I received a call the other day. It was an old classmate from the Dominican Republic whom I talk to from time to time after reuniting via Facebook. She says she has read some of my articles and wants me to write about education in the U.S.: how underfunded the system is, bullying, cases of child abuse and molestation by teachers, school shootings, etc. When I told her I needed inspiration to write, she proceeded to tell me a story different from the topics she previously mentioned. It was the story of an immigrant Latino mother, who cares very much about her son’s safety and education, but is having a hard time getting the school to validate her concerns and meet the needs of her son.
You’ve heard it before: “Latino parents are uneducated. Latino parents do not place enough weight on education.” Those are the stereotypes, sadly placed on immigrant parents by teachers and often, society at large. This was a stereotype I found particularly shocking as an immigrant, knowing just how much my family and the Latino families I know care about education. The issue here is not lack of caring. There are no easy answers to why many Latino kids under-perform in school. We can only make observations about barriers Latino parents experience that might hinder their children’s educational success.
Latino parents who are recent immigrants care about their children’s education but often struggle to navigate the U.S. school system. They want to help with homework and understand where they children are falling short, but are sometimes unable to do so because of limited English skills. A big number of Latino parents whose kids struggle with homework work multiple jobs, or ones that do not allow them to take time off to volunteer in school, visit with teachers and ensure their children are measuring up. Some are undocumented and are afraid to speak up for themselves or their children in an unfamiliar setting. And so more often than not, they are labeled as “indifferent”.
None of the above statements describe my friend. She is a U.S. citizen and can communicate in English. Her son is a bright kid who was born in the U.S. and is bilingual. He is bullied by his peers in a mostly white school and his teachers do little to encourage him. His mother is struggling to build him up while the school environment is bringing him down. Days before she called me, a teacher had locked her kid in the bathroom after he insisted he needed to go and finally got up without permission. He came home understandably upset. My friend called the school in her Latino accent. She wanted a written apology, an admission of wrong-doing by the teacher or the school. Nobody wanted to hear it. The principle’s office looked the other way, until she called the district and threatened to sue. Suddenly, the school was all ears. A meeting was set up: the kid’s teachers and the principal, all in one room.
My friend dusted the Gucci bag she wears on special occasions. She dressed to impress and impress she did. Raised eye brows filled the room as she walked in with her kid. What did you expect? A rundown house wife? – she thinks to herself. She has read the school’s rules and regulations, and even if she had not, she knows her child has the right to use the bathroom without being harassed by a teacher or anyone else. She wants her kid to love school and study so he can be a lawyer like mama. Brows raised again… a lawyer, huh. She looks at the teacher involved in the incident, who seems ashamed and afraid to lose his job. The guy has kids, she doesn’t want him fired. The group talks about ways to help her child do better in school and move forward. Afterwards, the little boy could not be prouder. Mom was pleased too, though shaken from the nerves it took to stand up to a room full of authority figures, to defend what she thought was right.
“I speak with an accent, but I don’t think with one” – she tells me over the phone, a smile in her voice. Every teacher in that classroom now knows her child has a mother who cares very much. She will make a fuzz if needed to make sure her son is not just a number with a Spanish name on someone’s roster. Not many Spanish-speaking parents can do the same. Many of them at the low-end of the paying scale cannot take three hours off work to make a point in school; a few of them cannot communicate effectively in English and some of them are undocumented. But of this I am sure: all of them care about their children’s education. My friend made a statement for the Latino parents out there who cannot make it for themselves. And I am duly inspired she did her bit to debunk a myth.
Latino Parents and Education: Debunking the Myth