A hard to break cycle of poverty coupled with language barriers, unfair targeting by the educational system, the failure of the governmental and private programs put in place to address these issues and remedy these situations, and the misconception that there is no desire to seek out higher education all hinder the progress and success of Mexican Americans in the current educational system. Mexican Americans are the largest and fastest growing Hispanic population in the United States but they face many challenges. In general, they are poorer than most Americans and less represented in higher education especially in comparison to Asian Americans (Magic Key and United States Census Bureau).
Historically, Mexican Americans have been looked down upon for their language and differences in appearance. Moreover, when they are forced to go to public schools providing education only in English, they are in danger of losing their cultural identity and family intimacy (Rodriguez). Government attempts to change this such as bilingual education in public schools and financial aid programs for immigrants have generally failed. Government programs such as DACA that are aimed to make immigration fairer and reduce prejudices have not been fully implemented and are in danger of being lost – especially with the new “administration”! Instead of being provided high level bilingual education, they can also be targeted in our educational system for their differences and are often viewed as not wanting to achieve higher education which is an unfair bias.
Poverty, language barriers, unfair targeting in education, and the failure of government and private programs to address disparities, create a cycle of poverty that hinders the success of many Mexican Americans. This sad reality is one that we could and can change if we bring more awareness and work to fight against these systems. It is integral to the success of our country to make sure that these students are also successful. Something that people don’t understand about our DACA students is that they cannot use FAFSA. The idea that Mexicans are stealing lots of resources is biased and may be based on the fear that white people will become the minority Poverty keeps Mexican American students from higher education but poverty doesn’t define people or their dreams.
According to the United States Census Bureau in 2016, the average East Indian American household income was $122,026, Filipino American households $88,745, Chinese American $73,788, and Polish American $71,172. But, that very same year, according to the Washington Post Newspaper, Mexican American families only earned $38,000. These numbers show how difficult it is to afford a college education for Mexican Americans and how great the financial disparities truly are. Filipino American families make over twice as much as Mexican American households. East Indian American households make almost three times as much! The National Council of La Raza clearly states that over a period of the past 15 years, enrollment for Latinos has sky-rocketed above white people and African Americans. Under 18 years old Latinos total up to 18.2 million which is about a 41% jump since 2000. But, Mexican students still face big problems. They are more likely to live in poverty and lack healthcare Poverty is more than just statistics. The lives of individuals that are stuck in poverty help people realize what life is really like for many.
In “Salvador Late or Early” and in “As Life was Five”, these personal accounts about real life for Mexican Americans in America make the current situation very clear. It can be a life of hard work, responsibilities, isolation, and insults. Salvador “Helps his mama, who is busy with the business of the baby”. He “shakes the sleepy brothers awake, ties their shoes, combs their hair with water, feeds them milk and corn flakes from a tin cup in the dim dark of the morning”. We don’t know how old Salvador is but he can’t be very old. He has “forty-pound body of boy” and he has a very hard life because “geography of scars, its history of hurt, limbs stuffed with feathers and rags”. He is so young but he takes care of his little brothers. How could he ever go to college without help? In a country like America where we have the resources to change this outcome, it is RIDICULOUS that this kind of lifestyle is a reality for far too many children.
The young boy in “As Life was Five” is told “portate bien” but he sees how badly his grandfather is treated. His grandfather wanted a loan but “he didn’t give my grandpa an application because he was stupid, he said, because he was inferior”. The little boy was injured because “I saw my grandpa’s eyes go dark with wound-hurts, regret, remorse that his grandchild would witness him humiliated”. The loan person used “English language as an ax” because “he was different”, It is this difference that causes white people to believe that they are superior to us. Much like many Mexicano youth, the boy is representative of them having “witnessed racism, how it killed people’s dreams” at such a young age. This blatant racism that we face is often justified with the aggressor stating mockingly “freedom of speech” and it is this trash that affects us later in life and makes us feel inferior.
Language barriers make it difficult to learn. How can someone ever go to higher education in America if they don’t know English very well? But, to learn English can mean to give up one’s identity and intimacy with their family (Rodriguez). Ricardo had to change his name to Richard to go to an English-speaking school. He didn’t feel comfortable there and would hurry to get home. Students need to feel that sense of belonging to be able to live true to themselves. He felt good because at home “I am speaking with ease in Spanish. I am addressing you in words I never use with los gringos. I recognize you as someone special, close, like no one outside. You belong with us, in the family.” (Rodriguez 3).
It isn’t until a few years later that Ricardo becomes comfortable in English but that creates a strain on his family because they struggle with their English at the same time Ricardo is becoming less fluent in Spanish. Like many Mexican American students who lose their connection via language it puts this unbelievable stress and loss of identity. They feel like they aren’t “Mexicano enough they lose the ability to really communicate with family and feel ostracized from their own people” His Grandmother and extended family start calling him Pocho almost like he wasn’t a real Mexican any more. His parents were less comfortable talking to him because there English wasn’t very good and they may have felt ashamed. English placed a burden on everyone.
Rodriguez was lucky because he went on to succeed in a country that doesn’t always treat English Language Learners (ELLs) well. Of all ELLs today, 4 of 5 million total are Spanish speakers. They are concentrated in low performing schools where poverty impacts teaching and learning. Of Latino 8th graders, only 21% read at proficiently or more advanced levels and math doesn’t look so good for them either. Government programs and certain court rulings have failed to address the financial and education disparities that Mexican Americans face today.
San Antonio Independence School District vs. Rodriquez in 1973 is evidence of clear bias and racism. The Supreme court basically stated that they didn’t care that schools anywhere including in a similar district don’t need to be funded equally. So, in essence the white schools are able to legally get more money than schools with a smaller white population. The 14th amendment is rendered absolute as it doesn’t require absolute equality or precisely equal advantages. The bilingual education programs in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado are expensive and have not yet had good results. This doesn’t mean that they can’t succeed. With a few changes, it is still possible. And, part of the reason they might not be succeeding is racism combined with older school district personnel who are not very willing to change.
- Zambrana, Ruth E., and Sylvia Hurtado. The Magic Key: the Educational Journey of Mexican Americans from K-12 to College and Beyond. University of Texas Press, 2015
- Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: the Education of Richard Rodriguez: an Autobiography. Dial Press Trade Paperbacks, 2005. Cisneros, Sandra. “Salvador Late or Early.” Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, Paw Prints, 2008.
- Baca, Jimmy Santiago. “As Life Was Five.” PoemHunter.com, 3 Jan. 2003, www.poemhunter.com/poem/as-life-was-five/. United States Census Bureau 2016
- “List of Ethnic Groups in the United States by Household Income.” Wikipedia, 29 Sept. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ ethnic_groups_in_the_United_States_by_household_income.
- Ferdman, Roberto A. “The Great American Hispanic Wealth Gap.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 July 2014, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/07/01/hispanics-make-up-more-than-16-of-the-u-s-population-but-own-less-than-2-3-of-its-wealth/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ce38e0a5e78b.