The other night I saw A Better Life and today I re-read the April 201 report “Winning the Future: Improving Education for the Latino Community.” The two are related, as the film depicts the hardships and lack of opportunities noted in the report. The movie is centers around a father and son who are trying to make it in East Los Angeles. The community cold be Boyle Heights or El Sereno or Montecito Heights. The IMDB description does not do the movie justice: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1554091/.
“Winning the Future” explains how the Latino population has the lowest education attainment in the US, but is also the fastest growing demographic (2). This equation is not a good one if it continues at the same rate. Statistics continue to offer that Latinos will constitute the majority population by 2050; yet the income possibilities remain flat given the low rates of graduation from high school, low college attendance and graduation rates. And, the disparities in education begin early for Latinos. According to the report’s findings I read that, “less than half of Latino children are enrolled in any early learning program” (2). Anecdotally, I can share that my sister, who teaches in Southern California in an economically depressed area has repeatedly shared that more than half of the kids at the junior high are on the school’s meal program.
With A Better Life, we see that the two main characters, Carlos and Luis, merely want the basics: a good education, a car, food, security and to have the American Dream. To this end, Carlos struggles for work as a gardener and Luis is maneuvering high school and the precarious line between straight life and street life. Two telling scenes have stayed with me: Luis is arrested and the Anglo cop wants him to take his shirt off so that he can take a photo of his tattoos. Luis exclaims, “Not every Chicano is a gang member.” He takes his shirt off and his tattoo-free skin is not photographed. He says to the officer, “See.” Another scene is when Carlos is explaining to his boss that the dirty lawyer took his money and didn’t get him papers. This commonplace for undocumented workers—the unsavory stealing from them and knowing that without papers the undocumented will not file a police report.
The report notes that education is important and President Obama is ear-marking block funds for children and has repeatedly acknowledged the importance of the Head Start program and the Early Head Start to ensure that poor or minority children have a better chance of matriculating easily into Kindergarten. The numbers, though, are staggering. From the report, “1 in 5 students in the public school system is Latino. Yet almost half of Hispanic (sic Latino) students never receive their high school diplomas” (6). How to rectify this? Leave Arizona? That is said with a note of sarcasm. Here, he have programs attempting to fix the problem—programs that are preventative, but this is coupled with in a culture that is enamored with Neoliberalism. The two are strange bedfellows and looking at who supports each philosophy it is clearly drawn along partisan lines or class lines at the very least.
The Debt-Ceiling debacle only clouds this discussion more. While our Congressional Representatives, Senators, talking heads and the President have these lengthy discussion and some pontificate on television, the real Carlos, Luis, Maria, Gloria, Emma, and Sam’s are barely scraping by and wondering how they are going to make it. Their concerns are about Food Security, Human Security, and Human Rights. While I am keenly aware of real politics, I also know that the report and even this movie speak to real politics, as well.
I am thankful that my parents made sacrifices so that I could go to better schools. I am also aware of the trail-blazing that I did as a first-generation college student. When I see movies of this sort, I feel humbled and damn lucky. Then, I read these reports or journal articles and wonder about the state of public policy. I leave you with these heady ruminations.
Department of Education and White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. 2011. “Winning the Future: Improving Education for the Latino Community.” Washington, DC: GPO.