Latinos Must Urge Community to Take ESL Classes

Latinos Must Urge Community to Take ESL ClassesIn an interconnected world in which English is the language of business, it’s hard to believe most Latin American countries don’t incorporate it in their curricula until middle school or high school.

As Andrés Oppenheimer points out in his book, Basta de Historias, this is one of the factors that seriously limits the economic future of the region and that of its people.

I see examples of this limitation around me on a daily basis – people who have left their family and their culture behind to come to the U.S. in search of a dream that for many, without language fluency, remains elusive. (It’s no secret that with few exceptions, speaking English is the first step for immigrants to attain social mobility in this country.)

Coming from countries where English is not taught in public schools early enough (if at all!) and arriving largely without college degrees at a time when most jobs require some kind of post secondary education, Hispanics are confronted with a double disadvantage. Unless they address it soon after their arrival it affects their ability to progress in the U.S.

Low hourly rates keep them working two or three jobs, which doesn’t leave much time for studying English, keeping them trapped in the same low-level jobs. In addition, many Latinos live in close-knit Spanish-speaking communities, which reinforces the idea that English is not really necessary to survive.

That may be true if the main goal in moving to the United States was just to survive. But for most immigrants, the reason they left everything behind was to have a better living standard and more financial opportunities.

Too often Latinos don’t connect learning the language and furthering their education with better opportunities. But you’re reading this in English. You know exactly what I’m talking about. So, why have I chosen to preach to the choir?

Because we all know someone who needs a little nudge to get moving and do something about their language skills, someone who’s always complaining about being stuck. Latinos need to step up their game if they want to have viable jobs and careers for themselves and their kids, and all of us must help to pull our community up.

At a time when technology has made it easier for adults to learn English, there really aren’t many excuses left. You can take online courses at whatever time is convenient for you (many of them free or at a low cost) or use applications, such as Voxy (, which delivers contextual and personalized content through the Internet and mobile applications so you can even learn English while you commute to work.

Those of us lucky enough to have an education and to speak English need to continue making this the most relevant issue for our community. And for that to happen, you and I need to do our part daily: We need to advocate for people to learn English and get an education every chance we get.

Whether you post messages on your social media pages, provide specific guidance to your neighbor who only speaks Spanish, or offer to practice conversation skills with your relatives who have most recently arrived in the country.

Let’s take a page from the book of the Jewish community, which has been successful at educating its members for generations, and assume individual and group responsibility to pull up the Hispanic community.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it surely takes a lot more people to raise a community.

Mariela Dabbah is the CEO of and an award-winning, best-selling author and speaker. Her new book El poder de la mujer will be published by C.A.Press (an imprint of the Penguin Group), March 2012. Follow her on Twitter: @marieladabbah and on like her on Facebook:

Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

This article was originally published on Fox News Latino.

Despite Tests, Latino Students Still Lagging

Despite Tests, Latino Students Still LaggingEducators and politicians have been trying for decades to chip away at the wide academic achievement gap between Latino students and others. Millions have been poured into programs to figure out a way to spruce up Latino test scores.

Yet, after years of effort and millions of dollars spent, Latinos high school students are still not prepared for college level work, according to results from the college entrance exam known was the ACT.

In this test that rivals the SAT and measures what a student has learned throughout their academic careers, only 13 percent of Hispanic students (and 5 percent of black students) are likely to pass typical first-year college courses in English, math, reading and science, according to ACT results. In contrast, 42 percent of Asians and 32 percent of whites met all four benchmarks.

“There is still a lot of ground that needs to be gained by Hispanic students in terms of what they are learning,” said ACT spokesperson Ed Colby. “This is a nationwide problem that has to be tackled at the national, state and school levels.”

The effort began 20 years ago, when George W. Bush came into office and started an agency within the Department of Education devoted to Hispanics. But it did not end there.

In this presidential administration alone, nearly $180 million have gone toward funding education in high-poverty areas and there is a push to increase funding and quality for early childhood education programs.

Yet the scores remain stagnant.

The benchmarks are minimum scores in each section that indicates whether a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better, or a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better, in an entry-level college course of the given subject. The sections are scored on a scale of 1 to 36. Nationally, the 2012 composite score for the ACT was 21.1. For Hispanics, it was 18.9, a modest increase of .2 over five years.

The overall trend for Hispanics meeting the benchmarks is positive. Thirteen percent of those tested met all four benchmarks this year, compared with 11 percent last year. Still, the racial difference of the scores, while alarming, is just another data point in a larger, troubling picture of educational disparity that has yet to be addressed, say some.

“We’ve been having this gap in education for many years,” said Mariela Dabbah, founder of Latinos in College, an organization that helps Latinos get into college. “We need more programs to address students earlier. We really need to address preschool education and Hispanic access to preschool education and support for elementary years.”

One reason for the low scores: the courses taken by Latinos are not rigorous or taken in the right sequence before college, according to an ACT summary. For example, students who were ready for Algebra before 9th grade and took more than three years of math had a better chance of test success than those who weren’t. Almost 21 percent of tested Latinos, however, took three years or less of math and did not fare as well.

But the picture might not entirely be grim – the ACT’s ability to forecast college readiness has been challenged.

A report released last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research indicated that two of the four tests – reading and science – are not good predictors of college readiness. The other two tests, math and English, more closely correlate with a student’s performance, according to the study. Latino scores follow the national trend of scoring lower on Science and English and higher on Reading and Math.

The ACT disputes the claims emphasizing that the test looks to see whether students have mastered basic skills necessary to build from.

While opponents to standardized testing caution the public against using scores such as the ACT as a sole predictor college success, they say the implications of the results reinforce long running educational problems.

“We need an approach to go after core problems like poverty,” said Robert Schaeffer of FairTest, a watchdog of the test industry. “Poor kids are at schools with fewer resources and less trained teachers. If we want to fix the problem and seriously close gaps we need to stop fooling ourselves that testing is the magic bullet.”

Soni Sangha is a freelance writer based in New York City.

This article was orginally published on Fox News Latino.

Are Hispanics Just an Abstraction for ‘Time’ Magazine?

Are Hispanics Just an Abstraction for 'Time' Magazine?Back in February, when Time Magazine graced its cover with a group of Latinos and correctly predicted that the Latino voter would define this election, I was hopeful that something in mainstream media might be changing.

That starting then, stories featuring Hispanics would be seamlessly integrated into all other stories. How naïve of me.

Unfortunately, despite the accuracy of its prediction, instead of recognizing that, as a leading news organization it needed to start looking at Hispanics through a different lens, Time continues to look at this population as an abstraction.

“Undocumented immigrants” are now one of the 40 candidates for Time’s “Person of the Year” cover. Is that all Hispanics are to general market publications? The voter? The undocumented immigrant? The low-paid worker? The sexy Latina?

A bunch of stereotypes that don’t deserve sharing the front page, top-50 lists, or individualized recognition side-by-side with non-Hispanic influential people? (And if Time is going to choose an abstraction for this year’s cover, didn’t the Latino voter influence the news more than undocumented immigrants anyway?)

I understand that Hispanics are not a monolithic group and therefore they themselves might be hard-pressed to come up with the name of a leader who they feel represents the entire community. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a host of well-known, high-achieving, critical players on the world stage that could be part of the list from which voters select the “Person of the Year.”

The fact that there aren’t any individual Latino names at all begets the question, how diverse is the network the Time editors are tapping into for recommendations?

My wild guess: not diverse enough.

Above and beyond the political leaders who are shaping this country like U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, or Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, there were plenty of Latino men and women who played relevant roles in the news this year such as Ryan Lochte, María Elena Salinas, Jorge Ramos, Shakira, Sofía Vergara, Felipe Calderón and many others.

You could argue that they are great examples but that they aren’t mainstream enough to have made it to the cover but, you know what? neither would many of the other 39 people listed as candidates, like Psy, Mo Farah, or Sandra Fluke, for that matter. Nevertheless, they are part of the list. Someone got them there. Someone gave them their due.

I was reminded yesterday of how slowly things move when it comes to inclusion when I saw Lincoln, Spielberg’s latest movie.

It’s easy to feel rage and disbelief about people’s narrow mindedness when you watch a bunch of U.S. congressmen viscerally oppose the 13th amendment to end slavery. When you see how terrified they were about black people voting and gaining other rights. (“What’s next – women?” is one of the scariest lines in the movie.)

Yet Lincoln is a timely reminder that although that discussion took place almost 150 years ago, we still have a long way to go to better integrate the different races and ethnicities that make up our country.

And one place where this lack of integration continues to be evident is in our newsrooms. You don’t have to look too hard to find out that media networks, likely in response to their advertisers’ demands, continue to keep their publications and shows segmented. As if our multicultural market had not radically transformed who reads and watches the news at any given time.

Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

This article was originally published on Fox News Latino.

International Women’s Day: What is There to Celebrate?

International Women's DayLately, when I turn on the TV I feel like I’m on a time warp. After months of hearing white male politicians discuss female reproductive rights including candidates such as Rick Santorum whose extreme position on abortion would send this country back several decades, here comes Rush Limbaugh calling a female college student a slut after she talked about the impact on female students of the lack of contraception coverage by her school’s health insurance during an unofficial congressional hearing. What year did you say this was?

But today is International Women’s Day (IWD), so stop the engines of regression and let’s celebrate. Let’s make lists and lists of all those things that are better for women now than they were a little over 100 years ago when the first IWD was celebrated. Let’s all feel a sense of accomplishments. But wait. Maybe we should reflect on how slow the progress has been.

Because although there’s been progress and women still have the right to vote, other hard-won rights have been debated ad nauseum in the public discourse lately.

Other facts to keep in mind include that in America, women are more likely to be in poverty than men, they make up about 50 percent of the workforce but occupy less than 14.5 percent of board seats in Fortune 500 companies and only 10.3 percent in public companies. (The level of representation is much lower when it comes to diverse talent.)

And what’s most disturbing, the representation of women in government continues to be extremely low. Women hold 17 percent of Senate seats and 16.8 percent of seats in the House of Representatives. (Women of color represent only 4.5 percent of the total members of Congress.) There are six women governors and only two women of color who serve as such. The U.S. ranks #69 in the world in terms of female representation in national legislatures and according to a Catalyst study, we are tied with Turkmenistan! Hurray!

I recently attended the unveiling of a United Nations Development Programme book called Empowering Women for Strong Political Parties, A Guidebook to Promote Women’s Political Participation. Developed in partnership with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, it is a practical guide that includes the best international practices to help political parties develop female politicians.

If we are serious about equal rights and empowering women, forming strong politicians that can be elected is a necessary step in the right direction. These are the women who make decisions about our towns, cities and states and, hopefully not too far into the future, about our country. They are the champions who speak up for the millions who don’t have a voice. The ones who can change some of the rules and practices that have openly or inadvertently impacted women in a negative way for years.

So I propose that this International Women’s Day we don’t only celebrate the past achievements but look into clear ways in which we can continue to move the needle forward. For what is great progress to some, is slow progress to a lot of others.

Mariela Dabbah’s new book Poder de Mujer (Woman Power) was just released by Penguin, March 6th and immediately became Amazon’s #1 Hot New Release in Books in Spanish.

This article first appeared on Fox News Latino.

If You Don’t Speak English, Don’t Run for Office

Vote HereWhen I read that Yuma County (Arizona) Judge John Nelson ruled that Alejandrina Cabrera couldn’t run for councilwoman of San Luis given her insufficient English proficiency, I had all sorts of mixed feelings.

On the one hand, the woman was running for a City Council seat in a border town where 90% of the population speaks Spanish. The New York Times reported that initially Cabrera’s opponents spearheaded the effort to block her name from the ballot. This move soon became a divisive issue given the lack of clarity in the law regarding how much English politicians must speak.

Cabrera has maintained that she communicates with the community in Spanish and that she speaks enough English for her work with the council. She was, however, unable to answer some questions the judge asked her in court in mid-January. Whether it was because she was nervous, as she said, or because she didn’t understand, is anyone’s guess.

On the other hand, Cabrera is an American citizen running for office in the United States. Regardless of where that office is located, she will have to interact with English speakers. We can no longer conduct the business of our communities in isolation and I think people who aspire to elected office must speak English well. I also think that in areas such as San Luis, politicians should be required to speak Spanish well, too.

When will we realize that the best way to serve and lead the Hispanic community is by educating ourselves, learning English, and helping others to learn it as well? Thinking that it’s some sort of discrimination to forbid people who are not proficient in English to assume political positions is a cop-out. It gives aspiring Hispanic politicians a free pass not to make the effort.

We all know it: We need more Hispanics to step up to the plate, to take on leading roles and get seats at powerful tables. But Hispanic leadership needs to uphold the same standards required of non-Hispanic groups. Let your language be an advantage: Keep it and learn a second and a third one. Don’t hide behind it. It’s like waving the flag of a self-imposed limitation in the face of your enemy. “Hey, we are not really trained for one on one combat, so be nice to us.”

I’ve said it before and so have many of others. The Latino power does not reside in the fact that we are 50 million people. It’s in the level of education of our people and in our leadership quality. It’s in the ability to persuade powerful political groups to follow our ideas because they are fair and good for the future of the country. It’s in the connections we build with the powerbrokers of America. You can’t do that if you only speak Spanish. And we can’t wait until the second or third generation learns English, as they inevitably will.

We must find ways to get more adult immigrants, who have the opportunity to make a difference in their life times, to learn the language of the land.   Demanding that they speak decent English if they want to hold public office may be a good way to motivate many to overcome this obstacle.

Mariela Dabbah is the CEO of Latinos in College a renowned speaker, media contributor and award-winning author. Her new book Poder de Mujer  will be released March 6, 2012 by Penguin.

Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

This article was originally published on Fox News Latino.