When I was six years old, I was brought to the U.S. from Sonora, Mexico. My father's cousins, who were first generation Mexican-American, helped my parents find a home for us. This home turned out to be government housing: the Ramona Gardens Projects.
As a child of six, coming from a small rural community in Sonora -- where there was no sidewalk, just dirt roads to climb up to the local grocery store or to La Plaza on Wednesday nights to gather with the community for dancing and fun -- my first impression of the housing projects was of wonder. To me, it was the most beautiful sight. We had stairs to climb, there was grass to lay a blanket on hot summer days, we made Kool Aid and bologna sandwiches.
We had arrived.
My parents enrolled us at Murchison Elementary School, where my brother and one of my sisters and I quickly learned to speak and write English. My two older sisters would join us later, and they would enroll at Lincoln High School. My baby sister was too young to start school.
From my parents I learned to work hard, to earn a living and buy what was needed, not what I wanted. Because I came to this country as an immigrant in the early 60s, all I ever wanted to do was finish high school and get a good paying job and not work at a factory like my parents.
I never once thought of furthering my education and going to college because it was not something that we as immigrant children taught by white teachers were encouraged to do. No one said to us that we could apply for scholarships, or grants, take the SATs. What was that, anyway?
I got my first permanent job at 18 as a receptionist in downtown L.A., for a men?s clothing manufacturing company. It was there that I was first made aware of a college education; the owner?s nephew came to work with us for the summer.
I distinctly remember when he asked me what school I was going to. My response was ?I just graduated? and he looked back at me and again asked ?Yeah, but what college are you attending?"
I couldn?t answer and all I could think of on my ride home on the bus from work was: "College, I should be going to college." Of course I never did. I lived at home with my parents until I got married and started my own family.
I did pretty well for myself, earned a good salary, but not ever forgetting or ignoring the fact the education is the most important thing for our children, especially children of immigrant descent. I for one will encourage my children and do all in my power to have my son and daughter go to college and further their education and be proud to earn a college degree.
I am filled with such pride when I hear my 14-year-old daughter rattle off the names of schools she wants to attend and hearing my niece tell about the college advance classes she is taking in high school, or my son and his girlfriend talk about their plans for their SATs.
The expression goes, the Latino community is a sleeping giant that has been awakened, and yes, we are wide awake, and nothing is going to put us back to sleep. We are here to stay, in large numbers.
Hear us roar!
Mexican, Cuban, Salvadorian, Puerto Rican...all of us in the Latino community, encourage your children to go to college and expand their horizons.
Maria Jesus Casta?eda:
Maria Jesus Casta?eda lives in Palmdale, CA. She can be reached at Susieturo@yahoo.com