By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
The odds were against Ricardo Arrendondo. No one in his family had ever entered a college classroom.
That did not stop him from earning his master’s degree in English.
The odds were also against Ron Martinez. As an undergraduate at Eastern New Mexico University, he was slammed by discrimination for the first time.
“(Discrimination) leaves something right here,” he said, pointing to his throat, “when you don’t want to talk, you don’t want to order from a menu.”
That did not stop him from graduating and rising as a Hispanic leader in northern New Mexico.
“Here I am, 30 years later, facing the same issues,” said Martinez, director of northern New Mexico ENLACE (Engaging Latino Communities in Education).
Many at this ENLACE gathering shared such stories. About 40 people from across the state met Friday at the Clovis Civic Center.
A partnership of colleges, universities, schools and community organizations, ENLACE aims to produce more Latino/Hispanic graduates from high schools and colleges.
They must combat staggering statistics.
In New Mexico, 53 percent of K-12 students are Hispanic, but many will never graduate from high school, according to the 2004-2005 New Mexico Public Education Department Dropout Report.
Hispanic students accounted for 27 percent of dropouts in grades seven through 12, according to the 2004-2005 report.
“We are a safety net, so students don’t fall through the cracks, so families aren’t forgotten,” ENLACE facilitator Erwin Rivera said.
Long before ENLACE (which means link in Spanish) was developed in 2000, Rivera was a college student who participated in the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement, organizing classroom walk-outs and marching in picket lines.
“I did not believe I would ever send my children to public schools. Public schools were the enemy,” he said. “ENLACE gives a voice.”
Testimony of progress abounded Friday. Many at the meeting were first-generation college students.
Veronica Torres, ENLACE participant, said she teetered through primary school alone, her Spanish-speaking parents unable to help her with school work. Now, through ENLACE, she can help her young son.
Yet, much work remains.
For Hispanics in higher education, “If you look at statistics, it’s near impossible,” Arrendondo said.
A relatively new program, ENLACE (pronounced en-las-ay) survives on scanty funding. About $128 to $175 annually is spent on an ENLACE student, who must apply to participate in the program.
Funds for its programs — GED classes, counseling, student mentoring — are gleaned from grants and the state, ENLACE administrators said.
Studies indicate ENLACE has made an impact. To date, about 100,000 people participate in its programs per year. An impressive 90 percent of ENLACE student participants stay in school, according to ENLACE administrators.
But more concrete studies are needed to prove the program’s success to legislators and potential donors, administrators said.
This year, that is a primary goal, ENLACE administrators said.
The organization is in the process of gathering information about its clients, such as age, sex, race and income level, and creating a database in which to store it.
“The way we collect information is going to be critical to getting the funding we need,” said Evangeline Sandoval-Trujillo, ENLACE coordinator.
“The state needs to know,” added ENLACE coordinator Irma Chavira, “we are not leaving children behind.”