In the farm town where I live, over 90% of students are Latinos. In classrooms around the US, Latinos include 25% of all students, the largest minority group. In the world of educational leadership, they are noticeably absent. I search for traces of my students wherever I go, hoping to better understand, relate to, and support them. Too often I find myself asking, where are all the Latinos?
As I struggle to wrap my mind around this disparity, I get a sense that Latinos are a hidden class in this country. If America was a car, they would be the engine. Grinding away, unseen, much less understood, by most of us who benefit from their efforts.
SPEAK YOUR TRUTH
When I hear people talk about immigrants taking American jobs, I see families of my students, doing jobs no one else will do. I’ve lived on a farm my entire life. Modern farming requires hundreds of people to get the job done. The only non-Latino/a people I've seen picking cherries, pulling weeds, or sorting onions are the children of white farmers.
I’ve felt their silent presence when I travel, too. In hotels and restaurants, a world of people race around, unseen, leaving their shadows behind in the form of a freshly made bed, a spotless glass, or a clean table. Yet when we think of where our food comes from, or why our travels are so smooth, we rarely remember those behind the scenes, making it all possible.
This summer, I was reminded of how hidden Latinos are, even in education. It hit me when I attended a conference of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). The coordinators clearly tried to emphasize equity and diversity. Many sessions were led by people of color, significantly more than I have seen at other education conferences. Even so, I counted the Latino/a attendees and speakers on one hand. I left the conference frustrated, again asking, where are all the Latinos?
You may be thinking, we need to recruit more Latino/a teachers! And yes, only 8% of US teachers are Latinos, a long way from the 25%, or 90%, that would match the students in our schools. Even in my community, most of the Latino/a school staff are doing the jobs that receive the least amount of attention. But that doesn’t account for their absence in educational leadership at the national level. There are many Latino/a educators who have been honored for their work around the country. Just from my personal contacts, in 2017 alone, they include:
- Ricardo (Ricky) Castro, IL Teacher of the Year
- José Corona, WA Teacher of the Year Finalist
- Gloria Pereyra-Robertson, OR Teacher of the Year
- Adina Brito, WA Principal of the Year
- Ricardo Iñiguez, WA Assistant Principal of the Year
- Jessica Solano, FL Teacher of the Year
- Michelle Doherty, AZ Teacher of the Year
- Stephanie Gurule-Leyba, NM Teacher of the Year
I know others whose leadership still deserves to be celebrated. People like Eva, my first mentor. Or Letty, who has been a leader of my school for years, both as a paraprofessional and as a teacher. Or Michelle, Maria, Maria, Ana, Alex, or Manny, who teach me through their actions as well as their words.
These voices guide me. I hear my students when José shares about his childhood as a chronically tardy student, spending long morning hours picking asparagus before school. I feel them when Gloria talks about the discrimination she’s faced at school, even as a teacher. I also know these friends aren't the only Latino/a leaders out there. At this conference of our country’s “most accomplished teachers”, I kept thinking, where are all the Latinos?
The truth is, there were Latinos at NNSTOY. Just not sitting in the audience or speaking from the platform. After they served us lunch and cleaned our rooms, we talked about their children behind closed doors. Each time I thanked the servers for my meal, my discomfort grew. Were they looking around the room and thinking it too? Where are all the Latinos?
I finally wrote to Ricky, the Illinois Teacher of the Year. I thought it would encourage him when I said, “NNSTOY needs your voice, so bad.” He understood my frustration but went on to tell me about the summer camp he runs, about his daughter soon to have surgery. I understood that right now, his efforts are needed at home and in his community. I felt guilty for adding to his burden.
On the last day, I came across a blog post about a group of teachers who met with Secretary DeVos the day before the conference. The post praised the diversity of the group (although still, there were no Latinos). It talked about the “invisible tax” that black teachers pay, one that forces more leadership on them than they are due. I thought again of my conversation with Ricky and reflected on how this tax is imposed on teachers of many different groups. I wiped tears from my eyes and asked myself again, where are all the Latinos?
ACCEPT & EXPECT NON-CLOSURE
Since that week, I’ve often found myself thinking back to words that Clint Smith shared with us there. He reminded us that we must hold the truth equally in two hands, the good and the bad. Because reality is both. Only, I need a lot more hands.
These are all truths that I know:
Yes, Latinos are underrepresented in the teaching profession.
Yes, some have been lauded for their work.
Yes, they do bear an extra burden.
Yes, we need their voices to help us understand our Latino/a students.
Yes, those accomplished voices still remain hidden to most of us.
So, where are the Latinos? Maybe that’s the wrong question. They’re the biggest minority group in the United States. They’re my students, friends, mentors, and colleagues. I know where they are. I depend on their perspective, but I don’t hear it enough.
Maybe that give me a better question to ask:
Where are their voices?
And, how do we listen?
Let's Dig a Little Deeper...
Curious about the subheadings?
Check out the book Courageous Conversations About Race, by Glenn E. Singleton. Thanks to Lee-Ann Stephens & Melissa Collins for inspiring this post during your session on Courageous Leadership at NNSTOY.
WhAT About Those Labels?
The most difficult part of writing this piece was selecting a word to identify a group to which I don't belong. I finally settled on the term "Latinos" after many conversations and much advice from the friends I mentioned above and more. The ways we define ourselves are deeply personal, and I have learned so much this last few weeks. If you are interested in joining me on this journey to understand why people identify themselves the way they do (Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, Latinx, etc), check out these great pieces from Dieste, NPR, or Huffington Post. Or better yet... ask someone you know!