Opening the Doors to Higher Education
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
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
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.