Over the past six and a half years, the President and I have brought many experts to the White House to talk about the challenges facing our children. We've talked about school violence and early childhood development, education and Social Security.
But few issues will affect our children's lives in the next century as
much as the one we tackled this week, at the first-ever White House Convening
on Hispanic Children and Youth.
The Hispanic population is one of the fastest-growing and one of the youngest in this country. It is also one of the most disadvantaged, with close to 42 percent of all children living below the poverty line.
Despite this Administration's efforts to develop and promote programs to improve the lives of our Hispanic population, too many children are still being left behind. Dropout rates are too high, health insurance rates are too low, too many teens become pregnant, and too many consider suicide.
But the message that came through loud and clear at Monday's meeting was one of hope. Latino children are talented and resilient -- many are fluent in two languages, an accomplishment that too few Americans, including myself, can boast -- and Latino families are strong. Successful efforts to raise Latino children out of poverty build on these strengths.
Let me tell you about two young people who shared their stories at the White House this week:
Miguel Flores was born in Tijuana, Mexico. His family moved to a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in East Los Angeles when he was 5 years old. He showed potential in high school, but he hung out with a bad crowd -- until he was tapped to join PUENTE Learning Center's High School Tutorial Program, which I visited in 1996.
Founded in 1985 by Sister Jennie Lechtenberg, PUENTE is a nationally
and internationally renowned educational center for children, youth and adults.
The surrounding neighborhood is marked by graffiti and broken windows, but
inside this vibrant hub of activity, 2,000 students a day -- ages 3 to 87 --
learn to read, write and use computers. Adults study English, earn their
high-school diplomas, and receive job training.
A UCLA professor became Miguel's tutor and mentor, guiding him not only through his high-school graduation, but on to Yale University, where he received his degree with a double major in history and political science. He hopes to enter law school next fall.
As pleased as Miguel is with his own accomplishments, I wish you could
have heard the pride in his voice as he talked about two other PUENTE alums --
his sister, a student at Wesleyan University, and his mother, who has just
earned her high-school diploma.
Maria Huerta is a 26-year-old single mother of two from San Antonio, Texas. The only one of her five siblings to graduate from high school, she received an athletic scholarship at a local university. But her studies were interrupted when she became pregnant. And after her second child was born, she says, she felt "the impossible."
In order to return to college, she knew she needed help -- help that she eventually found at AVANCE, a non-profit family support and education program. There, she attended parent-education classes, and received much-needed services, like child care. "The support from the AVANCE staff and new friends I made was overwhelming," she remembers. "They believed in me, and, most of all, I believed in myself again."
Last summer, Maria graduated from college, and now she's working on her master's degree in education. When asked what she's most proud of, she replies, "Hearing my children say that they would like to graduate from college just like their mother did."
We know that programs like PUENTE and AVANCE work. And we know that the President's Hispanic Education Agenda is working to improve achievement and graduation rates. But we also know that all children -- regardless of their ethnic heritage -- need the same things: They need to know that adults love them and expect the very best for and from them. And they need adequate health care, smaller classes, school buildings that aren't crumbling around them, well-trained teachers, stimulating pre-school and after-school programs and financial support so that they can go on to college.
With the deficit gone and unemployment at record lows, now is not the time to step back from these very important promises. Now is not the time for big tax cuts that will undercut the progress we've made. Now is the time to seize this historic opportunity and tackle the challenges that remain.
Hispanic children aren't somebody else's children. They are all our children -- our next generation of doctors and lawyers, teachers and nurses, secretaries and carpenters, computer engineers and government leaders. They deserve the opportunity to fulfill their own God-given promise and lead our country into the next century.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past
columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at
This week's White House Convening is just part of an ongoing effort. To learn more, you can contact the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans at 400 Maryland Ave., S.W., FB-6 Room 5E110, Washington, D.C. 20202.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 1999 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
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