Education remains a priority in the Latino community

Alex Banda spent 15 of his 46 years on earth in prison. Now, the Fresno resident who pored over law books while in prison wants to be a lawyer.

Joanna Guerrero recalls getting beat up by a meth-addicted father. Now, she sees the beauty of art and will major in that field.

Patricio Galindo served with the Marine Corps in Afghanistan. Now, he goes out of his way to make sure veterans are not forgotten.

Yvette Espinoza wanted to take German language classes in college, but a scheduling conflict led her to the Chinese language. Now, she speaks three languages fluently.

Why are we bringing up their stories? Because these Latinos join thousands of others in the San Joaquín Valley who have demonstrated that education can provide the panacea needed to bring people out of poverty, hopelessness, or stress. Or, it can enrich one’s life.

Farmworker leader César E. Chávez, in a 1984 address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, said: “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned how to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

We congratulate Banda, Guerrero, Galindo, Espinoza and thousands of other Latinos who will receive – or have received – their college degrees. We are sure their education will pay great dividends not just for them but for the entire community.

For too long, Latinos – especially those in the Valley – have lagged others in educational achievement. The Valley ranks among the worst in the nation when it comes to poverty, income, health and health access. It also ranks low in college degrees, including master’s and doctorate degrees.

The lack of college achievement contributes to the other low indicators.

Locally and nationally, the picture is starting to improve.

Latinos account for about half of the enrollment at Fresno State; and, the university’s Latino graduation celebration, the biggest in the country, outdraws the regular commencement by 4,000.

The Latino dropout rate in high school dropped to a record 10 percent in 2016, according to the most recent report by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Forty-seven percent of Latinos ages 18-24 have enrolled in college, said the center.

But, behind the improvements, there is a big negative that should not be ignored: Latinos still lag other ethnic groups in obtaining a four-year degree. The Pew Hispanic Center said, in 2014, that only 15 percent of Latinos ages 25-29 have earned a bachelor’s degree.

That compares with 63 percent of Asians, 41 percent of whites and 22 percent of blacks.

The reason: Latinos are more likely to enroll in a community college.

This is the reason Vida en el Valle has continuously covered education – from scholarship recipients to honored teachers to graduation ceremonies to academic competitions. By spotlighting education achievements, we provide the Latino community with role models that are sorely needed.

If someone like Banda or Guerrero or Galindo or Espinoza can succeed, what’s to keep others from doing the same?