There’s been a long-in-coming and pretty widespread panic about our nation’s demographics that looks something like this:
Our country’s is increasingly filling up with non-white, non-Christian, non-European, non-English-speaking, uneducated, differently-socialized, undereducated people. Soon, we won’t be able to keep our economy afloat, fund Social Security, maintain even a reasonable approximation of democratic institutions.
The effect is especially acute in places like Texas, New York and, of course, California, where I happen to live, but if you live anywhere with radio, TV, newspapers, online access, a barber shop or grocery store, I’m certain you’ve heard this point of view articulated too.
And, I guess, if you’re a part of the Christian, European, English-speaking part of America, it might not be a difficult thing to believe or, more correctly, be made to believe.
Now, I’ve read the studies and seen the data too, but I’ve recently seen evidence that leads me to a very different conclusion about our future.
Not long ago, I attended a dedication event for a new solar installation at Hartnell College, a community college in Salinas, the hub of a verdant agricultural valley in California. And I met the very kids who represent the bogeymen of the supposed demographic Armageddon posited, above.
They were nonwhite, mostly Latino. Families from Mexico and Central America. From households in which English is not the primary language. Parents are agricultural laborers or other non-skilled or semi-skilled workers without much formal education. The students I met were the first in their families to attend college.
And these kids talked with me about their experiences at Hartnell. They participate in hands-on research. One young lady is working with a team to find more efficient ways to water crops. A young man I met is working on developing robotic arms to clean and cool solar panels because, as he explained, they’re less efficient when they’re dirty or too hot. Several of the students were finishing their time at Hartnell and were transferring to schools in the high-powered University of California (UC) system, world-renowned Berkeley among them. I met a Hartnell alumnus who finished his B.S. in physics at UC and will start a Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the fall.
They were well-spoken and whip-smart, eager, informed. And they talked about their conscious work to grow and move into realms their parents couldn’t even have dreamed of for them, just a generation before.
If those students, and people like them, represent the future of California and, by extension, our country, then I can’t wait. Our future is bright. We’re in tremendous hands.
A link to an article in the Salinas Californian (including a nice video featuring some students) about Hartnell College is here.
6 thoughts on “No Need For Alarm”
Your observations are dead on. There is nothing to fear. In fact, there is much to celebrate. I am a 30 year veteran of the California Community College system and a California native. I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a Hispanic community (Pomona) and I have worked at 3 Hispanic serving institutions. I have the honor of serving as the president of Hartnell College. Every day that I come to work I am inspired by what our students are accomplishing with the support of our faculty, staff, and community. I know the students that you spoke to at the Solar Project Ribbon Cutting event. These students are polite, poised, confident, determined, and intelligent, They do not forget their roots and they are proud. They are everything they should be given the appropriate opportunities. Hartnell College is providing those opportunities. Like you I am optimistic about the future. These bright and capable young people will assume leadership roles in the not too distant future for our communities, state, and nation. I am proud to be a part of developing these future leaders. We are in good hands.
Willard Lewallen, Superintendent/President
Hartnell Community College District
Dr. Lewallen: Thanks for your response. It was a great pleasure meeting you and the students of Hartnell. I am in awe. Truly.
Enjoyed reading your blog; love the title! Just wanted to provide a little more information on the side of the story that you mention briefly in your article; the parents. Many of these parents are “agricultural laborers or other non-skilled or semi-skilled workers”, however, they too are mobilizing to make a positive impact in our communities. The picture you happened to use is of the High School Equivalency Program (H.E.P.) at Hartnell College. The H.E.P. serves to assist agricultural laborers in gaining high school equivalency (through GED completion) and postsecondary education and/or vocational/technical training. Since 2008, more than 600 agricultural laborers have completed the H.E.P. program. This year, one of our graduates was elected to speak at a national conference in Washington D.C. Another graduate was accepted to all four universities he applied to (including Berkeley) and will be attending UC Davis this fall!
The parents are dreaming too . . .and the future is indeed bright!
Carla Calderon Johnson, Director
High School Equivalency Program (HEP) at Hartnell College
Thank you, Carla. That additional information provides an important insight into the world outside of the school itself. Family is indeed critical.
Investment in education programs for our communities, particularly in our Community Colleges, is creating a future for our state and nation that is considerably more positive than most realize. The Hartnell students at the solar dedication were part of a Hartnell Engineering Research Internship program funded by the National Science Foundation and run collaboratively with UCSC Engineering. These 21 students are Hartnell students, or promising high school students from the Salinas Valley. One of these students has been participating in programs at Hartnell since the third grade and attributes her interest in Science andTechnology to the STEM faculty she encountered there. She is now a graduating senior from Salinas High with an extraordinary 4.66 GPA, with 15 Advanced Placement Courses passed, and enrolled in MIT in the fall. Another student from Gonzales with a 4.4 GPA is headed to do research at UC Berkeley. She also attended a number of courses at Hartnell while attending high school. Anmother is a middle agedThe actual solar canopy array at the dedication reflected some of the research completed by last summers interns using the HOMER microgrid optimization modeling software. Our community colleges are nurturing the development of these immigrant youth and preparing them to compete in the nations most challenging schools. In return, they will bring us the future, just as immigrant families have always done in America. They brought us and the world Google, eBay, Yahoo, Flickr and many other innovations which revolutionized the markets. These current students are eager, bright and hungry to make a difference.We are in good hands. Get involved with your local community college, and support them. Best investment in the future you can make.
I agree, Michael. Our community colleges are jewels – albeit sometimes underappreciated and neglected. And they’ve provided nourishment and support to many generations of our immigrants.