Pew: More than one in five U.S. children are Latino

The Pew Hispanic Center released a study today that shows more than one in five children in the United States are Hispanic - more than doubling since 1980.

Half of these 16 million children are second-generation meaning one of their parents was born outside the United States.

Pew also found that "first and second generation Latino children are less likely than third or higher generation children to be fluent in English and to have parents who completed high school. They are more likely to live in poverty. But they are less likely than third or higher generation Latino children to live in single parent households."

This study made me think about what happens to these young people, especially the children of immigrants, when they enter the classroom. Here is a personal essay by Evelyn Oropeza, one of my students at Columbia College Chicago.

Since I can remember all my teachers were blue-eyed blondes who only spoke English. In second grade, one of my teachers told me to draw a picture of myself. When I finished drawing the body, without thinking about it I drew a blue- eyed blonde. Most children in my class drew the same thing.

"Teacher no understand lo que dices," I shouted out with my right hand shooting up in the air.

As the oldest in the family, it was difficult to understand what the teacher was telling me. Spanish is my native language and I spoke it at home.
After I got home from school, my mother came home from the factory and started cooking sopa de fideo. I used to help my mother with the dishes and sing "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom," by Selena. My dad got home and turned on the television that was on top of el refrigerador. The news show Primer Impacto was on in Spanish.

"¿Mami me ayudas con mi tarea?" I asked my mother as she washed dishes with Palmolive.

"Haber hija," she glanced at my homework and said, "¿Para que clase es esto?"

"Para history," I told her.

We started to eat sopa with bistec asado con papas. While she heated tortillas my mother put the book by the stove. She was trying so hard to help me but couldn't understand what the Boston Tea Party was all about.

"Haber Papi. ¿Me ayudas?" I asked as I got the big hardcover book from my mother, and put it on the side of his plate. I sat on his lap while he looked at the sentences.

"Uh no, hija. No lo entiendo," he said telling me he didn't understand.

"Ve llamale a tu primo para que te ayuda," my mother said telling me to call my cousin for help.

"Great," I rolled my eyes and walked away.

Across America there are many children who have trouble learning in school because of their native language. Parents who migrated into the country cannot tutor their children because they can't read, speak or write English.

According to the U.S Census, there are 53,600 Hispanic teachers in the United States, 31 million residents speak Spanish at home and 18 percent of the nation's elementary and high school students are Hispanic.

As one of the many children who had a hard time in school, the U.S Department of Education should do something about it. We need more pre-kindergarten, dual language programs and bilingual teachers.

Throughout grammar school and junior high, I've been a C average student. I could not even help my brother and sisters with their homework because I was having a hard time as well. Instead, they were the ones trying to help me.

In sixth grade, I felt more at ease because I had my first Hispanic teacher. The majority of my class was so happy to have her. She read to us in both Spanish and English, but mostly taught in English.

What I remember from her is that she was always calm and rarely disciplined the students. The blue-eyed, blonde teacher did discipline the students constantly because as students we didn't understand them.

I remember her telling me. "Evelyn why haven't you finished your test? Didn't you study at home?"

"No teacher, don't understand," I told her.

So I stayed in class to finish the test during recess like most of my Spanish-speaking classmates.

Evelyn Oropeza is still in school and a journalism major at Columbia College Chicago.
You can read more of her stories at Latina Voices.

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