“Why would you go back to the hood that has caused you much harm and pain? You moved out of the hood already. Is that not enough success for you?” I lived in a neighborhood where young students of color were systematically pushed out of school; as a result, many were policed and fell within academic tracking and the school-to-prison pipeline. African Americans and Latinas/os continue to be stereotyped, discriminated, and racially profiled by educators and school administrators, law enforcement, and mass media.
In 2005, I moved to Inglewood shortly after I finished elementary school in Los Angeles. I immediately disliked the new environment, as I was constantly placed in a fight or flight position many times by peers heavily influenced by alcohol and other substances. I was regularly bullied for being short in height, low-income, having non-English speaking parents, and appearing unattractive. I learned hand-to-hand combat to survive my school’s playground, supposedly one of the safest places in the community. Throughout my K-12 school experience, several educators considered me as an underachiever, delinquent and failure. My middle school English teacher would call me out for speaking Spanish with my friends because she could not understand it and immediately assumed we were bad-mouthing her; I was intimidated and did not speak Spanish at school for a few years, which later caused my Spanish language proficiency to gradually decay. I faced more rejections than acceptances of all types. These situations made me more pessimistic and depressed, slowly building up anger and frustration towards my community.
My middle school-educated parents were limited in educational and job opportunities. Our low-socioeconomic status placed barriers such as restricting us to move into a safer city, buying new clothing, and affording basic necessities. Though I grew up in a small one-bedroom apartment without much, they had way more hope for me than most of my teachers combined. They cultivated me to surpass their highest educational level; high school was my higher education. They did their best to raise my younger siblings and me with educación, “a conceptually broader term than its English language cognate. It refers to the family’s role of inculcating in children a sense of moral, social, and personal responsibility and serves as a foundation for all other learning” (Valenzuela, 2010, p. 23).
I overcame a multitude of challenges to successfully obtain the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship and completed my undergraduate education at the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA). I currently attend the University of Texas at Austin as a Master’s student in the Educational Leadership and Policy Program. Yes, I have overcome the low-expectations set by my community and overachieved much more than many of my high school peers have. I recognize my educational career as a privileged pathway. Antonio Rosales once told me, “what is the purpose of all your success when you end up leaving behind family, friends, and your community?” There is a need for strong Latino male role models in my community and better access to culturally-competent teachers. After graduating from high school, I have been an empowering mentor to many, someone who I wish I had when I was younger. As a first-generation Mexican-American college student, I continue to walk this educational journey to represent those who were unable to break the systematic oppression. I currently represent a small portion of educated Latino males from my neighborhood but I am reframing this negative perception to encourage and inspire more students of color to pursue higher education. Leaving your hood does not define success. It is what you do afterward to help out that matters more. We must give more support and resources to our communities, not to spread harm and hatred just as it was before. We must show the youth that we care by giving back to them, and not abandon them just as those before us have and decided not to return to mentor us.