Early in the 1900’s, a young couple left their native Puerto Rico in the hope of starting a new life in the United States. Their destination was New York. Having arrived during the Great Depression they found that times were hard in the United States. But being proud and industrious the two set off to work… hard. They did not have glamorous jobs, but they were employed. Slowly they built their life and their family, first with a daughter and then with a son. Life was perhaps not what they had dreamed of for themselves, but their goal was to make sure their children had a good future. The means for achieving that goal was a good education.
This man and woman were proud and intelligent people, despite their humble position in New York. They knew the importance of education. The woman’s family was respected in her community in Puerto Rico. Her own father was an educator. Years after this woman died, the town of Manatí, Puerto Rico, recognized her father´s contribution to education and named the High School after him. La Escuela José Montañez Genaro still stands today.
This couple´s son, my father, grew up in the Bronx amongst the children of other immigrants. People of all different ethnicities and religions lived in his building. The parents worked hard to get ahead, and the children played and studied together in the local public schools. My father went on to Bronx Science where he was in the minority. There he befriended teenagers of many different backgrounds, and even started the band in which Bobby Darin began his singing career. Education in music was as important to his family, as science and language arts were. His first cousin, Marta Casals Istomin, is the best example of this in the family.
My father worked and studied hard throughout his High School years. He was motivated by the passing away of his mother while still in his tweens. My father became a ¨latch key kid¨, responsible for himself at a very young age. He washed and ironed his clothes, as well as did his homework and practiced piano. He knew the importance of education and getting good grades, was motivated by his parents to do so, and believed in it. When my abuelo got home they discussed school and did more housework. My father graduated from Bronx High School of Science, and then went on to Brooklyn College where he attended classes by day, and worked after school. He did much of his reading and studying on the subway. When applied and was admitted to several U.S. medical schools, my grandfather was unable to send him because he simply could not pay the tuition. Thanks to some uncles in Puerto Rico, he learned he could attend medical school in Spain, and did just that.
I believe in the value of education. Although there are many, and in some cases very famous, examples of people who did not graduate from college who have become very ¨successful¨, the reality is that they are in the minority. Wildly successful people who did not graduate from high school are even more difficult to find. Why, then, is the high school graduation rate for Hispanic students 55 percent compared to 69 percent for their non‐Hispanic peers? 1 The first reason is access to and awareness of resources and information necessary to prepare these students to go to college. The second is a lack of information concerning financial services for parents of children who would like to attend college. Despite the difficult and sad circumstances of my father´s childhood, he had the good fortune to have parents who understood the importance of education, and who found the means to get him there. Many teenagers today are not that fortunate.
Gratefully there are organizations working proactively to change this. In February 2010, Univision Communications Inc. launched a comprehensive multi‐year national education initiative called Es El Momento (The Moment is Now). This initiative is aimed at improving academic achievement and readiness, with the goal of a college education. To that end, a coalition of highly respected organizations is lending their support. These include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, NASA, ASPIRA, NCLR, Excelencia in Education, the Alliance for a Better Community, Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), the California State University System, LULAC, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, College Board, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, and the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute. Another organization near and dear to my own heart, LATISM (http://www.latism.org/), is also lending it´s voice and support.
Perhaps as a result of a difficult youth, my father chose to bring life into this world. He has delivered thousands upon thousands of babies in the South Bronx. I am very proud of him and I´m sure my Abuelo José and Abuela Nellie are, too.
I just can´t help but wonder how many of the thousands of babies he delivered were able to pursue and achieve their dreams of a college education. I hope it is more than 55%.
If you would like to learn more about the Es El Momento initiative please visit their site at http://vidayfamilia.univision.com/es-el-momento/.
1 Diplomas Count 2009”, Editorial Projects in Education 2009.
DISCLOSURE: I was approached to write this by a dear friend from the LATISM organization. I have not been, nor will I be, compensated for writing it. This is a topic which I consider personally important and with which I identify strongly, and I am proud to participate in spreading the word.