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Commentary: Forging alliances to protect families and fight fear in Los Angeles

Oscar Cruz | October 31, 2017

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When my parents moved our family here, I knew it was their dream to come to the United States to provide a better life for my siblings and myself. At the time, I couldn’t put that into context. As an 11-year-old kid, far away from our home in Guatemala, all that consumed me was the anxiety I felt being in a new community and learning a new language.

The fear of uncertainty was also very real. The not knowing what was going to happen next frightened me. For many of the first years in the United States, my family “siloed” itself as a defense mechanism — we trusted very few people and organizations. It wasn’t until my family gained permanent residency that I felt temporarily at ease. My permanent residency propelled me toward the dream my parents had wished for, but my ongoing work in the community reminds me every day of the fear and uncertainty I once felt.

Nearly 30 years later, I continue to see that fear in so many of the families we work with — it is tangible, palpable, it is real. As the president and CEO of Families In Schools (FIS), a nonprofit that promotes family-school partnerships to support academic achievement, I see it in the faces of the students we help prepare for college.

I hear it from the parents that are currently holding onto the same dream my parents had for me. Today’s toxic political environment is exacerbating the situation by amplifying the discrimination families face and the uncertainty of remaining united. Here in Los Angeles, many parents are fearful of sending their kids to school, students are feeling anxious about family members being deported, and more situations of discrimination are being reported all the time. More than ever, we need to forge alliances that protect the families we serve and create welcoming school environments where families feel safe and supported.

FIS provides both families and school staff with the information, tools, and training necessary to work together on student achievement. From parent workshops on family literacy, know your rights, STEM and college awareness, to training staff on parent engagement best practices, FIS is dedicated to forging strong partnerships for student success.

FIS also fights for policies that break down the barriers families face when advocating for their children. Since 2013, when California passed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), we’ve partnered with several organizations across the state. Together we’ve taken over 200 parents from Southern and Central California to Sacramento to testify and share their opinions on education issues. Parents are passionate agents for their children. They want a better life for their kids, but they often feel pushed out and unheard.

For the past five years, we’ve held an annual Alliance event to bring together parents, educators, and community leaders, to discuss the most pressing issues impacting student achievement. As FIS prepared for its 5th Annual Statewide Alliance Conference and Awards Ceremony, the theme became clear: “Education Without Borders.”

The theme was developed long before the President’s rescinding of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), yet it speaks directly to the political climate we are facing in our nation today. With so many families uncertain of their fate, it makes FIS and our partners strive even harder to protect and promote the importance of academic success. We create awareness around diverse education and learning pedagogies that highlight student achievement and celebrate success.

The Alliance Conference was created to move parent groups, educators, and organization leaders from their silos and place them in one room to focus on important issues that impact student success. Through the Alliance Conference, these groups are collaborating on ways to better support families, primarily families from low-income, immigrant, communities of color. It also allows like-minded people to form a larger, unified group — a California alliance that is learning together, reacting together, and, when the need arises, will mobilize together.

Oscar Cruz is president and CEO of Families In Schools.

For more information about Families In Schools and its Alliance 2017 Conference, presented by CIT/OneWest Bank at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Plaza on Nov. 2, please visit

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