21 Miles of Scenic Beauty…
And then Oxnard
Counterstories and Testimonies
By Martin Alberto Gonzalez
I have to be honest from the start; when I finished reading this book, and even from the first couple of pages, I was very angry, but it was because everything I was reading I’d been witness to, lived, or by default, been part of.
I’m a perfect example of some of the stories Martin describes so well; for example, even though I always knew I wanted to continue with my education, I never knew how I’d get it or get there, and I didn’t think I was good enough to even be a student because when I was growing up in Mexico, I’d always been told I was dumb or stupid. When I started school in this country, it was almost the end of eighth grade, then I’d have to go to high school, but the ‘not ready-no-good’ theory showed up again, and I figured that was the end of my education. Fortunately for me, a high school teacher was visiting our campus, and she spoke with the teacher who’d said I wasn’t ready for high school because I didn’t speak English, but the high school teacher told her she should give me a chance; besides, I was too old to stay in junior high, and that would’ve been disastrous as I was already being discriminated against for speaking ‘broken Spanish.’
I hated school but knew quitting would be a big and painful mistake, so I stuck it out through high school with no family help because my brother was the breadwinner and couldn’t help with homework anyways. Many times I went without lunch because I didn’t know how to get a lunch card, and nobody even offered to help me get one, and my brother didn’t know how the school system worked either.
And high school was when all hell broke lose; counselors began to tell me I couldn’t do this or couldn’t do that, and, again, I wanted to throw it all away. How dare this jerk tell me what I can and cannot do? That’s my decision to make, and I’ll take full responsibility for it, but if I listen to him and other fools and I fail, it’ll be on their shoulders and conscience.
Then I lose my mother and students make fun of me when they learn I’m seeing the school’s psychologist, but at least this teacher didn’t say anything stupid.
Many times our educational and social institutions fail us by not being sensitive to our culture or cultural beliefs and practices, or family dynamics.
By unknowingly setting and working on my goals, I graduated from high school top E.S.L. student, but I can say that I had the full support of one single teacher, Mrs. Reyna, the same teacher who visited my junior high school, and she was also the one who always told me what a hardworking student I was, and that I had a lot of potential to achieve whatever I set my mind to. I don’t think I ever told her other teachers had told me I’d be a school dropout, gang-banger, drug user, and teenage mom, and the high school counselor told me I couldn’t be a teacher, writer, or psychologist because I’d need a strong English language background; what would you say now, sucker?
My thinking is that, as educators, it’s our job, responsibility, and moral obligation to pave the path for the educational success of our students instead of pushing them off a damn cliff.
I also agree with Martin that the lack of resources available to our Mexicano/Latino students is another barrier that keeps our students from succeeding, and if by chance some old resources are available, nobody shows them how to use them effectively.
Neither one of my parents went to school beyond second grade, but they always made sure we went to school, or a flexible plant by the stream would lose a branch.
Our students’ parents may not send their children to music, piano, or sports classes, but they make sure children go to school and expect them to listen to and respect teachers, and calling a teacher ‘teacher’ is not being disrespectful, and students don’t need to get yelled at for it either.
And not every child who lives near a beach or park has visited one, and teachers destroy future dreams when they punish students who don’t understand middle-class standards and/or expectations, and that’s whom our educational and other social systems are geared toward.
Every community has successful Mexicanos/Latinos, but mainstream communities and the media always focus on the negative; we must expect more and better from those who are influencing our youth.
We have many great role-models in City government positions, school boards, schools, fieldworkers, and social activism, and we have athletes, authors, teachers, police officers, firefighters, lawyers, doctors, volunteers, and entrepreneurs, all working together to make the lives of la Raza better, but our Raza have their own special dreams and skills only they can use to meet their goals in this chaotic environment as long as there are resources available to them.
Picture Credits: Lucero Luna, Amadeo Sumano, Martina Gallegos