By Maria de Lourdes Perez Ramírez
María and Luis Durán do not speak a word in English nor have a formal education. Yet, the couple who came to the US from El Salvador in 1989 was the critical element in their two children’s educational success. Success that happens because of what Mariela Dabbah, a Latino education expert, calls “the mandate.”
Dabbah, founder of Latinos in College identifies several reasons why many Latinos are not achieving the academic success they should.
One contributing factor of the low academic achievement among Hispanics, she said, is that the majority of Hispanics who come to the U.S. don’t even think about going to college as a possibility. However, she says, “The core message —and the one we have to convey to all Hispanics — is that everyone can go to college; that all Hispanics should have the opportunity to go to college.”
At a moment when some ‘education experts,’ including a Harvard University’s report that asserts that college is not for everyone, Dabbah’s message is critical for Hispanics.
“Despite of what others say, we have to instill in the Hispanic mindset the positive message that going to college is the way to go, so they internalize it as a possibility, not as something too remote to achieve.”
Mariella believes that “the mindset to achieve and to get a college education must be passed down from parents to children early in life, as a mandate; a given no one has second thoughts of.”
The parents of Luis Durán, an Arizona State University senior at ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, instilled in their son that mindset and gave him the mandate from the time he was still in his mother’s womb.
“This is my son, the lawyer, the doctor, the architect,” María would say out loud, referring to her unborn son. The mandate never stopped. The statement “You are my handsome son (or daughter) the architect (or lawyer, doctor)” became both parents’ mantra when talking with Luis or his sister Jennifer. It was not whether their children would go to college. “We never considered that he would not attend college” said Luis Sr.
Luis Durán Jr. proves that the mandate works. In 2009 he received a $100,000 Ronald McDonald’s HACER Scholarship to study at the university of his choosing. His sister, Jennifer Durán, was named a Gates Millennium Scholar.
Two successful, Hispanic college students out of two in the same family are not just a coincidence, but the product of a mindset and a mandate to achieve.
Maria de Lourdes Perez Ramírez is a journalist and educator with experience in the home school, high school and higher education levels. She taught at the University of Puerto Rico Humacao Campus’ Education and Communications Departments, worked in the public relations and nonprofit communications fields and authored and distributed an education newsletter for Spanish-speaking parents.