Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Social Justice Event: Dialogue on Diveristy

As part of my social justice event, I attended RIC’s Dialogue on Diversity, which featured the presence of Ana Maria Cano-Morales, a true “warrior” as she described herself and the thousands of Latino students struggling from day to day as she once did. I found this event to be very inspirational to me, and it showed me the importance for all to be united to make changes happen.

As I sit down to write down this reflection on Ana Maria’s presentation, I can’t help but to begin saying how she took the time to ask not for a moment of silence but for a “moment of active listening” in honor of RIC’s professor Jen Cook. For me it was a nice way to start, by honoring the legacy of what she described to be a great educator and one that truly cared about her students and a fighter for educational reforms. This perhaps was what set the tone for a great presentation, that I truly enjoyed, and one that became to be more than a requirement for the class. For me this dialogue on diversity was a realization of the struggles of the Latino community, but also a realization of all the positive things that are taking place thanks to people like Ana Maria and colleges like RIC.

There is no way we can see the greatness in Ana Maria Cano-Morales if we don’t get to know part of her story, and why she is a “warrior”. She told the audience the story of a Colombian-American girl born in Central Falls as the youngest of twelve siblings. Her parents were Colombian immigrants who came to this nation looking for a better life for them and most importantly for their children. She described how proud that little girl was of the hard working parents she had. They worked in factories all day long, just to give their children all that they needed, especially an education which they did not receive in Colombia. That little girl’s parents had limited education, and had no idea that their children needed academic support in their journey of learning English as ESL students. That little girl was Ana herself and her story just resembles the current story that many Latino students are experiencing right now. She was one of the few Latino students at that time. She didn’t attend preschool nor head-start, nor did she have any clue that she belonged in a bilingual classroom.  It was that fear or uncertainty of where she belonged, or what she had to learn, or what language she had to learn best, or the pressure of dealing with two cultures at once that made her have “lack of self-confidence”. Yet, the message that I got from her life story is the message that she didn’t use the obstacles she faced as an excuse, but rather as a motivation to succeed and be better in life. Her desire to overcome her obstacles made her earn a "bachelor of Science Degree - Human Development, Counseling, and Family Studies, with a minor in Latin American Literature, from the University of Rhode Island in 1991 [and in] 1999, she received a Master’s of Social Work – Policy, Administration, and Systems from Rhode Island College" until finally becoming the director of The Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University as we can further read in this Link. Together with The Latino Policy Institute, Ana Maria  "is committed to generating and communicating non-partisan data of Latinos in Rhode Island [and] stimulating public policy discussions [that] enhances the public’s understanding of the Rhode Island Latino experience".

Why Latinos? Why do we need reform for that particular ethnic group? Just in case there is any doubt why, she explained it. To begin with as she said, Latinos are the fastest growing population in RI and in the nation. In the recent census of 2010, the Latino population in RI increased 53%, resulting in RI “having the 13th largest population of Latinos in the US, and resulting in the fact that 13% of the state’s population is Latino”. For instance, she mentioned that in Central Falls, every three out of four people living there are Latinos. Most importantly, the reason why we should care is because Latino and minority students are the main consumers of public education in the state and in the nation. In RI, the biggest concentration of Latinos is in Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls, and these are among the districts which need the most reforms. A prove of the need for reforms in the educational system in school districts is that as Ana mentioned “by 8th grade, Latinos are behind 2-3 grades when compared to their white classmates”.  One of the possible reasons for this academic struggle can be the economic status of most Latinos in the state. When compared to their white counterparts, Latinos earn less. They earn an average of $32,000 yearly; meanwhile whites earn an average of $54,000 yearly.

Getting more in depth with regards to education and Latinos, Ana Maria mentioned that only 1-3 percent of the state’s teachers or administrators are Latinos. When I heard this I immediately thought of Delpit and her point on the importance that students find people that look like them, the importance that students see themselves reflected in the school system, so that they can know that they can also achieve what  the person standing in front of them one has become.  Ana Maria would agree with Delpit on her argument and suggestion that “the appropriate  education for poor children can only be devised in consultation  with adults who share their culture”, that way the decisions made regarding those students won’t  be only  made by white educators or legislators that don’t understand minority cultures, but “instead ensuring that each classroom incorporate[s] strategies appropriate for all the children in its confines”. 
This idea of having someone to look up to, that shares a similar history, life path, or difficulties, got me really inspired and I have found great examples of people that overcame their obstacles and are true role models for the Latino community.  One clear example is Mexican-American astronaut Jose Hernandez, this is his story...

 Another great example of leaders that the Latino community greatly needs to see, in order for them to realize their potential is Angel Taveras, the first Latino mayor in the City of Providence, this article talks about him and his historic win that can help as inspiration for the Latino youth in RI. 

 Adding on the topic of Latinos and education, Ana Maria mentioned one of the biggest topics regarding the Latino youth, and that is the importance of ESL programs to be established in the state. Young children and Latino youth are the ones that need help and support in their eduction when learning English, and it is important to mention that 75% of the Latino population in the state of RI were RI born, and they are the new generation of future leaders of the state, therefore we have to  prepare them. Ana Maria would agree with Collier that the key concept  in teaching multilingual students is the “true appreciation  of the different linguistic  and cultural values that students bring into the classroom”. Along with this key concept and the establishment of good ESL programs, Ana Maria and many more educators and advocates like Collier hope to end what Ana Maria mentioned which is that “ESL students don't have access to the same basic concepts  like English, reading, writing, and math” due to the lack of strong ESL programs. Ana Maria mentioned the importance of a team effort, and in this team we need educators that are widely prepared but most of all that they understand the process of learning another language. Certainly, Collier would agree saying that those teachers would have to know such things as “the social and emotional factors which affect the second language learner, [and other techniques such as] not forbidding  young students from code-switching in the classroom” enabling them to exchange among their two languages, that way increasing their usage of grammatical practices and vocabulary usage in both languages as well. 

One of the quotes that Ana Maria said, that stayed in my mind up to this day, is how “language is not the only barrier, but it stops teachers from seeing other problems”. I think it is true, there is something about the system that is wrong, and that keeps things running in such a way the rich gets richer and the poor get poorer. There is something wrong  when we have students in private schools “buying” their way out of NECAP, and at same time struggling working class families being left without an income simply to be able to pay for the private schools of their children so that they don't have to take the NECAP, thus creating an educational segregation. There is something wrong in our nation when we have schools  in Providence or Central Falls, that are so far behind the academic levels they should be at. Perhaps this problem comes from , the way we teach in this nation, how we teach a “domesticating education , which leads to functional literacy, literacy that makes a person productive and dependable, but not troublesome” as Patrick J. Finn mentions in “Literacy with an Attitude”. As I remember the statistical reports that Ana Maria showed, that displayed the low scores in poor towns and cities in RI, make me go back to the Finn reading, where we see that one of the problems is that in “working-class schools knowledge [is] presented as fragmented facts isolated from wider bodies of meaning and from the lives and experiences of the students”. In these schools, students are told what to do, with no opportunity to think for themselves, or think creatively or critically. Meanwhile, in executive elite schools the knowledge  taught is more “academic, intellectual , and rigorous [students there learn] to be the masters of the universe”. There is something in the system but we can help to change it just as RIC and Central Falls High School are doing. 
One of the things that Ana Maria was most proud to present, as being part of the Board of Trustees for the Central Falls School District, as we can see in this website was the partnership between RIC and Central Falls High School. Together they both joined in this  partnership, to help better the education and academic status of this high school. This gives the opportunity for only the students in Central Falls to have more support academically and in many other aspects, but also to future educators graduating from RIC to experience a true urban scenario and also the chance to take part in making a change in the lives of many struggling teenagers. This a project that makes me so proud, just as  much as the pride that Ana Maria and RIC must feel. As she talked about this project I had to google it and learn more about it, and this is the website that talks more about it in detail. I am sure that positive changes will come along this partnership, and great news as well, just like the one received just this past October, when it was announced that  the “Central Falls graduation rate increased 20% in three years” as we can read in this article

Overall, attending this Dialogue on Diversity made me realize and learn many things I wouldn't have known before, and it certainly made me connect back and reflect bak to past class discussions and readings, that I am sure have made me a better future educator. 


  1. wow Maritza, this is one of your most insightful posts (not that your others weren't), but this made me wish I had gone to this event. Truly awesome. So happy to know you!