On Herman Badillo and the legacy of literacy

Opinion piece

Robert Morgan


“Why aren’t Hispanics succeeding like Asians, Jews, and other immigrant groups in America?” That is the question posed in the opening description of former U.S. Congressman Herman Badillo’s new book, One Nation, One Standard: An Ex-Liberal on How Hispanics Can Succeed Just Like Other Immigrant Groups.

Everybody’s enojado (upset) with Badillo, says retired New Yorker Juan Diaz, a Puerto Rican who, like the Honorable Mr. Badillo and many other Hispanics, made the trek to the United States in search of work and opportunities for a better life. The website nylatinojournal.com’s Rafael Merino reported last month on leaks of the ‘controversial manifesto,’ as the publisher calls it, publicizing Mr. Badillo’s ideas for solving the problems affecting Hispanics in the United States. Many of those problems, claim the book’s author, stem from the lack of education, or more pointedly, Hispanics’ unwillingness to stress the value of said education.

As a son of migrant Hispanics, this writer knows full well the impact of parental neglect of student needs. Moreover as a child who began school in a bilingual education program, which Mr. Badillo himself championed throughout his career, according to Mr. Merino, I’m also familiar with the difficulties of having to learn English while living in a largely Latino community. But the deciding factor in determining success or failure, based on my own observations, was the amount of concern the parents placed on their children attending and succeeding in school. And if this regard for education were handed down to their offspring, then future generations would grow to value education. As it is, what is handed down collectively in Latino America has been a disregard for academia as evidenced by the abysmal graduation rates of Hispanic students, which by some measures are as low as 15% nationally (Casey Foundation, 2006) to at least 20% (Economic Policy Institute, EPI Book, 2006), far outpacing other groups.

And as Mr. Badillo attempts to highlight a discourse in his own state, we should take a closer look at what we are doing here in Texas, where Hispanic dropout rates tend to be among the highest in the nation (Pew Hispanic Center, 2003, cited, www.clipfile.org, J. Benton). Depending on which agency is reporting, the figures show no improvement or not much improvement. It is difficult to disprove Mr. Badillo’s basic premise that Hispanic parents are bequeathing to their children a legacy of academic failure.

The Dallas Independent School District, with a student body over 60% Hispanic, is trying to tackle the problem of parent illiteracy by offering adults the opportunity take free courses via the Adult Basic Education Program. How well this program serves the Dallas Community is a subject this writer will explore in future articles. A telltale sign of its efficiency is the average daily attendance, which if it remains low causes the classes to be shut down. As I write, I am moving on from one location in Oak Cliff that was closed due to a lack of parental involvement and relocating to another one in the East Grand section of Dallas that was once home to large numbers of Vietnamese immigrants. Many of those immigrants have long gone, victims of their success in education and employment.

Many of these immigrants came with the same baggage, a lack of English skills and limited opportunities as their Hispanic counterparts. Yet as the Latino community largely wallows in the depths of failure, few Vietnamese share their fate. We could debate Mr. Badillo’s question as to why Hispanics don’t succeed as well as other immigrants or we could just remain enojado.

Note: Enrollment for courses in the above mentioned Adult Basic Education program begin on Tuesday, January 23rd at 6:00PM at O.M. Roberts Elementary, located at 4919 E. Grand Avenue, (972)-749-8700. Both basic English and citizen classes are offered free of charge.