Tag: education

And the Bucks Will Just Start Rolling In

I’ve written before about the intense, powerful, even bizarre sense of optimism prevalent among Hispanics.

Yes, even when fleeing for our lives from oppressive third-world governments and/or bloodthirsty drug gangs, we think, “Better days are ahead.”

And even when acres of statistics show how Latinos are struggling, compared to the general population, we say, “Keep the faith.”

And even when we become scapegoats for the nation’s ills, open targets for right-wing nutjobs, and the object of scorn in the eyes of millions of Americans, we smile and say, “Happiness is right around the corner.”

Well, if you thought that this pugnacious positivism had faded recently, a new survey shows that it has only gotten stronger, especially regarding financial matters.

For example, a solid majority of Hispanics “feel there is equal opportunity for everyone to achieve their dream of financial success.” But less than half of the general population feels the same way.

And 60 percent of Latinos believe “that those who work hard will be the most financially successful, a significantly higher percentage than the general population.”

Finally, there is the statistic that Latinos are more likely to believe that they are on their way “in their race to financial success” than the general population.

But is all this faith in the future based in reality?

Well, consider that the same survey found that “by their own admission, Hispanics struggle with managing their money and lack self-confidence when doing so.”money

OK, that seems a little contradictory — as does the fact that “a majority of Hispanics give themselves a grade of C or lower when evaluating how well they manage their money.”

And let’s consider that a full 70 percent of Hispanics “have not created a long-term financial plan.”

So once again, we are forced to ask, is all this optimism priming the pump for a self-fulfilling prophecy where Latinos are financially successful?

Or have we Hispanics turned into collective Navin Johnsons, insisting that “Things are going to start happening to me now”?



Well, maybe the most telling — and most hopeful — data point in the survey is this: Millennial Hispanics (age 18-39) are more likely “to see an undergraduate degree as one of the top influences for financial success.”

Now that makes sense. Getting a degree is a solid, realistic option for achieving financial success. Young people know this.

And what do older Latinos think is key to financial independence? It is, of course, “the advice of elders.”

Yes, better stay in school, kids.


Wishing and Waiting

I’ve edited over 100 books, from thriller novels to dense histories to self-help diatribes. Only a few of those books have lodged in my memory.

Among them was a manual written by a prepper. If you don’t know this term, it refers to someone who makes active plans to survive a catastrophic disaster, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies, and/or by creating some kind of well-protected shelter.

Preppers anticipate calamities ranging from a worldwide economic collapse to a military coup d’état to a Katrina-style cataclysm to, well, just about anything big and scary.

The book was well-written, and the author was intelligent and polite. And even if I found his worldview to be a bit, shall we say, paranoid, it would be incorrect to write him and his peers off as lunatics.

After all, if there’s ever an extinction-level asteroid impact or a zombie attack, then preppers will have the last laugh.



But what struck me about the author’s mindset wasn’t his fear-based attention to detail and insistence that sooner or later, all the shit will hit all the fans.

No, it was my realization that at a certain point, he was no longer preparing for a worst-case disaster. He was actively hoping for it.

You see, if his doomsday predictions never materialize, he has wasted a great deal of time, money, and effort for absolutely nothing. Indeed, he will have squandered a solid chunk of his life, while pinning his very self-identity on nonsense.

So a lot of preppers aren’t just waiting for end times. They are counting on catastrophe to justify their life’s work, even if this wish is subconscious.

How does this relate to the current political climate?

Well, look no further than the renewed demonization of immigrants and, by extension, all Latinos.

We have major political candidates (who shall not be named) who imply hordes of Hispanics are swarming into this country for the express purpose of raping and murdering Americans — that is, when they’re not pumping out “anchor babies” and stealing jobs.

Of course, fear-based campaigning — especially among conservatives — has a long and effective history.


And it’s tempting to dismiss GOP shrieking as a side effect of the party’s reliance on religious fervor and apocalyptic thinking. Keep in mind that about 20 percent of Republicans honestly believe that Obama is the antichrist.

But while building upon those ignoble foundations, this new conservative mindset amounts to something else.

You see, those on the right wing who despise Latinos (and there are many) aren’t just motivated by personal gain. They are true believers, who sincerely think America is doomed if Hispanics continue to increase their political, cultural, and demographic influence. To this contingent, the “browning” of America is the beginning of its end.


But what if this never happens? What if recent Latino immigrants become an integral and beneficial part of American society, just as so many other immigrant classes have?


In that case, a lot of conservative leaders have wasted a great deal of energy on nothing. Their predictions have failed to come true. And all that screaming and ranting and raving added up to nada.

Nobody wants to see his or her life’s work rendered irrelevant, or worse, dismissed as histrionic, wrong-headed idiocy.

To prevent that, many conservatives have morphed into extreme preppers, warning everyone of the coming Armageddon, while secretly hoping that it will arrive right on time to prove them correct.

The good news for right-wing preppers is that they have an inexplicable degree of influence in this country. So instead of working to prevent the coming apocalypse, they can help to usher it in, via self-fulfilling prophecies and overt policy decisions.

For example, Latinos have lower graduation rates than other ethnicities, so rather than improve public education, right-wing preppers try to gut it.


Hispanics have higher rates of poverty, so rather than balance the playing field, right-wing preppers reinforce an economic system that is rigged for the upper classes.


Latinos have limited socioeconomic power, so rather then look at institutional barriers, right-wing preppers deny that racism even exists.

Yes, there’s lots of ways to ensure that we get the America that some conservatives envision — the future that they supposedly fear but are weirdly attracted to at the same time.

Fortunately for me, I’ve made back-up plans. You see, I’ve recently built this secret bunker stocked with guns and water, and when the time comes…

Never mind, I’ve said too much.

The Future’s Uncertain

I recently waxed ecstatic about California, the state I live in. I do indeed love living here, but I never claimed that it was perfect.

For example, a recent report shows that when it comes to Latinos, my state has some issues. And those issues are reciprocal, in that as Latinos go, so goes California.

You see, the study has found that among all racial and ethnic groups in California, Hispanics have the lowest well-being score. What, exactly, does that mean?

Well, rather than just look at a group’s median income or rate of cancer or percentage of sunny dispositions or collective weight or any of the other statistics that offer us interesting but isolated insights into a demographic’s existence, these researchers created an overall well-being score.

The number is based on a group’s overall health, educational level, earnings, and other factors, all put together. Think of it as a GPA rather than an individual grade.

Well, measured on a 10-point scale, Latinos had a well-being score of 4.09. That’s bad.

I mean, would you want to date someone who was barely a 4 out of 10? Now imagine an entire group struggling under that number.

For the sake of comparison, Asian Americans had the highest score at 7.39. Whites and blacks were in between but noticeably better than Hispanics.

Digging a little deeper, the researchers found that native-born Latinos fared better than immigrants did. But by any measure, California’s Hispanics are far from thriving.

That’s terrible news, of course. But it goes beyond dark days just for la raza.

Hispanics are poised to become the state’s largest ethnic group, and more than half of California’s children are Latino. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see that the study’s results could be ominous for the state’s future. With such a large percentage of the population struggling, the whole state will be dragged down.

The study’s authors conclude that California needs to improve the well-being of Latinos if the state hopes to thrive.

Well… yeah.

But there is some good news. While Latinos have the lowest well-being score, they’ve made great strides since 2000, and they’re moving up more quickly than any other group.

So at least we have forward momentum on our side. With hope, that will be enough to keep Cali golden.


Many Languages, One Voice

When my cousins from El Salvador first came to America, they didn’t speak English. Of course, they were kids, so they rapidly learned it. Today, everyone in my family, except for my abuela, embraces English as their primary mode of communication. My cousins’ children (and mine) will have to make an effort to be bilingual and not leave Spanish in my family’s past.

But other families don’t face the dilemma of losing the mother tongue. In fact, about 5 million children in the United States don’t speak English as their primary language. This constitutes 9% of all US public school students. Now, that number includes a lot of kids who speak Tagalong or Russian or Mandarin or something else that most of us don’t recognize.

But it’s fair to say that many of the children who speak English as a second language (ESL) communicate only in Spanish.


Because we’re hearing more Spanish than ever in the country’s schools, the Obama administration recently issued the nation’s first set of federal guidelines on the rights of ESL students. The guidelines remind school districts across the country of their obligations under the law.

Among other things, all schools must identify ESL students in a timely manner, offer them language assistance and provide qualified staff and resources to help them learn English. In essence, ESL students have the same rights to a quality education as students who speak English, and schools must avoid segregating English learners from other students.

I know this is a shocker to the nativist crowd, but you can’t just yell, “Speak English, damn it!” at perplexed kids.

The decision makes clear that students who speak Spanish, or other languages, are becoming more common, and the American educational system has to meet their needs. The Obama guidelines are a welcome indicator of that fact.

Of course, it’s a little sad that anyone has to be reminded of this in the first place.

Buckle Up, Gente

To the lengthy list of the many challenges that face Hispanics — economic stagnation, educational struggles, health problems, discrimination, cultural disrespect, and so on — add a simple one: car crashes

car crash

Because of language barriers, long-held traditions and other factors, Latinos are less likely than other ethnic groups to wear seatbelts. As a result, young Hispanics are about twice as likely to die in a traffic crash as their white counterparts, and car accidents are the leading cause of death in America for Latinos between the ages of 5 and 34.

How fucked up is that?

Well, to address this crisis, the National Latino Children’s Institute has launched a new campaign to increase seatbelt and car-seat use among Hispanics. The multimedia campaign will provide crucial information about safe driving and riding practices, and it offers resources that can be customized for the diverse Latino population.

You have to love the program’s tagline, which is “Hagalo por su familia, ¡abróchese el cinturón!” (“Do it for your family, buckle up”).

That’s right. Hispanics might not think of buckling up to save their own lives, but you throw familial responsibility in there, and you have resonance. The tagline basically says, “Do you want to disappoint your mother by getting killed in a car crash? Huh, do you?”

I think we all know the answer to that one.


Hitting the Right Notes

I recently saw the movie Whiplash, which was a gripping look at the price of greatness. For those who haven’t seen the flick, it’s about a teenager jazz drummer obsessed with becoming a legendary artist.


Now, most of us are not willing to practice an instrument until our hands literally bleed, as the Whiplash protagonist does. But the good news is that you may not have to.

You see, a recent study showed that taking music lessons — just basic chord progressions, strumming skills and the like — greatly improves people’s language and reading skills.

Even more interesting is that the research was conducted on at-risk, low-income children, most of them Latino.

The researchers believe that the experience of making music creates a more efficient brain that helps a person learn and communicate better. But the study implies that at least two years of lessons are required before improvements kick in.

So what does this mean for Hispanic kids, who often live in disadvantaged areas? Well, it implies that investing in music education may help Latino children improve their learning skills and close the educational gap between Hispanics and other ethnic groups. The results also imply that for low-income students, music lessons can be as important as traditional classes in math and reading.

Because music is a key part of Latino culture, programs that offer music education will find a receptive audience in Hispanic kids. After all, I could not have been the only Latino kid who grew up on a steady diet of Santana and Julio Jaramillo. And that’s not even getting into all the salsa, rock, hip hop, and stray bits of classic country that finds its way into Latino homes.

Basically, we like to listen to a lot of music, so it should be a natural extension to get Hispanic kids to learn how to play it.

This research aligns with another recent study, which found that bilingual kids have more flexible brains and better cognitive abilities. Keep in mind that most of the demand for Spanish-language immersion schools is coming from white families who want their kids to master another language and gain exposure to diversity.

So it might not be long before you peek into a classroom and see a bunch of multiethnic kids speaking Spanish and jamming on blues standards.

Rock on.


An Ominous U-turn

It’s taken as a given — a damn article of faith — that each generation in America does at least as well as its parents, preferably better. This is the reason old people go on and on about all the sacrifices they made for you. They wanted you to have a better life than they did.

Well, as we all know, that forward progress came to a jolting halt with Gen X. People of my age group have heard many times how we will be the first generation in American history to do worse than our parents. Let me tell you, that little factoid never gets stale… nope.

But now there is more to the story. A new study implies that the grandchildren of Latino immigrants — the third generation — make a U-turn in generational improvement in some areas and end up worse off than their parents.



Basically, if you are a Millenial Hispanic, you are so very, very screwed.

The study showed that second-generation Latinos (like me) tend to do better than their immigrant parents in such areas as education, employment and financial stability. But the third generation sees that forward momentum sputter and slide back down. Their educational and economic progress stagnates.

The researchers theorize that second-generation Latinos grow up hearing about their parents’ difficult lives in their home countries. I know this was true for me. I heard many times from my mom and aunt about El Salvador and how it was not exactly the most blessed of nations.

Hearing such tales may inspire second-generation Latinos to improve upon their parents’ situation. However, the third generation is more removed from this frame of reference. It seems that abuela’s anecdotes about walking to school barefoot and living on nothing but rice and beans just don’t register with those darn kids.

Of course, that’s only part of the problem. More important, issues like poverty and discrimination may become more entrenched by the third generation, and this may drag on young Latinos, making it difficult to improve upon their parents’ status.

As the researchers note, there is only “so much you can do with motivation and drive to get out of poverty.…At some point, you need the structural means to overcome a lot of these problems.”

Yes, that means investing in education, infrastructure, and other boogeyman “big government” solutions. Somehow, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

It’s almost enough to make you grateful for being a member of Gen X. And that’s saying something.


Kind of Like a Doogie Howser Episode

The state of Latino health is grim — grim, grim, grim. We have higher rates of diabetes, obesity, hypertension, you name it.

Hispanics are also doing pretty sucky when it comes to education and employment. If only there was a way to combine all these issues…

Well, a California job-training program is trying to peg multiple issues with just one stone. Medical Pathways trains high schoolers in the Latino community for health care occupations. The goal is to provide real-world experience to disadvantaged kids while improving the overall health of the community.

The program guides students — primarily Hispanic — through four years of medically focused science classes, such as anatomy and physiology. The students run community health fairs, where visitors — again, primarily Hispanic — get information about different health issues and receive free services, such as getting weighed or having their blood pressure taken.

Many students put in enough hours for a medical assistant certificate, which gives them a head-start on snagging better-paying health care jobs. Other students are inspired to become doctors or nurses.

No, it’s not an ideal solution. But it’s certainly creative and effective. And that’s a start.


I Did Not Code This Website

Not to boast, but Latinos are the most tech-savvy demographic. We are more likely to be early adopters, own a smartphone, watch videos online, and engage in social media than other groups.

Basically, if there is an electronic gadget that flashes, whirrs, buzzes, whistles, or just lights up, we are there.

But as a recent report showed, we’re not so good at actually creating the gadgets in the first place. Diversity is a serious problem in Silicon Valley, and Latinos are underrepresented when it comes to developing new technology.

At the largest tech firms, Hispanic representation rarely cracks single digits, and it never comes close to being proportional to the Latino share of the population. Many tech industry leaders fear that innovation will suffer because so few ethnic minorities — including Latinos — are becoming programmers, engineers and entrepreneurs.

This means that in a nightmarish scenario to horrible to comprehend, developing Back to the Future-style hoverboards will never happen.



Why is this? It’s because we’re sucking at the stem. Or rather, we’re sucking at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). You see, the number of STEM jobs significantly outpaces the number of people qualified for those jobs. Latinos account for about 17% of the U.S. population but only 7% of the nation’s STEM workers. Hispanics will make up more of the labor pool in the future, so you can see the problem. I mean, do the math…

Oh, wait. Maybe you can’t do the math, because you’re not into STEM. Damn, this is ironic… and awkward.

Well, you’ll just have to trust me.


Dropping Back In

Whenever some data point or statistic about Latinos in America gets published, it is most likely grim. Whether you’re talking about household income, unemployment rate, educational status, media representation, or some other indicator of societal pull, it probably is bad news for Hispanics.

Well, there is some good news for once. In a sign of hope, the nation had its lowest high school dropout numbers last year, and in large part this was because of a steep decline in the dropout rate among Latino students.


The Latino dropout rate reached a record low of 14% in 2013. As recently as 2000, it was 32%. For you non-mathematically inclined, this means that just over a decade ago, about one out of every three Hispanic kids didn’t graduate. That is beyond abysmal. It is pandemic.

So while the dropout rate for Latinos is still double the overall rate of 7%, this is a positive development. And the surge is even more significant since the number of Hispanic students has increased steadily over the years. Yes, in terms of pure numbers, more Latinos than ever are graduating from high school and enrolling in college.

So don’t tell me I never have something positive to tell you.


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