E asked me to meet up with the HS students to discuss and practice speeches they would give to a conference of professors and college administrators. There were seven HS students. I knew five of them. The two most vocal participants I hadn’t met before, and they seemed the most vocal for two reasons. One about her life and telling her story, dominating the time during the event, or the turn taking I should say. Each student would have only four to five minutes to speak, but each time she spoke, she easily met this mark, and unrehearsed. I was impressed that she code-switched when she was at the most emotional during her turn to talk. In fact, each student gave emotional responses to their experiences as Latinos, as Mexican Americans figuring out what it meant to be documented, undocumented, Spanish or English dominant, bilingual, underrepresented, and challenged in any number of ways. What struck me most were the young women who spoke of negative stereotypes associated with them from their uncles. These uncles, it seemed, firmly held a Mexican patriarchy, consistently doubting the young women’s educational aspirations. “They told me that I would be a mujer de calle, fumando y stuff like that. I’m going to prove them wrong. Because I will go to school,” said M.
I think I remember women like her in my high school. Her voice brought high school back to me for a moment, and I realized that I probably did know this young woman M when I was young, or someone just like her. And the same for each of these students. Then I had to think they looked at me as a professor. That still strikes me. And they ask me how I did what I have done. I still don’t know how to answer besides luck and English.
They spoke of their languages, of the problems of ESL, and why some students, they said, settled for it because it was a safe way to segregate themselves from other students and from the school. Though they would never “get ahead” to college prep courses, students could understand why some students didn’t want to play the game of meritocracy despite the dire consequences not playing the game entailed.
Students spoke about their families, and this was what impressed me. E and their instructor S were at the meeting. They asked the students to speak of different topics. E read some statistics that her organization had uncovered regarding academic retention at the college level. Students listened to these, and they were then allowed to think about their lives, about what challenges they faced, and how they would articulate those challenges to their audience of university professionals.
There were two male students, the rest were females. The female students spoke about their biographies, where they came from and their families, and about role models, either their role models, or the role models they see themselves becoming through family. I asked the students about confianza, if they ever felt that at schools. I asked if they thought schools made things easy for their parents to be involved. A few of the students spoke about the need for competent translators, and also translators that times that parents could reach them outside of school hours.
When students told their stories, many cried. They were emotionally charged, especially when reflecting on the sacrifices of parents, especially mothers. But also when speaking of influences for one’s life, this brought tears to eyes. M, one of the students I hadn’t met, she spoke of the Library and also her teachers for being influences for her. “I want to be like that too someday, I want to be like you because you help so many of the gente.”