by Seth Saavedra │Wednesday, March 21st, 2018
What does it mean to be "Hispanic" in these United States? In New Mexico? And what exactly is "Hispanic" and how do I know if I'm one?
I don't ask these questions to be rhetorical or cheeky. These have been, and are, the subconscious backdrop of my mind. As soon as I move past providing my name and address I know what's coming:
Confusing me even further, I lived in California for a decade. Here I first became a Latino, then Latino/a, before being told I'm actually "Latinx". "Multi-racial" it is. I now embrace the ambiguity.
Fine, I'll be whatever you need me to be. Let me be your distorted reflection - the wavy image you recognize mostly for the parts that don't look like you. To my White friends, I'm definitely not White. To my Brown friends, not that Brown.
Now that I've moved back to New Mexico where nearly half of us identify as Hispanic, and even more of us, regardless of skin tone, have an "x" or "z" in our last name. A semantic genealogical party I'm excluded from.
Keep the Family Close
With 61 percent of New Mexico's 337,485 public school students identified as Hispanic, they are our mean. As go our Hispanic students, as goes public education. Same with poor students, as 71 percent of students here qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The future well-being of The Land of Enchantment is quantitatively and intricately tied to the success of our Hispanic students.
Increasingly, this is the story of America too. With three times as many Hispanic students as teachers, both groups face headwinds. This reality remains: we can't make progress as a state without students that look like me doing better.
My Old Flex Is My New Flex Now
We know graduation rates are in imperfect proxy for student achievement. There are schools with 85 percent graduation rates yet have less than 5 percent of students on level for math - and less than 15 percent for reading.
Even so, graduation rates are a helpful measure in understanding how schools are serving their students. Diplomas still mean something as a signal to the employment market. For now. Let's see how our Hispanic students do in graduating high school.
As usual, I ask that you explore the data yourself. Below is a bar chart that includes every public high school with graduation data in New Mexico. Find the high school you went to. Look up the school your student, nephew, grandchild, or sibling goes to. Or the one your future child might attend. Don't be shy.
We have no fewer than 57 high schools with Hispanic graduation rates 10 points or more below the statewide average of 70.5 percent. In fact, we have 33 high schools that are 20 points or more under that average. This is injustice before our eyes. This is institutional racism in action.
Gadsden, Las Cruces, and Truth or Consequences Stand Out. Again.
With all their Hispanic students beating the statewide graduation average, these districts down south are getting impressive results. This should be no surprise as I've written about all three previously. My observation is that strong leadership plus a commitment to excellence for all students are shared traits.
Look What You've Done
Strictly by the current numbers of Hispanic students - much less their anticipated growth - our future is Brown. We as a state and country cannot improve educational outcomes without better reaching Hispanic students.
This will require more Hispanic teachers, high-quality dual language programs, culturally relevant curriculum, and higher expectations in and of Hispanic communities. We know it's possible and, given Mexican food's triumph over American cuisine, there is latent craving for our culture and people.