By Jim Livesey
Every day different faces, young and old, fill our classrooms and halls where cultures mix into a big educational melting pot. UHCL prides itself on this. This semester, each issue of The Signal will focus on a different aspect of diversity on our campus. This second article in a series of five focuses on Latino students, the challenges they face and what each of their cultures brings to UHCL.
Latino students occupy an interesting position at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. They make up fewer than 20 percent of the student population, but they are the largest minority group on campus. They are very difficult to define as a group since Latinos come from many countries throughout Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Mexico and the United States. Some speak Spanish as their primary language, others are bilingual, while many speak only English.
"Latinos are such a diverse group," said Linda Contreras Bullock, assistant dean of student diversity. "Hispanic is a government word for anyone who speaks the Spanish language, including those from Spain. Some Latinos have chosen not to speak Spanish to fit into the American mold."
There is, however, a quality that is found throughout Latino Americans.
"It is a pride in the Latino culture and even though some people have lost elements of the culture, they still have their pride," Bullock said.This pride can be seen as the defining characteristic of Latino students at UHCL. It is not the stereotypical Hollywood
machismo style of pride so often attributed to Latinos, but a justifiable pride in their heritage, their achievements, their active role in the community and most importantly, their parents for helping them get to this point in their personal and academic careers.
Although education is considered important in Latino culture, the immediate needs of the family often takes precedence. Cutting education can be an easy short-term solution since it saves money immediately and frees up an individual to enter the work force. This means that many of UHCL’s Latino students are the first generation in their families to attend college.
"In the past education has not always been a priority; in the Latino culture family comes first," said Marcus Alvarez, Hispanics Advancing Culture and Education president.
Ironically, at a time when educational opportunities and an openness to diversity has never been greater, some Latinos are finding the criticism they face due to their success lies not from without, but from within. As they speak English more than Spanish and as they mainstream into American society, some of their family and friends feel that they are choosing to distance themselves from Latino culture.
This is a growing concern for Alvarez, who is proud of his family and his culture. Alvarez was born in West Texas and does not speak Spanish.
"There is a generational issue between Hispanics," Alvarez said. "I plan on studying law and immigration issues; I will need to learn Spanish."
Another issue Latinos face is that education costs time and money. Latino students often underutilize the financial resources available. Sometimes this is due to the complicated paperwork involved, some is due to language issues, but often it is due to a cultural bias of paying for things in cash.
"Money is an issue – not being willing to ask for financial aid," Alvarez said.
Bullock is working hard to ensure that this becomes less of a problem in the future.
"It is my personal mission to make education as attainable to Latinos as it is to everyone else," Bullock said.
While some Latinos are finding it difficult to retain their culture, heritage and language, others are working hard to find a balance in being Latino and American.
"Why can’t we propose living a pluralistic life with both cultures?" Bullock said, "We are going to have to open ourselves up to other cultures and languages. I don’t want to see us losing our culture."