Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca couldn’t wait to start college and make her American dream a reality. As soon as she was able, Sarahi decided to apply for FAFSA, which gives qualifying students financial assistance for college. That’s when she was dismayed to find out she didn’t qualify for financial aid because of her undocumented status. To make matters worse, her school counselor told her “people like” her don’t go to college 🤦🏽♀️
As the youngest of 11 children, Sarahi was the first in her family to aspire for college. She decided she wouldn’t let her status stop her, and others, from reaching their full potential. So she developed DREAMers Roadmap, a nonprofit college financial aid mobile app specifically for undocumented students.
She knew she wasn’t alone in facing financial challenges due to her status. There are 1.2 million DREAMers with a social security number, which means the other two-thirds don’t have the digits required to apply for FAFSA.
By creating DREAMers Roadmap, Sarahi made it possible for this vulnerable population to take open doors of opportunity. The app has helped more than 20,000 undocumented students afford college costs. Sarahi has come a long way since her parents decided to migrate from Mexico. In a testimonial, Lilly, one of the app users, said DREAMers Roadmap made it possible for her to attend the University of California-Los Angeles. Thanks in large part to the access the app gave her, Lilly was the first in her family to graduate college 🎓
Through this app, Sarahi is changing the future for Latinxs for generations to come!
When Jodi González and her son Michael of Central Texas started considering colleges, they were overwhelmed with the options. Factors like tuition, diversity and geography varied. That’s why they were relieved when Austin Community College reached out to them personally.
Michael graduated from a majority Latinx high school and it was important to him, as for many Latinxs, to choose a school with classmates and professors who looked like him. ACC’s recruitment officers understand that a sense of confidence and identity is important to success, and they made it a point to make Michael comfortable.
Jodi says her son will get more out of his time at ACC than he would in a larger and more traditional campus. Experts agree, since ACC is one of nine higher education institutions awarded the new ‘Seal of Excelencia’ for success with Latinx students. The award recognizes an institution’s commitment and ability to successfully serve Latinx students and close the education gap.
In addition to Austin Community College, the other eight institutions 🎓 include:
Arizona State University
California State University Channel Islands
El Paso Community College
Florida International University
Grand Valley State University,
South Texas College
University of Arizona
University of Texas at El Paso
Deborah Santiago, the CEO and co-founder of the Washington nonprofit Excelencia in Education, charged with selecting these colleges, says they are meant to serve as models for other institutions of higher learning to follow.
When higher education systems embrace our gente’s needs, it’s a win-win for our country’s future!
From the beginning, the odds were stacked against 29-year-old Erica Alfaro, who graduated from Cal State San Marcos with a master’s degree. She became a mom at 16, dropped out of high school and was trapped in an abusive relationship. But with the support of her parents, she reached her dreams.
Born in Tijuana, Mexico, her parents moved the family to Oceanside, Calif., when Erica was 13 years old. Although her parents believed education was important, they weren’t able to go to school themselves and got jobs as farmworkers. Alfaro seemed destined to repeat the cycle. Yet Erica was determined to break it.
Her son Luis inspired her to finish school, first through homeschooling. Then she enrolled at junior college before transferring to Cal State San Marcos. There, the obstacles continued. Her son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy causing Erica unexpected but understandable depression.
Still, Erica would keep fighting. Among the difficulties she remembered the day her parents took her to the tomato fields to remind her that the only way to break the cycle was through a good education. No matter how hard it was, Alfaro knew she wanted to be part of the 2% of teen moms who graduate college by age 30.
On graduation day, she thanked her parents for their sacrifices in a viral photo showing the trio in a field of strawberries. It resonated with us, and made us collectively thankful for our papis and mamis giving us a better life.
What can trump the pride a Latinx feels as they graduate ?? from college? This sacred moment makes the family’s sacrifices well worth it.
But that sense of joy and fulfillment can be dampened, when your tío or abuelita doesn’t understand 99% of what’s being said during commencement because it’s all in English and they only speak Spanish. Not wanting their family to feel excluded, graduates at Texas A&M University in College Station planned and hosted their school’s inaugural Latinx graduation ceremony ?? held in Spanish and English.
Fifteen students, who represented various Latinx organizations throughout campus, came up with the idea ?? They wanted a Latinx graduation where all guests understood and felt included in the celebration.
The bilingual ceremony was a success, but planning for it didn’t come without backlash from fellow students and others who worried it would put a stain on the college’s traditional graduation ceremony. The Latinx graduates argued that this new event would add to tradition and not take away from it.
They hope this ceremony will become an annual tradition and that in the future the university’s administrative staff will be more involved. Felicitaciones, graduates, for diversifying your alma mater!
we know that college professors of color make for a fairer, more nurturing and understanding environment for nuestros estudiantes. Naysayers may say we’re advocating for reverse discrimination, but we just want more profes like University of California at Berkeley lecturer Pablo Gonzalez, who speaks Spanish and makes references to pop culture that students can relate with during his lectures.
Students can relate to him, say “he’s real” and note that he grew up in the hood. These commonalities allow a type of academic relationship that students just can’t build with professors who haven’t experienced similar struggles or realities they have, and can’t relate to them.
Gonzalez is a rarity in a college where only 5% of faculty is Latino. In a state where Latinos make up nearly 25% of UC undergraduates, universities need to hire more Latino professors. Otherwise the ones who suffer are our young people.
When you do a random Internet search of Artificial Intelligence (AI), you are greeted with images of coding in blue font, robots with white faces, and the silhouette of brains outlined by circuit boards and beaming lights.
However, none of this tells you what exactly AI is. These images also fail to tell you how Latinxs are impacted by AI, or will continue to be impacted.
The Latinx community has to have a voice in the programming of algorithms for AI, algorithms that meet our needs and tell our story inclusively. It is the stories that give life to the work that we do, and our story needs to be programmed into all aspect of this country, otherwise it will be deleted.
With technology and science constantly evolving, there is a great demand for STEM professionals and Latinos are jumping on the opportunity. Role models like Dr. Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina to go to space and lead a space station, are proof anything is possible.
Emmanuel Rivera, a mechanical engineer at John Deere, advocates for diversity and inclusion and mentors younger generations like other Latinos in STEM. Meanwhile, retired NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez had to try a whopping 11 times to become an astronaut, before finally being selected on his 12th attempt.
Hernandez and other STEM stars advise younger generations to get back up every time they fall.