Fighting Back: Using our Power to Advance Education in the Latino Community

I recently read the article of a young Latina sharing her graduation with her parents who work in the fields. One thing that stuck out to me was the stress she felt while at school, worried that upon return home her parents could have been picked up by immigration.  I’ve been realizing more and more just how overwhelming the added trauma undocumented children (and children of undocumented parents) must feel day in and day out at what the government could do to them and their families. Maritza Ramos, from OITNB, has also described the gut-wrenching feeling of coming home to a deported parents. 

using our power in the latino community

I hear stories like this and think–what are systems of power doing to us and to our children? It should make us mad–even if we’re lucky enough to be here without needing to worry about our own status–because the harm inflicted on our community affects all of us.  

Yet, in spite of these pressures, many undocumented students continue their education and some even pursue law degrees.  I love that persistence and the drive these students show in wanting to participate in this system.  My mil respetos to them because I can’t imagine navigating this field on top of needing to find private scholarships, etc; only to graduate and perhaps not be admitted by the State’s Bar.  And that is the big obstacle for most students–will or won’t the State admit me due to the character and fitness requirement? States vary on their answers.  

For those that don’t have to worry about their status, it’s easy to do nothing about this other than to fret (or even go as far as giving vocal support to students).  But if we’re citizens this can easily feel like it’s not really our problem or our fight.  But thinking this way would be a mistake.

If we are truly concerned about the health of our community then we have to acknowledge that immigration is important, but education even more so–and anything blocking our community from pursuing higher education is, by its nature, an enemy to our progress.  

Luckily, as people with status, we have so much privilege, and with that privilege comes power–here are three action steps to consider in order to support this cause:

One. Use your power as an alumna.  Seriously, as a student I barely made waves with the administration (I always I felt like such an outsider and not worthy of making complaints). But as an alumna, I know I can encourage change and shifts in policy.  I make sure to be present at events; show my “rah-rah” support; give a little money now and then, which all adds up to administrators being willing to listen–trust, that no school wants unhappy alumni. So if you’re an active alumna, ask your school(s)–how are you working with undocumented students?  

Two. Learn from your local community.  One of the great things about the DREAMers movement, and what I think makes it so American, is that the students didn’t sit on the sidelines while others with status took over.  Instead, they said, “this is our movement,” and began with the protesting, the policy changing, the increase in awareness…   And really what is more American than fighting for your rights!?  So to be the best supporter, you have to learn about your own local community’s movement and their current priorities to see how you can fit in and help.
Three. Participate in the power structure. As I mentioned, the biggest hurdle seems to be the finicky/unknown outcomes for the character and fitness portion of the Bar admission.  But who decides who passes C&F?  Lawyers! And last I checked, we are lawyers too!  What is stopping us from participating in this power structure?  In most states, C&F consists of committees.  Figure out your Bar’s structure and who’s appointing the members; is this something you can participate in?  If it’s not something you can personally do, then talk to your Hispanic/Latino local Bar association to make sure this problem is on their radar.  Too often we forget that it’s actual people making these decisions–and there’s nothing that says we can’t be those people.  Obviously, just by joining C&F doesn’t mean you’ll change precedent just like that–but by your Bar having a more diverse voice that’s helping make those powerful decisions means our community will have increased representation and a stronger form of advocacy. 

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