Young Latinas can benefit from the visibility of these American icons
If you are a young Latina in the United States, the statistics are stark:
Although 80 percent of you would like to graduate from college, and 98 percent would like to at least graduate from high school, the numbers say that 41 percent of you will fail to graduate from high school on time and with a standard diploma.
Of those of you who lack a high school diploma, half will be unemployed; and those who do find employment will average an annual income of about $15,000.
Limited opportunities can easily lead to diminished dreams and those, sometimes, to despair.
Fifty-three percent of you will have given birth to at least one child before you are 20. And a full 25 percent of you between the ages of 12 and 17 will have considered suicide; 17 percent of you will have even attempted it.
There are lots of factors contributing to these dismal stats, of course, but again and again, the reports tell us you young Latinas might have a better chance at success — in all aspects of your lives — if you had more visible examples of those whose talents and determination carried them far.
The past couple of weeks have seen two such Latinas foregrounded. Dolores Huerta, the daughter of a miner/farm-worker/union organizer, was conferred the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Huerta started out as a teacher, but soon found that she couldn’t ignore the economic need and disparities of the children in her classroom. She became a community organizer, and famously co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers) with César Chavez.
“Sí se puede,” the slogan adopted by Obama during his 2008 campaign for office, was first associated with Huerta during those early efforts at bettering the lives of Latinos. Now, at 82, and the mother of 11, she continues to advocate for Latinos and women, and to be an example of those whose talent is service to the community.
Celia Cruz’s rallying cry was a different one — ¡Azúcar! — and hearing it, her fans knew great music would follow. The Cuban singer — exiled, like so many of her generation, as Fidel Castro took over the island nation — died in 2003 and more than 200,000 fans paid their final respects.
Cruz, who was married but childless, recently won the Smithsonian’s “Iconic American” contest, and will be memorialized at the National Museum of American History. The honor says almost as much about the reach and impact of our cultural contributions as it does about Cruz’s towering talent.
Not everyone liked (or likes) these remarkable women, of course, as you can see by the tweets that frame their photos. And still they stand for you, young Latinas — just as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor does — as women who by dint of talent, intellect or conscience — but mostly determination— refused to size down their dreams and efforts to fit the statistics about Latinas.