Last night, I saw a wonderful documentary at the Little Theatre with some AmeriCorps members. It was personally inspiring, and even made me tear up a bit, and at the end I thought, “Wow, there’s so much in here worth talking about. I wish there was a way for me to share this with other people!” Then I realized, oh yeah, that’s exactly why I started a blog. Anyway.
The Graduates/Los Graduados is a two-part, bilingual documentary that tells the story of six Latino and Latina students in America. The film zeroes in on some of the hardships particular to Latino students, and on other issues that any student could relate to. Ultimately, the film is a testament to the proven, therapeutic power of one individual reaching out to another, and a poignant reminder that access to public education does not put everyone on an equal footing to join the workforce or seek higher education. Check out the trailer, and grab a sweater, because you’re about to have goosebumps.
The first part airs on PBS on October 28, and the second airs on November 4, at 10 PM. I would highly recommend watching it any way you can. Even if you aren’t involved with education, it’s something everyone in the voting populace should be aware of, now that the American Latino population is a growing constituency of our nation and our schools.
I’ll leave you with a little sociological problem. There was a discussion among members of the community last night after the showing, and a Latina professor from University of Rochester’s Warner School was there sharing insights from a recent study on the school experiences of Latina/o students in Rochester. She brought up structural factors that block Latina/o success in schools, referring to programs and processes built into our public school system that, for the most part, enable it it to function smoothly (but in this case are problematic). One structure that she viewed as troubling was the language requirement. She pointed out that Latina/o students often enter American schools unable to speak English, while native students are required take at least four years of a language. For her, this is an issue of making English language programs more available so Latina/o students aren’t struggling to understand. While I think this is an admirable goal, I’d also go so far as to say that this is not merely a structural issue but a cultural one, too. I was sitting in the theater, feeling baffled by the idea that native students are urged to take Spanish as a marketable skill, while Latina/o students who already possess this skill are implicitly told that they must fall in line with the white students. Our American students are being asked to approximate an element of Latina/o culture while our Latina/o students are being asked to assimilate, to downplay their identity. Speaking Spanish is only an asset if you speak English first; otherwise, it’s a liability. Our schools are necessarily predicated on American culture, and while that doesn’t need to be a bad thing, it seems to punish students from other ethnic groups and send conflicting messages about what it means to have language skills. Your thoughts?