I often talk about educational inequality in our country and the fact that Latinos now have the highest poverty rates in the nation and the lowest educational attainment. What I don't often talk about are those of us who have made it, that small percentage of us who beat the odds and got that college degree. We may be the first in our families to have done so and so we struggle for a seat at the table, for our voices to be heard, our leadership to emerge and for the ability to forge strong connections and build community when operating in a mainstream environment.
I was reminded of the importance of shared experiences when just weeks ago Teach For America brought together all Latino staff members to Washington DC to spend time exploring these three areas and also to participate in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institutes' 35th Anniversary Conference and events. Why make such an investment?
We have an organization wide commitment to diversity and we have put a focus on the growing force of Hispanics in our work as an education organization. We act on the desire of our people to be part of a community of individuals who share similar experiences. One shared experience that is truly binding is that of being educated Latinos navigating predominately white work environments. We know firsthand the challenges and opportunities of biculturalism and we have the strong desire to change the game for children in poverty through education.
We keep hearing that the education crisis is "not just a Latino problem" but "an American problem." Our nation literally cannot afford to leave it unaddressed. I wonder if this same message is being heard in the mainstream, because I don't see our perspective and experiences reflected there very often.
This is why it is critical for us as a Latino community to have a Voice. As evidenced by the current presidential campaigns, we know our voice must be heard through our vote. While there is a focus on the immediate task of increasing Latino voter turnout, our efforts must not end there. A top concern for the Latino community is education. Hispanics who have benefited from a quality education must arm our community with information and advocate for quality education for our kids, whether we are in the education field or not.
Leadership. We all play a role in developing the leadership of Hispanics. My view is that we not only need many more Latino leaders in our Latino communities but we also must ensure that we have a place at the table in the mainstream so our perspectives and those of our community are represented. Sometimes you do have to be the one to educate, to disagree, to be the "only" in the room, but that is a small price when so much is at stake for our kids and the legacy we leave for them.
Community. The continued focus on the diversity of the Latino community is a poor excuse for progress not made. When I was in a room full of Latinos who represent various nationalities, skin complexions and experiences, the feeling in the room was different. There was camaraderie, a place for our cultures to shine, and a space to explore our journey of Latino identity. Being surrounded by those who might just understand makes a big difference.
For those of us Hispanics who have received the gift of an education, let us strive to find our voice, develop our leadership, and build community. It is through our collective efforts that the vision and expectations our families have for us will be realized not only for this generation but for generations of Latinos to come.
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