Latino Resilience In the Time of COVID: Looking Back to Move Forward

By: Amanda Fernandez

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Earlier this year a photo of two young Latina girls doing their school work outside of a Taco Bell went viral because it revealed so much about how this pandemic is impacting our Latino students, and because it offered a glimpse into our community’s resilience. 

Despite their lack of access to broadband at home, the two young girls were courageous enough to find a solution that would allow them to participate in distance learning. That shouldn’t have happened in the first place – more on that to come – but the girls’ resolute spirit shows that our community is willing to go above and beyond to obtain a quality education, even when the system doesn’t prioritize their learning.

The COVID-19 pandemic is devastating our Latino community, and exposing how severely our nation’s education system has failed Latino students for decades. To put it simply, Latino students and families have never been given the same opportunities as their White counterparts.  And now the pandemic has magnified that lack of opportunity, resulting in higher rates of learning loss amongst Latino students, higher rates of trauma, and Latinos being completely shut out of our education system in some instances. This is particularly true when it comes to the digital divide. 

As heartbreaking as that photo was for some of us to see, the girls were not alone in their struggle as – even before the pandemic – hundreds of thousands of Latino families lacked access to tech devices and reliable broadband, but the pandemic turned this into a crisis for Latino families.

We sprung into action in 2020 to address the severity of this pandemic. To tackle the digital divide, we launched #TechParaTodos, a policy campaign to get tech devices into the hands of all Latino students in Massachusetts and push for a fundamental rethinking of broadband internet as a public utility.  The Massachusetts legislature recently established a Broadband Equity Commission and we will use our role on this Commission to push for innovative solutions that can ensure tech equity for all students in Massachusetts.  We hope to leverage this work to expand elsewhere.

Learning pods became popular this year as wealthy families found alternative ways to ensure their children still receive personalized in-person instruction during distance learning. Of course, Latino students have not been afforded the same luxury, despite the fact that some of our English and young learners need the personalized attention the most. In response we partnered with local organizations Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, The Base and the YMCA of Greater Boston to launch learning pods that will specifically serve Latino and Black students to create a model for how we can continue to deliver high-quality instruction to our students during distance learning.

This work was very much informed by our community, as we listened to hundreds of Latino families in Houston and Massachusetts to hear from them directly how the pandemic was impacting their children and their learning. 

The COVID-related work will continue in 2021, but not because we want to go back to a pre-covid education system – like I said, that system was not working for Latino students to begin with – but because we want to find immediate solutions for our families while we work to build a new education system for our students post-covid.

We have already set the stage for this work, in 2020 we launched our National Principles for Latino Education which can serve as a blueprint for the new administration on how to effectively prioritize the needs and learning of Latino students. At their core, these principles finally provide Latino students with the equitable access to education, from cradle-to-career, that they’ve been denied for decades. We will work with the hundreds of organizations and leaders that endorsed these principles to ensure Latino students are not forgotten in the next Congress.

And finally, we look forward to growing and strengthening our core work in 2021 – teacher diversity and representation.  Despite the fact that Latinos now make up a significant portion of our student population, the education sector still remains predominantly White. Through our fellowship programs, we have been working for years to provide Latino leaders with the training and support they need to step into various roles within education – as teachers, superintendents, and school board members. This work is needed now more than ever, and we can’t wait to continue to grow this work until we see more Latinos in power from the school yard to the state house.

Just like the two young girls were willing to go above and beyond to prioritize their own education, we owe it to the next generation to bring the same courageous spirit in our fight to achieve education equity. Rest up during this Holiday Season, take care of yourself and your loved ones, because we will get to work again in 2021.

About Amanda Fernandez

Amanda Fernandez is the CEO and co-founder of Latinos for Education, the first Latino-founded and led national organization dedicated to creating leadership pathways for emerging Latino education leaders and diversifying education nonprofit boards. She is a Trustee of the Board with the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Roxbury Community College. El Planeta has twice named her one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in Massachusetts and she is a Senior Fellow at FutureEd. Amanda has over 25 years of experience in the areas of recruiting, diversity, organization development, change management, strategic planning, and Latino community relations.