Voices in the Wind
Por Manuel Hernandez
Last month, my cousin’s daughter was on the verge of dropping
out of high school. Angela called me up and asked that I talk
to my precious teen niece. Gloria was thinking of quitting
school just four months before her 2003 high school graduation.
My cousin Angela and I grew up together in New York’s El Barrio
in the late 1960’s. She married Felipe, a recently arrived
puertorriqueño and moved to The Island in 1980. Months after
Gloria was born, they moved back to New York looking for job
opportunities and a better way of life. Seventeen years later,
Gloria had turned into a lavishing hazel-eyed brunette. She
had already eloped for a weekend once before with her boyfriend,
Steve, and Angela feared the worst. Gloria started skipping
classes to see Steven, a sign that she was at danger.
On the other hand, Gloria worked at night to help out Angela
with the bills, and she often did not wake up in time for
her first period class. Falling behind lead her to miss more
classes. Her mother, Angela was on the edge. Her relationship
with Felipe was disastrous, and Gloria witnessed the daily
shouting and verbal outbreaks between her parents.
While driving to the Spanish Harlem Projects, I reflected
on my cousin’s situation. My niece was not alone in her dilemma.
According to statistics from the Department of Education,
37% of all Latinos dropout of high school compared to 15%
of African Americans and Caucasians. This was not the first
time Gloria and I spoke about her problems with school. As
the ESL teacher in the family, I was often called upon to
share my words of wisdom with my beautiful niece.
I was working on a special educational-technological program
to improve educational outcomes, and to provide the preparation
and encouragement needed for minority students to enter, and
succeed, in college. The program was designed with specific
strategies and skills to prepare these students for the State
High School Exams. The project was a strategy to support Latino
teens to have the opportunity that by grace has been granted
to us all, a higher education. The project proposed to join
forces (Internet, Telecommunications, Long-Distance Education
and the Department of Education) with communications and technology
to achieve the purpose as stated above. I wanted to share
my dream program with Angela and Gloria, but it needed polishing
and revision. I was very enthusiastic about the program, but
Gloria was a bit too late to benefit from it. She was at risk
of earning lower earnings and working in menial jobs. Besides,
her beauty could turn her into a target for potential predators
in all walks of life.
Almost 40 percent of Hispanic children are raised in families
that are below the poverty line, a rate twice as high as that
of Caucasian children. Language proficiency is a problem.
Many immigrants in the United States are illiterate in Spanish,
which makes learning English a monumental task. Gloria entered
school speaking only Spanish and had to learn to speak and
How do we even try to solve this problem? First, Latino parents
must acknowledge the importance of reading and writing. Second,
Parents must begin by reading to kids at an early age.Third,
parents must get involved in their children’s education. Latino
parents find themselves working around the clock and with
very little time to visit school and demand changes. There
is no easy solution. It is a process, but we must be specific
and spear-headed about ways in which to improve academic standards
for Latinos. Standards that need to be enhanced with vision
and knowledge on how to improve interest in reading and writing.
Sociologists predict that by the year 2050 half of the United
States population will be Latino. These are huge numbers,
but they do not mean anything in mainstream America. Education
is the key to the salvation of Latinos. The Latino high school
dropout rate is a national crisis which must be viewed as
serious by the Latino community. Macbeth’s “tomorrow, tomorrow,
tomorrow” is our today. Gloria is just a voice in the wind.