- Synopsis: Responsibilities of the Chicago Public Schools College Specialist for Special PopulationsKeywords: Chicago Public Schools; CPS; college specialist; special populations; Latinos; Latinxs; Latinas; Hispanics; Mexican; Mexico; workshops; trainings; counselors; counseling; immigrants; students; high schools; colleges; universities; university; scholarships; grants; education financing; enrollmentsTranscript: AYDE FLORES: I'm going to begin the interview up by first introducing myself. Would you mind putting these on as close to your mouth as you can? A little bit closer. Not so close.
LUIS NARVAEZ: Okay.
FLORES: Yes, that's perfect. All right, starting all over. I'm going to start first by introducing myself. I'm Ayde Flores. I am in the NIU Latino Oral History Project and right now I'm interviewing—well, I'll let him introduce himself. I’m going to start by asking you four questions so you can introduce yourself. I would like you to tell me your name, your age, where it is you’re from, what it is that you do and how you define yourself ethnically.
NARVAEZ: Okay. My name is Luis Narvaez. I am 33 years of age. I was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico. I am currently the College Specialist here at the Chicago Public Schools for Special Populations and I define myself as Mexican.
FLORES: All right. I guess I'll start with what you do. Can you explain what it is that you do? The—I want to call them workshops—that you give to Latino students here.
NARVAEZ: Sure. So, the district created this position five years ago to address the needs of Latino students. In Chicago, Latino students are the ones with the lowest college enrollment out of all subgroups that we work with here. And they also wanted to be intentional about the work with immigrant students, too, especially undocumented students. So, part of the job than I do here to provide training to counselors and anyone else that wants to participate around the systems of support that we should be having in place for Latino student, including working with the parents, working with our colleges as well as the community-based organizations that may be available to them. I also coordinate efforts around scholarship information for students. We find a lot of times that what's preventing them from enrolling in college is the financial aspect. So, we're trying to increase the financial aid that we provide to our students or that we connect them with. My job is really to conduct these trainings throughout the school year. And then in the summer, a lot of things that we do is we develop our professional development that then we're going to implement once the teachers and counselors are back to school in September.
FLORES: Sounds like you said it all. You didn't have to explain it all.
NARVAEZ: Yes, it happens all the time. My title is very unique, so I always have to explain exactly what I do.
FLORES: Then just from what you said, it sounds like you work more with the administrators then?
NARVAEZ: Yes, I don't have that much direct contact with students or even some of the workshops that we do. We figure—because we have 400,000 students in our district, we're the third largest in the nation—it's really hard to try to reach out to a lot of them, so we work a lot with the administrators have to counselors who will then have direct contact with the students back in their schools. We have about 800 counselors that we work with every year.
FLORES: What does the training consist of?
NARVAEZ: The training consists of different things. For the work around undocumented immigrants, we talk about what the DREAM Act would do for students, the importance of it. Unfortunately, a lot of people think that the DREAM Act already passed, and it hasn't passed yet. So, we talk about the differences between that and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. We talk about the importance of working with families. Latino students make a lot of decisions based on parental suggestions rather than what may be the best fit for them, so we talk about the importance of that. And then we talk about the development with colleges around recruitment, retention, and relation of Latino students and immigrant students. For Latino students, it's pretty much the same thing. We work a lot with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund to ensure that there's enough access to financial aid for students. We talk about the importance of being bilingual for those students that still preserve Spanish for them. And we also encourage the collaboration between our counselors and administrators with the colleges directly in terms of field trips to do college visits, college fairs, admitted student days and that sort of thing.
FLORES: How do you contact these schools? Do you contact them, or do they contact you?
NARVAEZ: By schools and high schools or colleges?
FLORES: High schools.
NARVAEZ: High schools I contact them. We have all their information here at the district. Overall, we have 664 schools, K-12. I work primarily with high schools, but we also provide some support to elementary schools and I just reach out to them. Because it comes from our office, they know that it's important. So, whenever I send out an email, I know they'll read the email and then they'll act on it.
FLORES: So, do you decide on these schools because of the demographic of the area or is that regardless?
NARVAEZ: Primarily, the demographic of the school itself. A lot of schools in Chicago don't necessarily have students from the surrounding neighborhood, but they could have students that are coming from all throughout. We're getting more and more away from the traditional high school where you just attend because it's close to you. Rather, now students are deciding on high schools based on the academic interest that they have or programs that the high school may offer. So yes, I take a look at the demographics of the school. Interestingly enough, in Chicago, at least for high schools, there's no one single high school that has 100% Latino enrollment there, as opposed to African-American populated schools, where there's a lot of them with 100% African-American enrollment. That's just something interesting. But I reach out to them based on the demographics. Or, sometimes they'll hear about the work that I'm doing, and even if they have a small Latino population but they're trying to figure out how to engage them and work with them, they'll reach out to me and they’ll ask me to come out.
FLORES: Does that happen often, when the school with the small demographic of Latinos reach out to you?
NARVAEZ: It's happening more and more, I would say. I'm turning three years at my job this coming August and my name is getting more out there. I've seen an increase on that as well as with charter schools. We don't directly work with charter schools, but if they request our services, we'll provide it to them. There's also more charter schools that are reaching out to me. So it's on a case by case basis, I would say.
FLORES: Interesting. Then I know you said you that the position started five years ago, and you just started three years ago. Do you know why this position opened?
NARVAEZ: Yeah. Out of the push by community members to have someone working with this population, addressing the needs particularly of Latino students. They didn't have anyone in place just doing that. Obviously, there were a lot of good people working here when no one was addressing specifically the needs of Latino students. So, out of the push from the community, the position was developed and created.
FLORES: I lost it. How did you get to be here?
NARVAEZ: I got to be here through the connections that I developed. Prior to working here, I was working for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an admissions recruiter, and then as an academic advisor. It was through getting to know a lot of folks out in the schools and developing those relationships that when the position became open, I was tapped on the shoulder if I wanted to do it. The position has only been occupied by two people. Myself and then prior to me, Maria Bucio, who now is the director of La Casa Student Housing here in Chicago. She reached out to me letting me know that she was leaving and if I was interested in the position. Obviously, I jumped on it right away because I wanted to have that balance between university, higher education, and then K-12. And this has provided me that experience.
FLORES: Did you want to do the work? I mean, you don't necessarily work with Latino students but for them.
NARVAEZ: Yes. I wanted to be intentional about the work that I was doing. And I knew that through this role, I was going to be able to have a larger impact on students. Being Latino, I wanted to help this population now because they're the neediest. There's no reason why if Latinos are the largest student group in the district, they shouldn't be the lowest college enrolling group. It's going to take some time, but we're working on that little by little engaging more with the parents. When I read the job description I knew this is what I wanted to do.
- Synopsis: Immigrant background; attending high school and university in the U.S.Keywords: immigration; high school; university; college; immigrant; Mexico; Mexican; Elmwood Park High School; Illinois; ESL; English as a Second Language; language acquisition; attitudes towards Spanish-speakers; Morton West High School; Berwyn, ILTranscript: FLORES: Okay. And then—I hope you don't mind me going a little more into your personal life.
NARVAEZ: No, it's fine.
FLORES: What did you study in school?
NARVAEZ: I attended the University of Illinois wanting to do journalism, but because I had just arrived to the country four years prior to that, I still, as I still do now, had an accent and I was learning the language. And I realized that I wasn't going to be able to be too successful, at least in the English language side. I wanted to stay at that school and they didn't offer anything in terms of broadcasting in the Spanish language, so then I just switched majors. Ultimately, I graduated with a Latino—Latin American Studies Degree. We didn't have Latino studies as a major back then; now they do. Spanish was easy just because I had already mastered that by being born and living in Mexico. I am currently enrolled in Northeastern Illinois University to complete my Master's Degree in Educational Leadership with a concentration in higher education.
FLORES: You said that you came to the US four years prior, so did you—Sorry, I'm not good math—did you come to the University here, to higher ed here, or did you go to high school at all?
NARVAEZ: I did high school here. I arrived when I was 13, so I did freshman year of high school here in the States. I went to Elmwood Park High School first, in the western suburbs, and then graduated from Morton West High school in Berwyn, which is also west of the city.
FLORES: Do you mind sharing why or when you came here?
NARVAEZ: We came here because it was my mom's decision to bring us. By us I mean my brother my sister and I. The economical conditions in Mexico were pretty bad, even though we were always considered middle class. My mom knew someone here in Chicago that was able to get her a job and that's why it wasn't that bad. I think that's why a lot of people come here. They already know someone here. Particularly a place like Chicago has a lot of jobs available for those who want them. So that's why we see so many Mexicans specifically coming all the way here to the North, to the cold and all that, because the jobs are here.So, it was my mom's decision. I wasn't too happy with that. I mean I had all my friends there. I didn't speak a word of English. I hated the cold. But I figured my mom was also leaving everything she had behind. It was probably for a good reason and so I just went along with it.
FLORES: When you started school here, how did you feel?
NARVAEZ: I felt out of place. I attended my first high school, Elmwood Park High School. It was predominantly white. They didn't have a bilingual program. They had an ESL—English as a Second Language—where they grouped us on all together. Students from all over the world, not just Spanish-speaking countries. So, felt totally out of place, felt frustrated, I wanted to go back. For the first year, I really wanted to go back all the time. The transfer or the move then to Morton West wasn't really better for me. Morton West at the time had a larger Latino student population than Elmwood Park did. But still, not knowing the language was very difficult because there is this assumption that if you don't speak English, then you probably are not smart. That's the way that I sensed it. So, they placed me in the lowest levels in science, in math and everything else. Whereas in math, I was pretty good in Mexico and you don't really need to know the language too much to be able to do math. Two plus two is four in any language. But because of the fact that I didn't know how to communicate, my mom didn't really know how to advocate for me, I was just placed at the bottom throughout high school.
FLORES: So, did you not feel challenged at all?
NARVAEZ: I didn't feel challenged. The educational system here in high school was very, very easy for me, it was boring. In Mexico, I was attending public school there, but the level of academics was a lot higher and a lot stronger over there it is here. I heard that from a lot of people, actually, but I didn't mind because my biggest focus was not so much to excel academically or have a good GPA, it was just to learn English because that's the only way I was going to be able to get along. That's where my focus was, on reading a lot. What really helped was watch TV and put the closed captioning on. So, I was listening to what they were saying and then I was reading the words that they were saying and that's how I was able to learn little by little.
FLORES: What was it that frustrated so much?
NARVAEZ: I don't think the teachers that taught me, outside of the ESL teacher, really understood my situation, the fact that I didn't speak English. Again, there's this misconception that if you don't speak English you are not smart, so the treatment was differently—students as well didn't know how to handle foreigners, I guess. So they made fun of us, they mocked our accent. So, that's why it was a little awkward and uncomfortable at the same time.
FLORES: It sounds like what affected you then is why you're doing what you do now. Am I overstepping it or…?
NARVAEZ: No, you are correct, especially when they focus on immigrant students. I understand what they are going through. I'm not a product of the district for which now I work, but there’s a lot of similarities on what students are going through from what I went through. I think Latino immigrants here in Chicago have it a little bit easier than non-Latino immigrants. So, that's been one of my focus, to address the needs of non-Latino immigrants as well, just because they don't have all the resources at their disposal that Latinos in Chicago have. You could spend days in Chicago without speaking a word of English and you can get around very easily. Whereas for some of the other ethnic groups whose language is not as primary here in Chicago, I know they have a lot of harder times. So, yeah, everything comes together and that's why I decided to take on this focus.
- Synopsis: Demography and needs of immigrant students in the Chicago School DistrictKeywords: immigrant population; Latino; Latinx; Hispanic; Spanish-speaking; non-Spanish-speaking; non-Latino; non-Hispanic immigrantsTranscript: FLORES: And then you had mentioned the similarities between the district, now and then, do you mind talking about that?
NARVAEZ: Sure. So, Chicago has always been a very diverse city and in terms of the Latino student population, Latinos now make up about 45% of the district. They've always had a strong presence here and it keeps them growing. We actually have had high schools that have been established for a long number of years. So, there's some similarities there from back there in the '90s to now. Having attended myself school in the suburbs, I can see why there is that distinction between schools in suburbs and in the city in terms of resources. There were a lot more resources out in the suburbs at the schools that I attended, whereas now you walk into some of the Chicago public school buildings and you know they are underfunded, they're under-resourced. Part of it is just being such a large school district. Again, we service 400,000 students in over 600 schools. There is just a lot of people, a lot of things to manage.
FLORES: Do you think that those resources that we don't have, is it more because we are underfunded than it is because like—this is a very pessimistic way of putting it—but just the city doesn't want to help?
NARVAEZ: No, I think it's more and more underfunded than anything else. I think the drive and the desire is there to help the students out. I'll give you a good example. We just announced the Stars Scholarship which is going to provide free community college to students who graduate high school with a 3.0 and a 17 on their ACT. That's free college for at least two years and then you can transfer to a four-year. The intention to help people out is there, it's just we don't have enough money for everyone that needs it. Latinos are the future of this city. They're the present already and the future. And little things like creating a position like mine that services them is a sign that people do want to help us out. It's just we are trying to battle a lot of different issues around funding.
FLORES: You also talked about the non-Latino immigrants. Can you talk a little about those a little bit more?
NARVAEZ: Sure, it's—I mean Chicago has always been a welcoming hub for immigrants from all over the world. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said that he wants Chicago to be the most immigrant-friendly city out there. He even created an office called the Office of New Americans to work with immigrants that are recently arriving into the country. Through my work with that office, I've noticed that we get a lot of people from South East Asia, for instance. From the Middle East, from Africa, a lot of refugees fleeing violence back in their home countries. So, I see the needs that those immigrants bring in with them and sometimes I feel that we focus too much on the Spanish-speaking populations and forget about everyone else that still has those same needs. And I just a lot of times try to picture myself in their shoes. Coming to this country, to a place that probably no one speaks the language that you know and trying to make it out in the world has got to be very tough. That's why I provide whatever I can to facilitate some of the educational needs that those student populations have. I don’t know the percentage of non-Latino immigrants here in the district, but I know it’s considerable. You walk into some of the schools, especially in the North side of the city, and you'll see, 40 different nationalities represented in one building. It's important to keep that into perspective that there is those immigrants out there that are not from Latin American countries.
- Synopsis: Attending two demographically distinct high schools in Illinois and making friendsKeywords: immigration; high school; immigrant; Mexico; Mexican; Elmwood Park High School; Illinois; ESL; English as a Second Language; language acquisition; attitudes towards Spanish-speakers; Morton West High School; Berwyn, ILTranscript: FLORES: Then sorry, I'm going to be jumping back and forth, but in your high school, again, did you say that you changed high schools?
NARVAEZ: I changed High Schools. I went from one high school freshman year to another high school, sophomore through senior year.
FLORES: What were the differences in that school?
NARVAEZ: The first school was primarily white. A lot of Italian immigrants had arrived to Elmwood Park and Berwyn was changing rapidly from a white suburb to a Mexican suburb. So, I felt more comfortable over there just because there were more people that looked like me and a few that spoke Spanish as well. This was a double-edged sword though because unfortunately, one of the things that ended up happening for me is I graduated high school without any white friends. All my friends were Mexican, and it wasn't until college that I was really exposed to people from other walks of life, other backgrounds. I often find that to be the case with Latino high school students. It's just normal to try to stick to people that look like you, that have the same experiences as you. One of the most valuable things that I would tell anyone graduating high school to college is that you got to make friends from other ethnicities, other backgrounds because the real world out there, like here in Chicago, in downtown, any given day, you can walk out and you're going to see people from all backgrounds. You’ve got to be able to communicate with them the same. I was very comfortable speaking Spanish, so I never really felt too much pressure to speak English unless I had to with teachers or professors. That also delayed the time that it took for me to learn English and master it.
FLORES: What was the demographic at that second high school?
NARVAEZ: I would say probably started being 70% white, 30% Mexican, there were no African Americans. By the time I graduated, though, it was almost 50/50, in just three years and, or, like 48/48 and then the percentage of African American students started to increase as I was leaving.
FLORES: I know you said that you didn't hang out or you hung out more with Mexican or Mexican-Americans. I guess I'm just wondering how it was, was it still odd during high school? Did you still feel you were looked at differently?
NARVAEZ: I was. I would say there was a difference between the students of Mexican background that were first generation like myself and those that were second or third generation. The second and third generation oftentimes would not speak Spanish back at me, even though I was addressing them in Spanish. Sometimes would look down on me for not speaking English to them without understanding the fact that I wasn't born here. So, there were some differences in terms of that. The first-generation Mexicans understood what I was going through because they were going through that as well. They didn't mind speaking Spanish to me. They didn't mind having conversations that related to life not here in the US but back at home in Mexico. I saw some differences that I still see up to this date. There's an assumption that if you're brown, you're going to speak Spanish, whereas there's a lot of Latinos that don't speak Spanish or they may know it, but they're not comfortable enough to speak it outside of their home. That's also one thing that I pushed for students who are bilingual to keep that bilingualism going and to master Spanish because it really opens up doors for you. This allows people who may speak Spanish a little bit, broken Spanish, but they may not be able to read it fluently and they may not be able to speak it fluently and they may not be able to write it the way that it's supposed to be properly written with the accents and all that. So, I think we're also, as Latinos, we're missing on some of that where we speak Spanish at home, we think we know Spanish, but professionally we don't probably speak it that well.
FLORES: Other than language, were there any other differences that you would notice between the second- and first-generation students?
NARVAEZ: I would say the only thing that I noticed, too, with the second and third generations is that they also hang out with non-Latinos, whereas us first-generation Latinos, we were just hanging out with our own race. So, the ones that had mastered English were more likely to also have friends outside of their own race.
FLORES: Why do you think that is?
NARVAEZ: They probably felt comfortable reaching out to those. I remember whenever someone that did not speak Spanish approached me, I was nervous because I wouldn't be able to get the words to say what they were asking me for or whatever. Oftentimes, still they not able to understand me and understand my accent, so our conversations led to nowhere. Whereas, I know the second-, third-generation Latinos, they didn't have any issues with that. So, they were able to get along with other people, communicate with other people well. And that wasn't the case with me.
FLORES: Were you in any activities when you were in high school?
NARVAEZ: Not initially, because I wasn't comfortable. I just went to school because I had to and as soon as the bell rang, I would go back home. It wasn't till probably my senior year of high school when I started joining some activities, became involved with NHS—National Honor Society—and I ran track and field.
FLORES: Okay. And then what motivated you to start doing them?
NARVAEZ: NHS, because there was a girl that I liked that was in the club and she spoke Spanish to me. And then the track and field was because I like running. Running was a way for me to relax, to be stress-free and I figured if I like running I might as well run for the school as well. The coaching staff was pretty good in teaching us how to run correctly. Again, I would do like 10, 12-mile runs, so that's a lot of time between just you and your thoughts. I really liked that, that's why I joined running.
FLORES: Why did it take you until senior year to join a club or organization or sport?
NARVAEZ: It was by then I knew more English, I was more comfortable, people were actually understanding what I was saying. So, the accent was getting less and less of a barrier and I started to get to know people. What happens when you start a high school in this place, from out of the country, most people already knew each other from middle school or elementary school, whereas I knew absolutely no one. So, it took me that much time to make friends and get acquainted with people as opposed to those that were here, already had friends from back in elementary.
- Synopsis: Good and bad experiences with teachers and academic performance in high schoolKeywords: immigration; high school; immigrant; Mexico; Mexican; Elmwood Park High School; Illinois; ESL; English as a Second Language; language acquisition; attitudes towards Spanish-speakers; Morton West High School; Berwyn, ILTranscript: FLORES: Okay. I know you talked about it a little bit, but can you talk more about your relationship with your teachers?
NARVAEZ: Yes. It was very, very little other than my ESL teacher. That's the one person that I credit for me learning English and making it out here. Her name was Ms. Mendez, Eileen Mendez. She was white, but she married someone from El Salvador and she knew Spanish. She was really good at the fact that even when I addressed her in Spanish, you will get answering back to me in English. Not because she was mean, but because she wanted me to practice. So, I credit her with me learning the language pretty well. With other teachers, the only one thing that I always remember, it was almost failing in gym, gym class or physical education class because I didn't understand the instructions that the teacher would give. I had a really hard time—not anymore—but I had a hard time understanding African Americans when they would talk to me. So, there was that issue right there and I didn't even ask how to—I didn't know how to ask for help or what to do, so, like—I remember that we had to serve the ball during volleyball and during PE and I didn't understand what I was supposed to do, so rather than having anyone explain it to me to just fail me in that particular assignment. So, that's something out I remember a lot because of that low grade and I was unable to get a higher GPA and things like that and in PE out of all classes.
FLORES: Did you have any other similar experiences with any other teachers?
NARVAEZ: No, a lot of it is blurry. I graduated high school in '99, so that's already 16 years ago. I don't remember much of it. Again, because I wasn't enjoying the experience other than my ESL teacher and then that one gym class, no. There's no other teachers that might have left a strong impression me.
FLORES: Like you said, it was a while ago but what about your academics? Do you remember any of that?
NARVAEZ: No. I remember because I was given easy classes, it wasn't hard for me to get good grades. As long as I was able to understand the material. Miss Mendez, my ESL teacher helped me out a lot. I could come up with her if I had questions about an assignment that another teacher had given me. I think I graduated literally with a 3.9 GPA other than my gym class because it was so easy for me, so I just did it. I did it mostly not for myself but to make my mom proud because of the fact that she had brought us here for a better future, so I didn't want to fail her.
FLORES: Even if it had been hard for you, do you feel like you would have excelled in that way?
NARVAEZ: Probably, because I was excelling back in Mexico and I guess that you know the material was harder, there was more work to be done, a lot more homework. If I was being successful there, if I would have understood the material here and been placed in a better track in terms of academics, more like honors or AP or whatever, I believe so. I ended up graduating college with a, it wasn't a 3.0, it was like a 2.7 but I made it to the University of Illinois which is supposed to be pretty hard. I use that as an example just to say that I think if I would have been given harder work, I still would have been able to do it.
- Synopsis: Navigating the U.S. immigration and education systems as immigrantsKeywords: immigration; high school; immigrant; Mexico; Mexican; language acquisition; attitudes towards Spanish-speakers; mother as hero; college applications; ACT; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; U of ITranscript: FLORES: Who did you look up to when you were in high school?
NARVAEZ: Within the school, no one, really, I didn't have any role models or anyone to look up to. I sought out help from my ESL teacher, but I just was looking up to my mom. Well, again, not from school but from my family, for my personal life. Because, being divorced, a single mother of three, bringing her children to the United States was pretty hard. And I knew some things about the reasons why we were coming because of the economic situation but not everything and not everything clicked. Now that I look back, at one time, my mom had three different jobs at the same time and then had to take her children to school every day and all that so, to me that was impressive. Again, I was just looking up to her because of that. And then, because of the fact that despite coming here without having citizenship or anything, we were able to—first, we were here on a visa, I think, and ultimately while I was in college I was able to get a green card. It was because my mom knew that she had to navigate the system even though she didn't know it in order for us to be able to stay here and receive the services, the benefits that U.S. citizens have. Had my mom not been so actively in us getting papers, I probably wouldn't have gone to college because I wasn't going to be able to get financial aid for it and I knew we didn't have the money to pay for me to go to college, especially at a school that despite being public is $35,000 a year. It's just a lot of money.
FLORES: And so, did you gain citizenship before you went off to college?
NARVAEZ: While I was in college, the freshman year, I received my green card so that way I became a permanent resident. After your green card, you've got to wait five years in order to become a citizen. I think it took me longer than that to become a citizen but with permanent residency, with a green card, you pretty much get almost everything that a US citizen would have. Once I got that I wasn't too worried about the next step forward which was US citizenship.
FLORES: You were here undocumented for a while before?
NARVAEZ: Yes, I think so. I've never really had this conversation with my mom, but I knew we flew in. We flew in, we had some sort of permit to come here otherwise we couldn't even get on the plane. We were in some sort of visa, but I think it expired, most visas are short term. That's why too I like to work now in providing services to the undocumented student population because I can relate in some ways. I didn't cross the border physically like a lot of our students here have, just from the stories they share with us. Just imagine crossing at the border which is I don't know how many miles from Chicago. Way they make it over here, their stories are amazing. Then there's also those students who flew in and then they overstayed their visa status too, which like I said, it was my case. I just don't know for how long I was without proper documentation, but I remember telling my mom, "Why don't we just fly back to Mexico for Christmas break or something?" She was like, "Boy, if we leave the country, we're not going to be able to come back." I was too young to really understand all of that.
FLORES: Did it ever really affect you then, that you were undocumented?
NARVAEZ: I think so, particularly around college application time, most colleges treated me as an international student, as if I was coming straight from Mexico to study over here without realizing that I was graduating from a high school in Illinois, some of that. Plus, back in 1999, we didn't have anything like the proposed DREAM Act so that was hard to apply for colleges. When they were asking for a social security number, you don't know what to put down for a citizenship question. You don't know what to put down— They didn't know how to handle my situation, so it was complicated. Like I said, had I remained without status for longer than my freshman year of college, I wouldn't have completed college because of the finances or how expensive it was.
FLORES: Some students that I've encountered that are undocumented, they start feeling bad about themselves. Was that ever true for you?
NARVAEZ: Probably, more than feeling bad, I just felt powerless, I felt that there nothing that I could do to fix my situation. A lot of times, I'm the type of guy that if I have a problem, I figure out how to solve it myself but with something like that, something that was out of my control, out my hands, it was just frustrating not being able to take any type of action to fix my situation. Everyone's always saying just go back to Mexico. There's a reason why we left Mexico in the first place. Some people say, "Well, just apply for citizenship." There's no automatic way for you to get citizenship except if you get married to someone. Obviously, you should get married out of love, not out of a convenience for papers so it was more frustration than anything else.
FLORES: Can you share a moment that you felt powerless?
NARVAEZ: One time was not knowing how to apply for college. Not knowing what to put down and feeling like it was my fault for not knowing what to do when in reality it was just the circumstances. Also, just wanting to travel and not being able to go back to Mexico to visit. That was frustrating as well because there was no way for me—well, there was, I could have always left but there was no way for me to come back and so that was very frustrating as well. Those two things, the traveling and then the whole thing with college applications was a hard time.
FLORES: You mentioned that in the first year wanted to go back so why did that change over time?
NARVAEZ: It changed when I realized that as I was getting closer and closer to graduating high school, the opportunity to go to college was depressing for me. I got a 24 on the ACT and a lot of colleges started— Well, as I'm sure they do with anyone that takes the ACT, started sending me stuff and information. When I read about that I figured that I might as well just stay here to get my college education. One of the things that I realized is in Mexico, anyone that's important or has power, tries to come here to study. Every president has received some type of formal US education here despite being of Mexican origin. I was saying if all these people go out of their way to come here to study and I'm already here, I might as well take advantage of that opportunity. Though I was afraid that I was learning more and more English, I knew that if I stopped learning English for a while, I was going to lose it. I needed to practice more and more and being in Mexico, I wouldn't be able to do that. In Mexico, every year I was taught English and didn't master anything. Nothing stayed with me and it was the fact that I never practiced it. I knew that in order for me to that, I had to be here.
- Synopsis: Process of identifying as Mexican and American; differences in opportunities between the U.S. and MexicoKeywords: immigration; immigrants; identity formation; American; Mexican; Mexican-American; differences in opportunities; between Mexico and the U.S.Transcript: FLORES: The reasons that you're giving me they sound like it was just because it was more beneficiary to your education. When did you start seeing as—the United States as your home?
NARVAEZ: I never really saw the United States as my home until probably the time when I had already spent more years here than in Mexico. I left Mexico when I was 13, so in my mid-to-late 20s, as I was realizing that most of my time have really been lived here was when I started to see this more as my home. It was also around the time that I became a U.S. citizen too, and then just— Everything just came together for me to know that I wasn’t going to go back to Mexico. The few opportunities that I had to go back and visit after obtaining my citizenship, I realized that the opportunities back in Mexico were very limited, even for someone with a college education from the States. So, I knew that I wasn’t going to go back to live. When that clicked, that's when I realized, "Well, this is my homeland." I still feel as I am Mexican, that's why I told you that initially. Obviously, in the streets, people see me, they assume I’m Mexican, but in Mexico, already, the times that I go back, they know that I'm not someone from there that lives there because of my lack of fluency, the way I dress, everything else. It's one of those things where [Spanish language], you're not from here or over there, because you're in the space in the middle where nothing really fits in. I know, as I have children now and got a house too and a job, I know that by me settling in here, it's the right decision.
FLORES: Can you of talk about the process it was to finally accepting that this was your home?
NARVAEZ: Yes. Again, it was when I— After having had my green card for a while, after deciding to apply for citizenship, that's when things clicked for me. The day that I got my U.S. passport was pretty significant because now that I could travel as an American, I knew that this had been a place that— Where I was able to make it in. It was that, and again, just finding out, doing my math and finding out that I had been spending more time here. I knew that this was probably the place where I was going to stay for the rest of my life. It was around that 25, 26 years of age that I knew. It was that and having a job here that was pretty stable. It just clicked. That, and also, the last thing I will also say on that is that, being able to be more fluent with English language also helped me out. Had I not mastered English, I don’t think I would've feel comfortable here and I wouldn't say that this is my home, but because I was able to master it and now, for the most part, people are able to understand me, that's why too I just decided this is home now.
FLORES: Was it a struggle getting there, though?
NARVAEZ: It was a struggle. I was, as most Mexican immigrants are, very attached to my country. I saw everything very negatively here. One of the first trips that I took back to Mexico was really what opened up my eyes to the conditions that people live over there and versus here, saying, "I just have to accept the fact that this is a better place for me." It was. For a while, while I had my U.S. passport, I still had my Mexican passport because Mexico allows its nationals to have dual citizenship. Now, I see it as pointless. Why have two passports if you can travel with the American one? I didn't renew my Mexican passport. Those little things opened up my eyes to the reality that I was living in.
FLORES: What was it that you saw in Mexico? What things was it that you saw that made you realize it is better in the United States?
NARVAEZ: The lack of jobs for professionals. Even those college-educated people, they're working as taxi drivers, as street vendors, just because there's no opportunities for them to advance. The lack of safety too. It's getting more and more common for people to be kidnapped in Mexico to be— For someone to receive a call asking for ransom. It’s pretty bad over there in terms of safety. It was those two things, lack of opportunity to grow in the job labor force and just personal protection.
FLORES: Who did you see that wasn't growing in the workforce?
NARVAEZ: Relatives, cousins that I grew up with with college degrees. I remember, I have a cousin who was a truck driver who got paid better than any office job that he could have gotten. I have respect for those who decided to be truck drivers, it's actually good money to be made there, but obviously, it's backbreaking and it's not 100% safe. It was relatives that I saw. Then, just having conversations. I remember having conversation with a taxi driver. He was college-educated and that's the only thing that he could do, drive a cab because there were no— Not a lot of opportunities for him.
FLORES: Do you remember the conversation?
NARVAEZ: Not really. This was 10 years ago. [sneezes] It was just talking about college, that I had gone to college here in the States, because again, once I started going back, people knew I wasn't from there anymore because I wasn’t fluent. Me mentioning college and the fact that I was able to get a job, and him saying that he went to college in Mexico and he couldn’t get a job.
FLORES: You mentioned that both sides look at you. When you go to Mexico and they know that you don't live there anymore, and you come here and they look at you, they see you as Mexican, how does that feel?
NARVAEZ: It feels awkward. I saw it as something negative in the past, just because I said, "Well, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to go back to Mexico ago and become fluent in the language again?" That probably would have been easier, I cannot paint myself white. I cannot do a Michael Jackson thing. It was just that, the frustration. When I watched the movie Selena that also helped me out because I saw— There was a part in the movie where the dad is telling Selena that they're not from here or over there. So, it was, "Okay, I'm not the only one with that issue." Now, that I'm seeing the growth in numbers of Latinos here in Chicago, I don't feel as bad. Chicago is the fifth largest Mexican city in the world after three cities in Mexico and then Los Angeles. We are the fifth largest, so there's— This city has more Mexicans than a lot of cities in Mexico do. I found my niche now in terms of feeling comfortable where I'm at and knowing that I can have access to Mexican food and Mexican music, but also, the things that the American culture provides as well.
FLORES: Do you call yourself an American?
NARVAEZ: Yes. I have U.S. citizenship and an American passport. I voted in the last election for President Obama. In terms of that, yes, I would, but there’s situations like where if the Mexican team is to play the U.S. National Team, I go for the Mexican team, despite the fact that Mexico's doing nothing for me right now anymore. I was born there and that's the attachment that I have to Mexico and that's probably why I still root for Mexico in the situation where if they’re playing each other.
FLORES: You can call yourself American, but you refer to yourself as Mexican. Can you explain that?
NARVAEZ: Yes. My values, my culture, my identity is still attached to Mexico. I'm more comfortable speaking Spanish. I think in Spanish, I pray in Spanish, I count— Whenever I have to count something, I do it in Spanish as well. Most of the food that I eat is Mexican. Most of the music that I listen to his Mexican. Despite the fact that Mexicans themselves may not consider me Mexican anymore, that’s what I'm comfortable with. Like I said, when I walk out in the streets, people don't call me American, they call me Mexican, so it's going to stick with me. I figure, might as well embrace it rather than hide it.
- Synopsis: Race and culture in the U.S. and MexicoKeywords: race; Mexicans; Mexico; African Americans; blacks; Latinos; LatinxsTranscript: FLORES: [chuckles] Oh, and you said that before you would see a lot of negative things about the United States. What kind of negative things would you see?
NARVAEZ: The racism. I was—I remember one of the things that made the biggest impact on me was the assassination of Rodney King in LA by white cops. So I was like, "Whoa, what the hell's wrong with this country? People from different races cannot get along." I remember back one summer in Berwyn, the Ku Klux Klan wanted to do a rally there. I was like, "What the hell is wrong with these people?" Things like the KKK, things like that. It was mostly associated with racism, that's what I didn't like. There's also other things like the weather. I hated the weather here…
NARVAEZ: …but it's not the U.S. to be blamed for that. Just the fact that it's hard to identify what the American culture is. Whereas, for Mexico, it's really easy to identify that. That's one of the things that I struggled with.
FLORES: You mentioned the KKK, what kind of things would you see in your own town?
NARVAEZ: Like I said, they would hold rallies for—in favor of white supremacy. They would intentionally do it in a Mexican-populated neighborhood to incite that anger in people. That's what I think is wrong with this country, that racism still prevails. We have the issue with the confederate flag just a few days ago. But one thing that I would say, at the same time, is that this racism is also prevalent in Mexico. Mexicans mock blacks. They make fun of blacks. They make fun of indigenous people. Central Americans get treated horribly when they're in Mexico, so I'm not saying, by any means, that Mexico's perfect, but when you ask me what did I see wrong with the States, it was the fact that there's so much racism here.
FLORES: Then, you said that the KKK would hold ceremonies in the Mexican communities. Can you recall a time where you saw that?
NARVAEZ: I heard about it. I was told by my mom not to go to it, because they were going to do a protest against it. She figured that it might get violent, so she told me not to go and that's why I didn't go. But, I mean, I've seen—their ceremonies on the TV, on the news all the time and things like that. I was never physically there when they performed it or whatever.
FLORES: Okay. What year was this?
NARVAEZ: This was back in the late 1990s, like 1999, 2000.
[00:13:01] FLORES: Not really that long ago.
NARVAEZ: No. There's white supremacy. It's still prevalent. The guy that went into the black church and killed its members, that's now, 2015. Things like that are still happening. Donald Trump's remarks against Mexicans were pretty racist, and it's also 2015. It’s still happening.
FLORES: What do you feel when you hear things like that?
NARVAEZ: I feel bad. I feel anger. I feel that we can do a better job informing people. A lot of these comments are very ignorant. I'm sure some just are plain old racists or want to discriminate, but a lot of people are just ignorant. While my time at the University of Illinois, Latinos were only 5% of the student population. For a lot of people, I was the first Mexican they had ever seen outside of TV, and because the media portrays us as such a—in such a bad lens, people assume that I was that type, the gang member type, or the one who's going to steal something from them. So, we got to do a better job just informing people who we are as Latinos, as Mexicans, what makes us such a beautiful group of people. Otherwise, people are still going to continue to have these negative views against us. By that, I also want to make it a point to say that we're not perfect. There was an undocumented Mexican immigrant who just killed a white lady in San Francisco. I attended a soccer match last night where some Mexicans were acting horribly, so I know there's bad apples in our community as well, but we need to do a better job of portraying what's good about us and not let others portray whatever they want of us.
FLORES: How do you think we can do that?
NARVAEZ: We need to become more educated. We need to become more involved. One of the things that I take issue with is the fact that we don't have Latino leadership. You ask around, "Who's our Latino leader? Who represents us?" There's really no one that I can think of, that I would say that person shares my values, shares my point of view, my opinions. We need to develop more leaders amongst us. We need to be more educated. Like I said, the fact that only one—or, I don't know if mentioned this, but only one out of two Latino graduates in our district goes to college. What's happening with the other half? What type of jobs are they getting? If we don't get an education, and we don't get those jobs that will have the biggest impact, we're never going to be able to advocate for the things that we need. It's time that we really put an emphasis on that. The way that we value college—parents will spend $15,000 on a quinceañera, but won't spend $1,000 on sending that same quinceañera to college. We also got to see where our priorities are and work on aligning them with what's really important.
- Synopsis: The role of ethnic studies, ethnic identity, and culture in determining which Latinos go on to higher educationKeywords: ethnic studies; acculturation; culture; Mexican history; Aztlan; Latino studies; Latinx studiesTranscript: FLORES: Do you feel like educating the Latinos on their own culture or things like that, is that—would that promote going on to higher education?
NARVAEZ: It would. We're such a complex—well, we're not even a racial group. We're such a complex ethnicity. There are so many countries that make up Latin America. Even within Mexico, Mexico has 31 states and every state is different. Often times, it's just hard to generalize what Latino culture is. It's important for things like Latino studies to continue and for us to learn of our own history. Most Latino students, I would venture to say, don't know where the Latin American countries stand on the map, for instance, or they may not know who Emiliano Zapata was, things like that. That is also important for us to learn more. Learning more of our culture, we're going to be able to be proud of our accomplishments and then move forward. It's not happening. The same thing that I was addressing with Spanish, a lot of Latinos don't want to learn Spanish. They don't want to speak it. They don't want to embrace it. Whereas, Spanish is such a beautiful language, and it's one of the things that could unify us. But a lot of people don't want to learn it.
FLORES: Okay. Then, to add to that question, is—because I'm trying to see this in my research, and I'm starting to see it. Do you feel Latino studies or ethnic studies in general is very different from engagement? It's like the work you do, you don't go around educating people about Latinos. It's more about engaging. Are those two separate entities?
NARVAEZ: I think they are, one—yeah, I do see them as two separate things, but it could be dangerous, too, because Latino scholars like yourself focus a lot of times on doing research and learning more on your level. But then, the trick is, how are you able to relate to someone, for instance, that's also Latino that doesn't have any type of college education or formal education? How can you make them interested in something like research, like education, like college, where their priorities are so far from what you're interested in. I notice that. A lot of times, those of us who are college-educated have a huge in gap from those that were not able to be college-educated and who have different things to worry about. For instance, when I was in college, again, education was important to me and making it to class on time and doing my homework was important. Whereas, for someone else my age that wasn't in college, their priority might have been just to work and maybe have fun. We run that risk of—what happened to me sometimes, I was called a sellout for going to college, where that should be embraced. For not having time to go out, hang out with my friends because I wanted to do homework, because I wanted to read. And so, amongst Latinos I see that there’s that gap between the college-educated ones and the ones are not college-educated. That shouldn’t be the case. We should be able to learn from each other. It’s not happening, the way I see it.
FLORES: Maybe you wouldn't be someone to ask about this topic because it seems like what you concentrate on is helping those who already want to go to college? Am I defining it wrong?
NARVAEZ: No, you're right. It’s just easier. It’s easier for someone that already has that intent and interest to continue talking about it as opposed to someone that has no interest, no intention. We only enroll, I want to say, like 40% of the students where the GPA is below 3.0, but we enroll 70% of students with GPAs above 3.0. So, already the students who are able to perform academically in high school tend to be more likely to go to college. If they already have that intent, it's easier for me to work with them as opposed to those that have no intention to do good in school during high school, and for me to come in and say, “Well, you can still go to college. You can change yourself around.” Their mindset is already on working, on getting jobs that won’t require that college degree and for them to start making that dollar. I don’t think they think long term as to how—there’s this slogan that goes, "College changes everything," and it’s completely true. A lot of people don’t see it that way. They don’t see the investment of going to college for four years as something that they should be looking into. They just want to start working right away.
FLORES: So, I guess my question after that is, you gave me the statistic that only one in two of Latinos who graduate high school will go off to college. Do you work to work to—with that statistic?
NARVAEZ: Yes. I work on improving it. We’re on the right track. Our enrollment has been going up. We have so much room to still make up for. Like I said, in the Asian community, 80% of Asian-American students graduate high school, go to college. For us, it's only 50%, so it’s a huge gap there that we’ve got to work on. But at the end of the day, what I'm happy about is if someone attended a workshop that I did and was influenced by something I said and wants going to college. I also think by raising awareness about the needs of Latino students, more people who work in higher ed are trying to do something about it. That’s always fulfilling. I think this whole thing about free community college is also going to have a high impact on those that were not thinking about going to college because of the finances and will at least get their Associate's degree. That’s something we already saw. We’ll see after the summer if those things worked out. That’s what I'm working on, on changing that statistic. With that, though, I do want to say college is not for everyone and we have to be careful when promoting college to understand that some students' options are going to be going—enlisting in the military. They want to do that and that’s fine. Sometimes the military will pay for your college. Some students will want to travel or do something else. I am mindful of that. I don’t think we’re ever going to be at 100% college enrollment and we shouldn’t be. There's other options that you have as a young adult, but for those that want to go to college but are not able to navigate that, those are the people that I want to help out. Understanding the admissions process, understanding financial aid, understanding everything that not only going to college is important for but also staying in college. Out of the 50% of Latino students who go to college, those who are in college, 30% of them don’t come back for their sophomore year of college. So, it’s not only sending them off to college, but ensuring that they can stay, connect them with adequate resources, and make sure that, sometime, they graduate.
- Synopsis: Specific duties as the Chicago Public Schools College Specialist for Special PopulationsKeywords: Chicago Public Schools; CPS; college specialist; special populations; Latinos; Latinxs; Latinas; Hispanics; Mexican; Mexico; workshops; trainings; counselors; counseling; immigrants; students; high schools; colleges; universities; university; scholarships; grants; education financing; enrollmentsTranscript: FLORES: Those workshops that you were talking about, can you recount a workshop for me? How it goes, what you talk about?
NARVAEZ: Sure. I’ve been in a lot of them with parents this year. I start off by talking about what college in the U.S. is, because the system is very different than in Mexico, for example. In the States, we have over 5,000 colleges, where in Mexico, there’s less than 1,000 colleges. So, understanding the differences there. Then I talk about what it takes to get into college in terms of academics, in terms of the ACT. For a lot of Latino parents who did not grow up in the States, they have no idea what the ACT is and the importance of it and the importance of scoring well, so I address that. The importance of extracurricular activities. A lot of parents want their children to get home as soon as the bell rings. I'm like, "No, they need to develop social skills, like enrolling in a club or an afterschool activity." I talk about the importance of early planning and preparation. Not to see college as something that you should be talking about when you get to high school, but rather talking about it as soon as elementary school. And saving for our children’s college education. I used to ask this when I would present, "Who has a savings account opened up for their child to go to college?" But because almost no one raise their hand, I stopped asking that question. I didn’t want to put them in a bad situation. But we need to change that. I just had a—I didn’t just have it, but I have a one-and-a-half-year-old boy. The moment he was born, I opened up a college savings account for him so by the time he reaches the age of 18, he’ll have a lot of his college paid for. We need to create a mindset in our Latino culture, and that’s something that my workshops focus on. Making college be seen as an option, but as something that needs to happen. Both for students, but also oftentimes I tell parents, the best example you can provide to your children is for you yourself to continue with your education. A lot of the parents that we have here didn’t even finish elementary school, so for them to go back and enroll in the GED program, for example. A lot of parents don’t speak English. I tell them, "You can enroll in a free ESL program. That type of activity will send a very strong message to your son or daughter that you value education and they themselves will want to follow in your footsteps." That’s what I do in the workshops.
FLORES: Those parents that you talk to, do you go to certain high schools? I guess what are your outreach efforts?
NARVAEZ: A lot of times, I find out events that are already happening and I just say—offer my services to participate in that. That, and then people just invite me. When I get invited, I come out and participate. It just depends on that. My biggest focus is to gather as many parents as possible in one single place. If it’s at a conference—I just presented in Northbrook at the Bilingual State Southern Conference. I had like 300 parents to present to. That’s where I feel myself being more productive because of the amount of people I'm able to touch in one single setting as opposed to a high school reunion or a meeting where there may only be 20, 30 parents in the room. Sometimes that happens too, and I’ll be happy to do something there, but again, I want to engage as many parents as possible.
FLORES: Can you explain why this work fulfilled you? I imagine it does.
NARVAEZ: When I found out that by going into education, I was never going to become rich or famous, I was okay with that. That’s never been an intent of mine. I just want to be able to, first, get up every morning and be happy and excited about going to work. This job does this for me. Then, at the end of the day, I want to be able to go to sleep knowing that I made difference in someone’s life. That’s why education is my career path. Again, understanding that I’ll never achieve richness in terms of financial assets, but it’s still very fulfilling what I do, and that's why I like doing it.
FLORES: Can you talk about a time that you did go to sleep feeling you really changed someone's mind about college?
NARVAEZ: Yeah. This year I met a couple of Central American immigrants who came here to work. They didn’t really want to go to school and they didn't really understand the whole concept of going to college and why it was important. I was able to change their mindset by explaining to them the pathways that they could use in order to be able to get a good job once they graduated. I talked to them about this free community college program that we have. I told them that they could be enrolled in school and work at the same time to provide some money for their families, and because of those conversations, to my understanding, they are going to enroll in college. That’s the type of work that, at the end of the day, I'm satisfied with seeing. I also like to learn from people. For those who tell me, "College is not an option for me," for me to really understand why they're saying that and respect that. That is also very—and something that fulfills me as well, just learning life experiences of students and parents that are in the district.
FLORES: How do they often respond to you?
NARVAEZ: With students, they, they oftentimes, they're very secluded. They keep it to themselves a lot of times. I am this stranger walking into their lives telling them what they should be doing with their future. For someone their age, especially for Latinos, it's really hard for us to gain trust of someone and listen to them. Oftentimes, that's a battle that I see. That's why my work, a lot of times, encompasses working with their counselors who already have gained their trust and to whom they're more likely to listen to. One of the things that I'm piloting this year, too, is working with current college students, to have them go back to their communities and inspire the next generation of students to go to college. That seems to be very, very positive as well, because the students are more likely to listen to someone who was just in their shoes a couple of years ago as opposed to me that it has been 15 years since I graduated high school.
FLORES: Okay. And then, we touched on the financial reasons people usually don't want to go to college. What other reasons are there that they might not want to send their kids to college?
NARVAEZ: They may view it as a waste of time because of stories they hear of people dropping out, of people not handling all the freedom that college gives you, and people that didn't used to drink now drinking in college or didn't used to do drugs now doing them in college. A lot of times, it's just stories that they hear that keeps them from sending their kids to college. The biggest thing for parents, too, is just, again, lack of trust, not knowing who's going to take care of their baby for the next four years of their lives. So, one of the things that we're pushing is for parents to also be actively involved in the whole college application process, for them to go visit colleges with their children as well, and then for colleges to provide Spanish-speaking staff that can reach out to these parents. If you're a college representative and you don't have anyone in your office that speaks Spanish, you cannot tell me that your—one of your targets is Latino students. You’ve got to put the resources there for things like that. The fact that NIU has the Latino Resource Center, that speaks volumes as to the intent they have to recruit more students of this population. Not every college is doing that, though. They’ve got to change their mindset if they want more Latino students to enroll.
FLORES: You mentioned it's hard to engage a student who isn't already thinking of going to college. Is it just as hard to engage the parents?
NARVAEZ: Oftentimes, yes, especially parents that don't have a lot of financial assets and what they really want is for their son to start working already, to provide food to—at the table. They see that as a priority. I tell them, "Well, a high school graduate on average will only make $30,000. A college graduate will make $50,000. Isn't that $20,000 difference reason enough to invest the next four years of your life on your son's education?" Some of them don't see that long-term picture. All they want is for their—especially for their son, for their boys to start working. Then, with the girls, a lot of times what we see is parents are very protective around their girls. They say, "My daughter's not leaving the house until she gets married," or something like that. It's dealing with some of those notions that we have from, what I call, old-school mentality. So, yeah, it's a battle with parents, too.
FLORES: How do you respond to worries like that, trust and letting their little baby go?
NARVAEZ: I tell them that they need to go visit the colleges with their children. That's the first—the most important thing. I try to connect them, whenever possible, with parents of Latino students from that community that already have their children in college, so they can talk to them. It's a lot easier, I think for a parent to interact with another parent around this than it is for me to come out of the blue and say that. We need to create more of those opportunities for high school students to listen from college students and for current parents of college students to speak to future parents of college students to really share best practices and tips and ideas and things like that.
FLORES: Okay. Then, I guess one thing that I'm really wondering too is, how do you see the fruit of your labor?
NARVAEZ: The fruit of my labor, I see it long term, in the increase that I know we're going to have in terms of Latino college enrollment, persistence, and graduation. In the short term, it's just getting more Latino immigrants, especially immigrants, familiarized with the whole college thing, which they're not very comfortable with. The fact that we are seeing less and less, college as this foreign object that doesn't belong to us, that's what I see my labor in term—the fruits of my labor in terms of that. College is becoming more of a discussion that our communities are having. That, I see, as product of the work that I'm doing.
FLORES: Okay. Then, this is kind of a different topic. You talked about how some Latinos today, they don't really know how to speak Spanish, or they don't want to, they're not interested in learning more Spanish and stuff like that, and how you really want them to become involved in that. But there are Latinos who say that assimilation is the best way to learn English. I guess what my question is, is what would be your rebuttal against that, your argument against that?
NARVAEZ: I always try to put things into economical perspectives. I tell them that in order to make yourself more marketable out there, being bilingual is going to open up a lot of doors for you. I know the fact that I'm bilingual helped me get this job and my previous one. I'm a live example of that. And then, I also tell them that, whether they like it or not, a lot of people are going to have assumptions about if you're Latino, you probably speak Spanish. What better way than protecting yourself from all these stereotypes by actually learning it and utilizing it? A lot of times, too, it's—you never know when you're going to be able to be able to practice it. I find people on the streets who are lost, and sometimes, I've given directions, just to give you an example. The fact that you know a second language makes you just that much of a better person. There are studies that show that if you're bilingual, you have a brighter future ahead of you, to say the least. I'm not against people that are trying to assimilate, but at the same time, we also got to hold what's valuable to us close to us. For me, language is very important. Being able to understand things in two different languages, I think opens up my world a lot more.
FLORES: Is this true for culture as well?
NARVAEZ: Yeah, I would say so for culture as well, whatever people see as culture, though. I'm from Mexico City. There's things, culture—Mexican cultural things from other parts of the country that I cannot relate to because I'm not from there, but I would say culture has definitely helped me. In terms of the social aspect, I'm able to relate to people more because we share similarities in terms of culture and things like that. That's something that now, for my children, I'm making sure they understand. I want them to know what a carne asada is and what a barbecue is and being able to navigate in both worlds.
FLORES: Okay. Well, I think that's everything. It's been an hour and a half. Thank you so much.
NARVAEZ: No problem. Thanks for the questions. You made me think about things that I usually don't think about.
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