[A heads-up from the Daily Chicana: this is a long post, folks! Grab yourself a cocktail, put your feet up and get ready to read. And read. And read.]
Two days ago, in my post Latina/os in academia: A look at the numbers, I shared a several statistics concerning (both in the sense of “about” and “these numbers are sad and should concern us”) Latina/os’ overall educational attainment in the US. As you may recall, it was inspired by a story I read about three Latinas who just received their Ph.D.s in English from UTSA.
What inspired me to reflect on my own particular educational journey was how much it contrasts to those of the women featured in the article. For example, one of the women opens up about the lack of encouragement she received, even being told that she “wasn’t college material.” Nevertheless, she worked towards an associate degree from a community college over four and a half years and eventually ventured on to graduate work. Another of the women only started looking into the possibility of attending college after others expressed surprised to hear that she did not plan to apply. The third woman, who was on a more traditional educational track (going to college right after high school and then on to be a full-time graduate student), still notes wistfully that Latina/os often experience an identity crisis in classrooms where “your culture is repressed and your language isn’t validated” (emphasis added).
These kinds of stories are all too common. In fact, they represent the dominant narrative of “the” Latin@ educational experience (btw if you’re wondering, “Latin@” is shorter way of writing “Latina/o”). The related assumptions include: Latin@ students are often the first in their families to have been born in the US. They grow up with Spanish as their first language, learning English either through older siblings who are already in school or not until enrolling in kindergarten. They must frequently act as the primary translators for their parents in school settings (as well as in the world beyond). They do not receive much encouragement to consider college, either from their own family members or teachers and administrators in general.
I’m generalizing here, and I want to emphasize that many Latin@s do share this kind of experience and do overcome tremendous odds to make it into college and beyond. Low retention rates from K-12 and into post-secondary degrees clearly indicate that the struggles are intense, and far too many Latin@ youth fall by the wayside.
So with this as the background, I can say that it sometimes feels strange to be Latina and have an experience far different from most, or at least from what I see described in academic literature and represented in popular media (say, a film like Stand and Deliver). I didn’t realize the extent of the differences until I began teaching at my current institution, and when the realization set in, I felt very foolish to have been so blind to others’ struggles.