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La Liga de Las Americas

Latino education, or lack of!


By José Limon, Jr.

Engineering Specialist, GM Global Advanced Vehicle Development


Since the last time I have had the privilege of writing for La Prensa some things have changed when it comes to Latino education and our youth.

General Motor’s José Limón

For the first time in U.S.-American history, we have a presidential candidate—the Governor of New México, Bill Richardson—who is of Mexican heritage. That bodes well for our culture of Hispanic-Americans; it shows we can be a part of main street politics and are assimilating well into the tapestry of the good ole US of A. Or for those who still call it Los Estados Unidos


I have been trying for the past ten years to encourage the Hispanic students, particularly, in Toledo Public Schools, to understand the value of education. One of my focal points is our lack of representation in the area of politics, specifically policy and legislation.


There are very few large cities in the Southwest where Hispanics are mayors. Furthermore, we don’t have but a few Senators and House of Representatives serving who are from that region to represent our interests in areas such as immigration policy.


Ten years ago, I had a chance meeting in Detroit with José Luna, the director for Toledo Public School’s Bilingual and Special Needs. After hearing José give me the figures about the crisis with the Latino student drop out rates, both locally and nationally, I felt compelled to give back something to my community in my native Toledo.


Networking with TPS

I got an idea—could I work with TPS to bring Latino students to the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, to visit and see the inner workings of our business to hopefully motivate students to see the multitude of careers that only a college degree can provide?


I wanted to help them understand, why education is the ‘key to success.’  My father taught me long ago that being successful cannot be a selfish motivation—“you have to go back and help others with your success so they can succeed as well.”


So after that meeting with José, we put together a plan to select students from the 11th and 12th grades to visit the GM Advanced Technology Vehicles (GM ATV) Center in Troy, Michigan. This center was my first job at General Motors; it is where we developed the EV1, the battery powered 2-seat sports car that was similar to the one used by the NASA Apollo mission; we also developed the first mass produced electric vehicle in GM and Automotive History, in the modern era of vehicle manufacturing.


I had arranged a tour and speakers from the GM Design Center and ATV to speak to the students about the value of education and their backgrounds to encourage the students in looking at careers in Engineering, Design, Business, and Art.

A sad fact emerged from the students who attended—they realized that it was too late for them to change the lack of math and science classes in their academic history and would not be able to seek out a college education in those areas, because they lacked the prerequisite studies which build the foundation for college.


So we went back to the drawing board and revised the student ages/grades we would select for the next visit. We realized we had to go the younger grades, where students were just starting to develop their study skills and were not creating bad habits like skipping or delinquency.


GM Hispanic Outreach Program expands
Another opportunity emerged—I was promoted to Engineering Specialist and went to work at the Global Advanced Vehicle Development Center, located on the campus of the sprawling GM Technical Center. My new role was to work in the early stages of vehicle architectures, that were the basis for all the new vehicles GM would engineer for the entire company portfolio.


This put me in a position to work with people from all areas of the corporation—Design Center, Manufacturing, Product Engineering, and Prototype Development. With this new role, I was able to continue my GM Hispanic Outreach Program.


Due to the work I was doing, I was invited to sit on the board of directors for the GM Diversity team – GM Hispanic Initiative Team or GM HIT. I was given the position of Director for Educational Outreach.  This validated my passion within GM and allowed me the opportunity to further develop my program with TPS and opened doors to seek out other venues for the students to experience.


The Toledo Public Schools outreach I developed with Mr. Luna is the only on-going annual visit to GM in the entire globe. We provide job-shadow opportunities for students to work one on one with other Latino GM employees, to see the types of work they do.


The students attend every aspect of their respective host, whether it is to go to meetings, project reviews, or other daily tasks; the students are provided a rare glimpse to the world of GM that no other school system in the country has.  


I am privileged that GM has endorsed my passion and has allowed me to continue this program annually. Right now I am in the midst of planning this year’s event with Mr. Luna. And will be visiting schools to invite the students and give them an insight about the program.


Note that Latinos represent only two per cent of salaried GM employees in the United States, with a total of 39,000.


But we still have another thing that has changed since I last wrote for La Prensa. In 2005, the high school drop out rate for Latinos was 48 per cent; this past year, that number jumped to 58 per cent. This is totally unacceptable.


The census data shows that Latinos are the second largest minority in the U.S., at 14.4 per cent of the population. But as I stress during my presentations to students, we are not 14-plus per cent of big city mayors, or council members; nor are we represented in academia as college presidents or board of regents, along with state and national government, and sadly in business as well. 


Education mandatory to success
I advise our youth that without an education, we cannot attain the levels of success in the areas mentioned above and if we don’t take education seriously now!


I mention the correlation to African-Americans, and how they have achieved success, and mostly through education and networking in all areas of life to enhance their culture. I mention the fact that we have Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but no César Chávez holiday.


That is sad, because Chávez fought for the same things for Latinos. He spent his life fighting for the basic rights of Latino farmworkers. That fight continues today with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), and also with the NCLR, LULAC, MALDEF, and others. But it is not enough, if we cannot finish a high school education and not pursue college; how are we going to get there? We need to do something about this –NOW!, Ahora!


As I walk through many department stores, I notice all the bilingual signage. They want me to buy; they understand the scope of census data, of our growing population and the forecasted buying power. They want me to spend my money on their products, by making sure that their products have bilingual information so that even if I don’t speak English I can read it in Spanish.


I grew up with English as my first language, because in the 1960s it was taboo to speak Spanish—people felt we needed to assimilate into the fabric of the nation. Now things have changed and it’s an advantage to be bilingual.


But we need to do one thing first—that is to encourage and help Our Youth understand the value of education. We need to impress upon them that our future depends on them to be the agents of change in the footsteps of others who blaze the trail for them, such as César Chávez, and other notables such as Baldemar Velásquez or José Luna


But we as the Hispanic Community must decide first that we have an obligation to help them. There are many opportunities to do it in Toledo: volunteer for the Latino Youth Summit at the University of Toledo or the Lourdes College Hispanic Career Day; or giving time to mentor or help students with homework.


Giving back to the community
One last point I make to all the students is that I hope one day they will share their success by going back to their community and giving back. That is the sign of truly being successful!


It has been said many times that one person can make something happen to change things. I try but I also realize that it would be easier if more people would help. We cannot be selfish with our success, by having good paying careers and moving out of the south end or east side barrios to the suburbs, to nice homes and manicured lawns.


We have to go back to our schools and help those who need help to also succeed, otherwise our success is singular and lonely. Please help me to help others in our community, if you need info, or help contact La Prensa, they can direct your efforts.









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