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Opening the Doors to Higher Education
Sonia Arriola

In recent study compiled by the American Association of University Women, Latinas were found less likely to graduate from high school then any other ethnic groups. Latinas were also found to be more likely to ten to domestic responsibilities, such as caring for younger siblings after school and were found less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree. One event is helping young Latinas overcome these statistics: The Latina Youth Conference.

The conference is an annual event at Santa Monica College that has been held every spring semester since 1989. It was founded by Guadalupe Castro, Gloria Curiel, Maria Leon-Vasquez, and Rita Morales to encourage and motivate young Latinas to pursue higher education and become successful women. The Latina youth conference inspires young Latinas by providing opportunities to meet other Latinas working in a variety of professions. With a combination of an inspirational keynote address speaker, interactive workshops, a college and career expo and interviews with professionals, girls from all around the Los Angeles and Santa Monica area attended the annual conference and were give insight into future professional opportunities. Some of the schools that attended included Los Angeles highs school, Santa Monica High, and Belmont High School, along with some after school programs that help prepare students of color for college.

The students were welcome in the amphitheater by the co-chairs of the event, Maria Martinez and Ana Maria Jara, who are both counselors at Santa Monica College. They introduced the keynote speaker, Maria Elena Durazo, President of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) Local 11. She spoke about how her parents and their 10 children came as immigrants from Mexico and worked in the fields from Southern California all the way north to Oregon. The family’s hard work enabled her to attend St. Mary’s College in Moraga. Durazo also stated that her family’s history inspired her to become a leader in the fight for immigrants’ rights and the political empowerment of the immigrant community.

Following the speech, the girls and their parents attended workshops. The workshops were divided according to grade level and even though some topics were the same, the information varied depending on the grade of the girls. Their parents also attended workshops where they learned how to encourage their children to achieve academically. They also understood their big responsibility in their daughters’ education; Latinas need to hear from all adults in their lives that college and professional careers are rewarding options and ones that they can achieve. Advisors must curb tendencies to promote gender and racially stereotyped careers and must ensure that Latinas are not underrepresented in college-prep classes.

More K-12 schools and colleges must recruit and train teachers from the Latino/a community as role models who can better connect educational goals to the students’ cultural background. The whole family has to be actively involved in the college preparation process. College requirements need to be satisfied. Families need to understand the long-term benefits of attending college.

Lunch was provided by Casablanca Mexican restaurant after which the girls attend a college and career expo where they got to interact with colleges, universities and professional Latinas. The college/university expo had a variety of public and private schools that including UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Los Angeles, UCLA, and USC. In the career expo the girls got to interview professional Latinas in different careers, which included health, art, photography, and law enforcement. After the career and college expo, the students went back to the amphitheater for the closing ceremonies which had raffles, poetry reading and live band. When it was all over the students that attended left with a wealth of information and hopes of achieving success in higher education…si se puede!

Sonia Arriola a student at SMC and president of ENLACE and next semester’s ICC Secretary.





The Women’s College Magazine at Santa Monica College
Copyright 2003 Santa Monica College