Monmouth, OR — Hispanic students from 65 Oregon high schools converged on the campus of Western Oregon University on March 11 to get a taste of college life — and perhaps realize the value that higher education can add to their lives.
An estimated 1,800 blue-shirted students filled the bleachers at WOU’s gym for an introduction to the 21st annual César E. Chávez Leadership Conference.
The day’s program offered some two-dozen lectures covering a wide variety of serious topics. By all odds the favorite of the day came from syndicated cartoon artist Lalo Alcaraz. His Latino-oriented drawings ranged from Lady Liberty with a black eye in the shape of Arizona to a Reagan-like vaquero standing in front of the border saying, “Señor Obama — tear down this wall!” The students reacted strongly to each with their hands or their lungs, depending on the subject of the drawing.
The general theme of the conference was making today’s students aware that they could improve their lives by adding to their education and honing their skills.
Paying the way
A college education can cost a formidable sum. However, there are ways to find money to help.
The ECMC Foundation offers a plan which can provide $4,000 for a student’s first year in college. At a school such as Western Oregon, that would cover more than half the expenses. The foundation also operates The College Place, a site “where students can get help polishing their applications and untangling the red tape and paperwork of applying for financial aid.”
In his seminar, Caleb Rosado noted that if a student ranks at the top of his or her high school — and the student’s family has an income less than $50,000 — Harvard University will make a very good offer.
“Call Harvard,” Rosado said, “They’ll pay for everything.” The program had proved so successful for Harvard that Yale came up with a similar program. Rosado is a professor of urban studies at Warner Pacific College in Portland.
Becoming an international cartoonist
Lalo Alcaraz’ “La Cucaracha” cartoons have appeared in more than 60 newspapers from Los Angeles to New York City, as well as from Mexico to Germany. He parlayed his stand-up satire into a regular spot on radio — “The Pocho Hour of Power.” He finds time to speak to audiences at schools and colleges.
“Migra Mouse” is a 119-page collection of Alcaraz’ political cartoons that date from 1992 through 2004. Mixing humor and a bit of ire, Alcaraz recreates a decade of history well worth reviewing.
He also has a 2011 calendar that goes a long way beyond telling you that the Cinco de Mayo falls on a Thursday. It is, he notes wryly, also the day that beer companies celebrate because they make a lot of money.
Has Alcaraz made a lot of money? No, but, he says, “I make enough to get by.” Noting that he has three children who will be going to college, he quips, “I’ll have to get a TV show.”
How can today’s student convert his or her talent into a great lifestyle and a comfortable income?
Alcaraz has a simply suggestion: “You have to draw every day. You have to write every day.”
“The main skill required,” he says with a touch of irony, “is to be dumb enough to keep doing it.”
Having a driving force also helps. Alcaraz makes no secret of his.
“My passion,” he says, “is defending the human rights of immigrants — all the immigrants in the United States.” That passion shows clearly in his works.
One approach is to confront a problem with anger. Another is to address problems with laughter. “Satire provides another way of looking at a problem.”
Although people have to express themselves, Alcaraz counsels writers to “practice responsible free speech.” People can say things that lead to violence.
As a parting shot, Alcaraz observes, “Charlie Sheen is not Latino and if he were, he’d have been shot by police.”
Surviving college in the 21st century
Why do 25 percent of college freshmen drop out? After all, they had been graduated from high school — and high school and college are not all that different, are they?
Of the 25 percent who quit college after the first year, Caleb Rosado says, most are Latinos. The reason? “The skills you need to succeed in high school are not the skills you need to succeed in college.”
The problem, as he sees it, is that Latinos are not academically prepared for college. That missing preparation takes the form of language.
It takes only two years for a Spanish speaker to learn social English, he says. Social English suffices to get a student through high school. College requires a more refined language — academic English.
How can you acquire this secret language — this academic language? You can read intelligently written books. You can associate with educated people, people who have been — or will be going to — college.
“You have to shift your skills,” he says, “If your friends are not going to college, you won’t enhance your skills from them.”
“Change your role models, change your reference groups,” he urges. “You cannot be what you want to be unless you change yourself.”
Rosado notes that there is a strong correlation between the number of books in your house and the years you will spend in college.
“You want smart kids?” he asks. He answers the question quickly: “Buy lots of books.”
Rosado is an adherent to the belief that travel broadens. “Go to a foreign country — not Mexico or Spain — but France or Germany,” he suggests. “Learn a third language.”
If you want to compete in the global economy, he suggests, you need to expand your horizons.
One other hint: Rosado suggests we stay in step with the times. A century ago we lived on farms. Two decades ago we lived in cities. Now we live on the internet.
Every year at the conference, students are honored for their creative works. Listed below are this year’s winners.
1st place — Angeles G. Gutiérrez, South Albany High School
2nd place — Andrea Gonzáles, Molalla High School
3rd place — Antonio Ruvalcaba, McKay High School
Honorable mention — José Morales, Molalla High School
1st place — Jenifer León Aguilera, Newberg High School
2nd place — Elizabeth Carrillo, Molalla High School
3rd place — Hugo Nicolás Muñoz, McNary High School
Honorable mention — Andrea León Aguilera, Newberg High School
1st place — Antonio Catón Murillo, McKay High School
2nd place — Cynthia Higgen, Glencoe High School
3rd place — Alfonso Calixtro, Woodburn High School
Honorable mention — Giovanna Casas, West Salem High School
Photo Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
Syndicated cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz showed 1,899 outstanding Latino high school students that there was more than one way to react to injustice. As they laughed at his lampoons of opponents of immigrants, they learned that laughter can bring change as fast — or faster — than shouting.