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January 14, 2011

Latino Students Say Lawyers’ Priorities Should Include Education

Alvin Ramirez (left) and Jeffrey Flores (right) testify at the Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities hearing in San Francisco.

Alvin Ramirez (left) and Jeffrey Flores (right) testify at the Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities hearing in San Francisco.

“When I was 11, I was told that a woman’s role was in the kitchen, but I want to have a different story,” said Norma Perez, a junior at San Francisco’s Mission High School.

Perez was one of five students who testified at the second regional hearing of the _’s Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities held Thursday in San Francisco.

Perez said her future will include studying to become a lawyer.  An 11th grader who came to the United States from Guatemala two years ago not knowing English, Perez expressed her educational aspirations to the commission fluently in her recently acquired English.

The students who testified reminded the commissioners why they were holding these hearings — to promote civic responsibility, fairness and justice among all segments of society.

“We look to you,” said University of California, Berkley, student Tahitia Dean to the group of lawyers and judges on the commission. “To those who have paved the way … we will continue to prove that we are worth the effort.”

Dean, who is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated legally, spoke of the need for lower-income students to find additional resources to help them fulfill their educational dreams.

Norma Perez, Mission High School junior, speaks to the Commission about her dream of becoming a lawyer.

Norma Perez, Mission High School junior, speaks to the Commission about her dream of becoming a lawyer.

“Often Latinos are forced to choose between passion and practicality,” when it comes to staying in college or surviving, Dean said

Commissioner Eduardo Padron, president of Miami Dade College, commented that at his college, “Most students are working and 38 percent live in poverty.  One trip to the emergency room or a raise in rent can cause many students to drop out.”

Without a higher degree in the 21st century knowledge economy, continued Padron, an individual will have little opportunity.  “College is a real need in our society, but you need the financial resources and support to finish college.”

The high school students who testified at the hearing indicated they are interested in an education that includes college, and beyond.

Noe Rivas, a senior, said his desire to become a doctor drove him to leave his family in El Salvador and make his way — alone at the age of 15 — to the United States.  It took him two months with stops along the way to work to earn money.  He made the journey because in El Salvador, he said, “The government could not provide an education there for me.”

Jeffrey Flores, an 11th grader, said he spent most of his life in private schools, but he is now at a public high school where resources are lacking.  He wondered about the fate of his classmates as well as himself when there are up to 30 students in some classes and so few AP and honors classes offered.

Alvin Ramirez said that his parents work around the clock to take care of and provide for him.  He said, “I can go to college and one day, I can take care of them.”

The Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities will convene in New York for its next regional hearing March 23.

Note: For a Spanish-language version of this story, please click here.

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