By John Benson
Hispanic Heritage Month is currently being celebrated on PBS NewsHour with senior correspondent Ray Suarez presenting the three-part PBS series “Latino Americans.”
Accompanying the documentary is Suarez’s new book of the same title, which examines more than 500 years of Hispanic culture in North America.
“This is American history but it’s American history in a way perhaps you’ve never been taught,” Suarez told VOXXI. “Latinos have been an integral part of American history, since the first days of the country. It’s all our history, whether you’re Latino or not, as long as you’re American.”
While working on “Latino Americans,” Suarez said he became inspired by the plight and resilience of diverse groups of Hispanics in the country.
Whether it was Mexicans in the southwest, Cubans in South Florida, Central Americans in Texas, and Dominicans and Puerto Ricans in New York City, each group never stopped pushing ahead for opportunity and equality.
“Instead of becoming an alienated, pissed off, detached and angry country within a country, these 53 million Americans have taken the punches and instead kept on pushing to continue to demonstrate that they are full shareholders in the American dream,” Suarez said. “It’s just a great thing. “
Today, Suarez said the story during Hispanic Heritage Month that gets the headlines is immigration; however, the story that’s the hot issue for Latino Americans involves education.
He said for too long the Hispanic student has been receiving a second-rate education.
Suarez, a Brooklyn, New York-raised Puerto Rican, discussed in detail the education tragedy involving Latino Americans, pointing to the fact 1 out of 10 Hispanics aged 25 to 64 have a four-year degree.
However, he points to recent changes in the conversation regarding educating Latinos, which the Census Bureau projects will represent more than 22 percent of the population in 2040.
“America should now be on notice that actually everybody has something at stake,” Suarez said.
“Once you’re talking about a people that’s currently one out of six Americans, if they’re not doing well in school and being trained to a very high standard so they can become productive and highly paid workers, this is just going to be a poorer country and a smaller tax base. There will be less ability to support the largely white group of retirees that’s breaking like a tidal wave on American now. This is going to be a poor country in 40 years if we don’t change. It’s as simple as that.”
Change is needed for Latino students
Hispanic Heritage Month provides advocates plenty of exposure regarding needed changes to the education system to better serve Latino Americans.
• Hispanic History
One area that Hispanic leaders say needs to change is this myopic position taken by some school districts blatantly ignoring Latino history. This has an understated negative impact on students.
Suarez said research and data confirms Latino students, often in under-performing schools, tend to do better at not only history but all of the other subjects if they study Hispanic heritage.
• Family Barriers
Looking ahead, Suarez points to the investment of the family to help kids reach the finish line as integral for future success of Latino Americans.
“A lot of teachers say that they had trouble engaging families,” Suarez said. “There‘s often language difficulties and parents who weren’t able to get a lot of education themselves and feel they are not welcome or not fully integrated into the schools and thus able to help further their children’s education. So schools and families have to become closer partners so when there is trouble families are on the same side of the teacher in getting it addressed and getting the kids help they need.”
• College Graduation
Studies show more Latinos students are enrolling in college but still lag behind when it comes to college graduation.
Suarez said, “Some schools where black and brown kids are disproportionately clustering have terrible graduation rates and that means either that their high school didn’t prepare them for college work or the colleges are letting them down by not taking an interest in providing what they need to be able to graduate.”
• College Debt
Sure, Suarez said college debt is a real problem but during Hispanic Heritage Month he highlights students not properly prepared for a post-secondary education, which in turns creates a financial nightmare for Latino Americans.
“We need to not only increase the number of diplomas we’re issuing but raise the rate in a way that says more kids are leaving high school ready to do the kind of work assigned to freshman in America’s colleges,” Suarez said. “We have to stop this terrible tendency of Latino young adults to go to for-profit colleges and not finish. So they take on debt to pay tuition and end up in the worst of all possible worlds: no credential and no acceleration that you get from having the credential that will help you earn the money to pay off the debt. It’s a terrible situation, and thousands of families and Latino young adults are trapped in that cycle.”
Hispanic Heritage Month and future of Latino Americans
Suarez uses Hispanic Heritage Month to talk about realistic goals when it comes to the next major steps Latino Americans should expect in the decades to come
“Closing the high school graduation rate between Latinos and other American students is not going to happen but in the short-term narrowing can happen,” Suarez said.
“Make sure that more of those kids who cross the stage get their name announced, have a diploma put in their hand and are ready to do post-secondary work. That helps a greater percentage of kids who will try college, do better and eventually get a credential that will help them support their families.”
Originally published in VOXXI.