A Personal Reflection on Serving Native American and Latino Students

Contributed by guest author, Marty Perez, M.Ed

When I think of serving students of color within the educational realm of today’s standards, I cannot help but to think back to previous history and reflect on the practices currently being administered.  I am a product of an undocumented (migrant worker) father from Mexico and an Indigenous mother of one of the nine federally-recognized tribes in Oregon, which in some cases screams a recipe for disaster. When I think about my parent’s past education, I rule out my father’s 3rd or 4th grade education and focus primarily on my maternal family’s educational history.  Traditionally, I grew up hearing stories about stories that dated back before time, and that is how we were taught, verbally, through stories–a tradition dating back thousands of years, before books, pens, pencils, and paper, and this practice is still being used today in the 21st Century.   I can still speak of my grandmother’s education at Chemawa Indian Boarding School in Salem, OR, where she talked about days in which religious figures cut the hair of rural indigenous people to publically shame them, or what they thought to be the process of assimilation, and the dreadful stories of molestation and abuse within educational buildings–the same buildings we were being asked to trust and to believe in their safety.  These stories being passed on were not promising to the younger generations, but we still were encouraged by adult figures to do better than they did in the public education system. 

I cannot help to think about our elders and their help regarding issues that may surface in public education and the potential effectiveness it may bring, but often I am aware of the tools our elders have or do not have regarding appropriate talk in advocating for themselves, their children, and the cause within the public educational system or what many call using, “White talk.”  In result, many of us paid the price of failing or dropping out, because their efforts went unnoticed by people that could have an impact or gatekeepers that kept the doors shut for Native youth.  Even until this day, many of my family members do not step foot into a school because of the lingering memories of how the educational system has failed them and how these memories still meet and greet them at the door of these public institution, thus the cycle continues. 

How can we make an everlasting impression on Native youth with regard to advocacy, serving, educating, promoting, and housing quality education?  How can we improve public education to meet the needs of our diverse population?  The answer is not easy, nor is the equation developed, or as of yet, solvable; but working minds have started to seek out solutions.  As an educator I often look at my own classroom and ask, where is the culture being taught?  Do I have material or resources to promote and scaffold merging cultures, invisible cultures, and the explicit culture that my classroom embodies?  Do I have the community resources available to talk about historical facts that have impacted families, validating their plight?  Why would validation be important some may ask? Validation honors and credits the past and respects the rich historical testimonies that are not told in textbooks that are being used today in each classroom. 

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