixes, this bill cannot become law.

Without the necessary language that protects vulnerable students, this reauthorization would be a betrayal of ESEA’s legacy as a civil rights education bill, and it will be opposed by a large contingency of major civil rights and disability rights organization. Ensuring a strong ESEA is LULAC’s number one priority, and our organization will not accept any reauthorization that attempts to turn back the clock on 50 years of progress.

Read previous LULAC National letters related to the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015:

LULAC joined several civil rights groups in sending letters to the Senate HELP Committee urging their support for these critical issues:

6/10/15- LULAC pens letter to U.S. Senate highlighting four major fixes that must be incorporated to the current version of the Every Child Achieves Act. This fixes include, adding language addressing subgroup accountability, resource equity, data disaggregation, and the federal role. Read the letter here.

4/13/15- LULAC joined other organizations in sending letter opposing private school vouchers in the Every Child Achieves Act to Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray of the Senate HELP committee. Click here to view the letter.

4/13/15- LULAC joined other organizations in sending letter in support of reforming the Every Child Achieves Act to Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray of the Senate HELP committee. Click here to view the letter.

4/13/15- LULAC joined other organizations in sending letter in support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act to the Senate HELP Committee. Click here to view the letter.

2/2/2015: LULAC joined MALDEF, SEARAC, and other civil rights groups in sending coalition letter to Senate HELP Committee detailing priorities and principles for the reauthorization of ESEA. Read the letter here.

1/29/2015: LULAC signed on to civil rights education coalition letter to Senate HELP Committee detailing priorities and principles for the reauthorization of ESEA. Read the letter here.

1/12/2015: As Co-Chair of the Hispanic Education Coalition, LULAC sent a letter to U.S. Senate HELP Committee outlining priorities for the upcoming ESEA Reauthorization. Read the letter here

Luis Torres is the Director of Policy and Legislation for the League of United Latin American Citizens. Prior to LULAC, he served as Legislative Director for Congressman Silvestre Reyes, former-Chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and was one of a handful of Latino Legislative Directors in the U.S. House of Representatives. Additionally, Torres also served as a high school teacher in Washington, D.C. as part of Teach for America. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Government and Sociology from Georgetown University, and a Master of Arts in Teaching from American University.

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