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I’m Latina and immigration is not one of my top issues during this election cycle

Caroline Bermudez | October 24, 2016

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A recent report from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) lends credence to an old complaint often made but rarely acknowledged.

An increasing number of Latinos don’t know any other home than the United States, and yet we get immigration shoved down our throats every four years to the detriment of other issues we care about.

Education, which is consistently our no. 1 or no. 2 issue, gets at best a passing mention despite the myriad struggles Latino students continue to face.

I’m Latina and immigration is not one of my top issues during this election cycle. You better believe education is. Too many of my fellow Latinos are mired in poverty, and it would be hard to find a Latino voter who would say lackluster schools have nothing to do with our shaky economic foothold.

The report found:

  • On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 21 percent of Latino eighth-graders read at a “proficient” or “advanced” level, compared with 44 percent of White eighth-graders. This is also true for eighth-grade math.
  • Latino children ages three to five are significantly underrepresented in preschool programs, compared with White or Black children.
  • More than 20 percent of Latino teenagers do not graduate from high school.

The NCLR report is a stinging reminder that despite the gains Latino students have made in graduating high school and chipping away at achievement gaps, we still lag far behind.

OUR ECONOMIC FORTUNES ARE TIED TO HAVING GOOD SCHOOLSIt’s no secret schools with primarily low-income Latino and Black students tend to get less qualified teachersOur economic fortunes are tied to having good schools, but we keep having our attention diverted to walls being built on the border.

Keep in mind, I’m an immigrant.

I was born in Colombia and came to Chicago at five months old (my Midwestern accent with its nasal “A’s,” which 14 years of living on the East Coast could not kill, is the lingering proof of my origins).

My older brother was born in this city. Our parents have been naturalized citizens for decades as are a host of relatives. Many of my cousins were born in this country or arrived here during their infancy, too.


Latinos are concerned about much more than immigration and as time passes, we will care about it less and less. Our population of Latinos is getting younger and the first generation of Latinos who arrived in America is giving way to the second, third, and even fourth generations whose values differ than their forebears.

Education, symbolic of all the reasons why generations of immigrants before us sacrificed so much to move to a new country, rarely surfaces in presidential debates, campaign ads, or stump speeches with the exception of college debt.

What about the 12 years of school before college? Don’t they also matter?

Presidential candidates are foolish to continue relegating K-12 education to the third rail, especially when it comes to attracting Latino voters. It’s political suicide to do so when the nation’s largest minority group has said time and time again it matters a great deal to them.

The Latino voter is changing, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the outreach efforts of both parties, which assume signs in Spanish universally appeal to us although more and more Latino voters do not speak Spanish.

The 2016 election cycle has, in some significant ways, been disappointingly retrograde. Despite two Latinos running for president in Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Latino voters are still being depicted as being a day removed from crossing the border.

We’re all Mexican, we’re all newly arrived immigrants, we’re lawless criminals, we speak Spanish as our first language.

As my Colombian mother, a 40-year resident of Chicago, would say in her accented English, “Hell no!”

The reality is, we’ve been here for a while, we have opinions on lots of things, and education happens to be a major interest for us. Let’s talk about it in depth for once. We have questions we want answered.

The American electorate is broad and diverse. So are we.

This article was published in partnership with Education Post. 
Caroline Bermudez is senior writer at Education Post. Before that she was a staff editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, covering the nonprofit world, with a particular focus on foundations and high net-worth giving.

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