Education Stronger Among Second-, Third-Generation Latinos


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By Brian Woodman Jr.

Ronald Flores, an associate sociology professor at Connecticut College, has encouraging observations about education among second- and third-generation Latinos.
“Overall, the second generation is doing fairly well or better than expected, despite factors that would suggest otherwise,” he said.
Not all of the news is good, however.
“The old assimilation model seems to be working,” said Flores, who added each generation progressively improved in education. He said certain groups among the Latinos, such as Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, were still struggling.
Flores, a researcher, based his observations on existing data and conversations with students during a March 1 event at the college. The students said good outside influences played a large part in shaping their educational careers. Many of them were particularly interested in social justice issues based on their own experiences.
“Many of them expressed a desire to pursue programs addressing the issues they faced,” he said. “There was sense of that obligation to reach out and pull someone up with you.”
The event was part of the Latino Studies series held that season. Topics covered during other events in the series include politics, art and identity.
During the event, he said, about 50 students attended and more than half were Latinos. He encouraged the group to discuss what pushed them toward education, and several themes were raised. He said one that came up often was that “a good role model or someone who cared” encouraged the student.
The students referred to parents, family friends, teachers and pastors during the conversation, which Flores called “emotional.”
“A lot of Latino kids need someone to tell them that what people believe about them is not true,” he said, adding that how educated their parents are can be important.
“If the parents went to high school, for example, the broad data suggests that the next generations do as good or better,” he said, referring to information at and as among his sources.
He said the students who attended also demonstrated a passion for education. Many came from middle class backgrounds from Central or South America with access to quality education or were poor but supported by after-school programs or tutoring.
Flores said he became interested in the topic in 1987 when he was 29 and working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“We were doing a labor force and employment project, and I was examining data from the 1980 census when I discovered that nearly half of Puerto Ricans in New York City that were about my age had not graduated from high school and were not employed,” he said. “While I know that not many of my friends finished school, I did not think the numbers would be so bad.”
He later worked on a report about Puerto Rican New Yorkers, which was based on the 1990 census and concluded that they as a group were continuing to have problems getting an education.
“Since then, I have expanded my interest in education to compare the experiences of different Hispanic groups to try to better understand the factors that account for educational attainment and the differences across groups.”
Flores conducted a few projects using the 2000 census, he said, and discovered the importance of social environment.
“I found in one study that neighborhood had a strong effect on Puerto Rican educational attainment; even after holding the social and economic characteristics of the respondents constant,” he said. “A second piece found that Puerto Rican levels of educational achievement became more pronounced relative to Dominicans and Colombians once selected characteristics were held constant. The classic assimilation variables were significant factors in explaining differences in educational attainment, but not completely.
“Recently, I have begun to return to this work to see how the second- and third-generation of Hispanics are doing regarding educational attainment. And, as expected, it varies significantly by generational status, social class, parents characteristics and, of course, nativity and ethnicity,” he said.
He stated as an example that a large number of South Americans lived in Queens and were middle class, while Puerto Ricans were concentrated more in the Bronx and were poor.
He said that in New York City, the post-industrial economy adversely affected the wave of Puerto Ricans who arrived in the 1950s and ’60s to pursue manufacturing jobs that began to disappear. About a decade after they arrived, unemployment and a lower quality of life in the city promoted segregation and a circular migration pattern in which immigrants or their children returned to Puerto Rico and came back to America unable to fully adjust in either place.
He said language was still a problem. Even English-speaking students sometimes had to step out of class to interpret for parents who could not speak English during medical visits, for example. Other problems include a lack of cultural understanding for Latino students.
The progress in educational growth, Flores said, sometimes masks other obstacles.