What Led to Latinos Access and Participation in Higher Education from the Early Nineteenth Century through the 1980s?

In his article, Thomas, R. R. (1990) points to Affirmative Action as an effective tool that was invented thirty years ago and predicts that it sooner or later “will die a natural death” (Thomas, 1990, p. 107). Although, the existing literatures show a strong tendency to revise Affirmative Action policy, But if we look back to United Sates historic discrimination against people of color especially during the beginning of 19th century, we realize that we need the Affirmative Action more than ever to keep prevalent racial and ethnic discrimination out, at least till the job is done. Affirmative Action, undoubtedly, caused more Asians, Native Americans, and specially Latinos to pursue higher education, but it was not the sole reason. Many researchers have examined the Latino population to explain how they could have access to higher education- in spite of many obstacles and limitation they encountered in their use of higher education- and how they could progress through it. Nieto, S. (2000) points to Puerto Rican‘s population who reside in the United States and examines their educational progress. Accordingly, it is especially noteworthy to know that Puerto Ricans have faced many problems in the United States and the early literatures put the blame on the background, culture, and social class of Puerto Rican students. It is interesting to know, even a report from the New York City Chamber of Commerce in 1935 emphasized that Puerto Rican children were slow learners (Nieto, 2000). Others have examined the historical barriers to schooling of Chicano/ other Latino population. Valencia, R. (2002) argues the population growth of the Chicano People and broaches the question of educational equality. Moreover, he carefully examines some critical issues such as segregation, desegregation, and integration of Chicano students throughout the course of history. Especially interesting is that historian of higher education have totally overlooked the presence of this group in Annuals or other publications, so little is known about Latinos participation in higher education and how they advanced through it. This paper addresses what led to Latino participation through four different time spans.
1848-1920 points to a decline of Mexicans participation in higher education. This may stem back to Hidalgo treaty, through which a better citizenship was promised. Mexican, however, experienced huge disappointment which resulted in discrimination and significant socioeconomic decline (Alonzo, 1998).
1898-1920 examines the Americanization of Puerto Rico and the effects of imperialistic policies imposed on this land.
1920-1950 addresses the impact of GI Bill on the Latino veterans who took advantage of this opportunity and against all odds entered the university what later in 1960s and 1970s became role models for many student activities.
1960-1980 points to increasing activities of Latinos who demanded more access to higher education, which acted as a turning point of Latino access to higher education.
Understanding the history of Latinos’ access to higher education and the respective problems put an emphasis on the current socioeconomic issues which may affect their participation in higher education.
Davis, J. (2001), points to David Wallace Adams’s book, Education for Extinction, and explains how educational policy used for acculturating American Indian as a way to “American” ways of thinking. The author goes on to explain how educational policy was written down into institutional policy and shaped the schooling of Native Americans.
In this regard, Anderson, J. D. (1988) explains how former slaves campaigned for state supported public education. Articles as such, show how the minorities pursued their way to higher education in American History. However, the Latino’s pursued a pathway to higher education in distinctly different way. The term Latino, in this paper points to a group of people consisting of Mexican American, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Latin Americans.
Participation of Latinos in many southwest universities, after the Hidalgo war (1848) treaty started very slightly to increase. Tudico, C. (2010), points to Mexican-American experiences in California higher education and explains that the children of Californios who were the children of wealthy landlords attended Santa Clara College and the College of Notre Dame from the early of 1850s to mid1870s. The education in college such as mastering in English language kept them close to California top society. However, the Context in which this participation in higher education grew was not promising and caused a huge disappointment among Mexican-American. The author goes on to explain the term Hispanophobia which “was characterized by the American historical profession’s ignorance of the Spanish language and Spanish-speaking peoples” (Estudillo & McKevitt, 1990, p. 321) which portrayed them as poorly educated. As a result, the universities opened preparatory department for them, the fifth class, to prepare them for the university entrance exam. Like Californios, Hispanos who were settlers in New Mexico and Colorado experienced huge disappointment, regarding the practice of Hidalgo treaty, which later affected their participation in higher education as well. Although, the role of church at the beginning of the era was negligible and no church attempted to open colleges for Mexican-American, but it seems the religion in this era built a very strong bond with californio culture (Estudillo & McKevitt, 1990, p. 326). The next era explains how the perception of English Americans about newly acquired land, Puerto Rico, limited Latinos’ participation in higher educational system.
As a result of Spanish-American war, many of Puerto Ricans entered to the United States and participated later during 1920s and 1950s in American educational system. During this era, 1898-1920, the Americanization of Puerto Ricans affected the education of Puerto Ricans in United States. According to Nieto, S. (2000), Puerto Ricans represent about 15% of the total Latino Population, second to Mexican-American. Thus, it is important to know the history of their efforts to enter in higher education not as minorities- because they are considered as American, but from the extent to which they have been subject to two different U.S. policies. Puerto Ricans often recognized as slow readers and oftentimes ranked below their grades level. As a result, few of them were able to advance to secondary school and achieve a college level education.
The significance of this era is that an increase number of Mexican-American and Latinos entered the colleges after two decades of small participation. The major contributors to this move were the increase of philanthropy and the GI bill.
First, YMCA spent $30000 grant in 1934 to organize a summer conference in Mexican-American communities. The purpose of these activities was to promote virtues among young Mexican-American boys. In addition, the YMCA authorities contacted with important people in higher education to provide for this young men scholarships. The second source of these philanthropic acts came from Hispano elite families in New Mexico and a group of small Mexican-American middle class of San Antonio. Additionally, a group of middle social class of Mexican-American acted as an active support group of individual who could identify youth with outstanding aptitudes (Muñoz, 1989).
Second, the 1944 GI Bill increased the number of Mexican-American on college campuses. Thousand of Mexican-American veterans took advantage of this opportunity and matriculated; only a few of them, however, dedicated their life to contribute to Mexican-American organizations (Muñoz, 1989, p. 48). In March 1948, a number of Mexican-American veterans formed an organization to protect their civil rights and eliminate poor service from the veteran administration. This group which was called The American G.I. Forum established in Corpus Christy, Texas and its immediate goal was to end the segregation of Mexican-American children in Texas (Allsup, 1977, p. 27) .
This era brought an extraordinary numbers of Latinos in higher education. Concurrently, civil rights activities, anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, and many other protests went on at campuses, among them Chicano and Puerto Rican activism were salient which contributed to change the perception of privileged exceptions of Latinos on campus as well. The early 1960 and concurrent with Black civil rights movements to enter to white colleges, Latinos started to examine their rights as well. By mid 1960s, they organized “el movimiento”. Respectively, they received support from African American organization to organize their protests too. Numerous protest and walkouts changed the passive image of Mexican-American to that of a revolutionary group. Like the Chicanos, in Northeast and Midwest Puerto Rican students also started their organization and focused on promoting educational levels and prepare the students for leadership. The early 1970s as students’ demands were employed by government and other private foundations, the student movement began to vanish. Concurrently, the Affirmative Action helped many of Latinos go to college as well (Castellanos & Jones, 2003).
The focus of this article was to see how Latinos have advanced through higher education despite the fact that they were historically underrepresented and educationally disadvantaged. The sociodemographic of Latinos shows that in 1998 33.6% of their children lived in poverty, compared to 10% of white children. Puerto Rican and Mexican origin children were among the poorest subgroups of Latinos. Three reasons could be associated to this increased poverty:
1. Historically lower academic achievement.
2. Lower educational and economic achievement.
3. High fertility among Latino women.
Several reports have focused on Latino girls’ education and data shows that Hispanic students have the highest national dropout rates in nation (Zambrana & Zoppi, 2002). It seems what was on the center of attention for Latino population century ago has been diminished through the course of the time. That is, the zest to pursue higher education. The question is: “What has happened to all that attempts made on behalf of Latinos in education ?” (Zambrana & Zoppi, 2002).

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