Reflections From a Latino Father on Back-to-School

By: David Henry, Managing Director, National Development

This week, my daughter began Kindergarten and the start of her educational journey, which I know will provide her with opportunities and experiences that will shape her life. I can’t help but reflect on my own school journey as she begins hers, and reflect on what I hope her educational journey is able to offer her.

My first childhood memory was waking up in an abandoned school bus where my brother and I lived for a time. My brother had the back, and I had the front of the bus. Being unhoused was a formative experience, especially knowing my mother called Mexico home. My mom worked long hours in low-paying, back-breaking jobs to make a life for my brother and me. 

I grew up in Aldine, TX, a predominantly Latino community outside of Houston. I wasn’t an exemplary student, but I went, participated, and passed. At the time, none of my educators looked like I did or shared similar experiences, so it was hard to stay engaged. Thankfully by the time I entered school, life was looking much better than waking up in a school bus. That said, apart from my mom, I couldn’t think of someone in a leadership role who shared a similar story or even knew what my story was.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how these cumulative experiences would drive my core values. 

I often think about how different things would have been for me and my brother if we had had teachers who shared at least some of our experiences as the children of an immigrant–and how different things would have been for my family if we had an advocate within our schools. Like so many Latino students and families today, we had no culturally sustaining support to help us navigate the intricacies of the educational system that serves as the bedrock for a student’s future. Despite the cultural and language assets we had to offer, we felt we had to leave our culture at the door. It wasn’t until later that I realized that my ability to stand in two cultures simultaneously would be a strength that would serve me throughout my career. 

It wasn’t until I entered middle school that I became aware of the opportunities for my future. It was the first time someone said, “I believe you have potential.” It changed my life. As a middle schooler, I didn’t understand what it meant to advocate for myself, but I did know the power I felt from someone believing in me.

Now I know how lucky I was. For too many Latino and BIPOC students, this kind of moment may never happen. Not because they aren’t deserving but because there are too few teachers, leaders, and mentors in our educational system who are tuned in to recognize the gifts Latino and other BIPOC students have to offer.

Still today, less than 10% of educators in the U.S. are Latino, compared to the more than 75% who are white. This is a staggering number considering Latinos are the fastest growing demographic among students and now make up nearly 30% of all students.

As I have gotten older, and especially since becoming a parent, I have gained more understanding about the barriers built into our school system that have prevented generations of students of color from having the same opportunities as white students. I am determined to guide my children to a different school experience than I had — a better one, with advocates at their side and a proud sense of their identity. I’m confident that my daughter and her sister, after her, are set up for success.

But I want a different future for more than just my daughters. The opportunity to learn and succeed should be available to every child. That’s the principle that grounds me in our work at Latinos for Education every day — making sure Latino students know they matter and can see themselves leading from the front. 

As a second-generation Latino who has made the most of my opportunities, I also know I would not be here without the sacrifices and determination of a parent who wished for something better for me and my brother. She had, and still has, all the same aspirations for my future that I have for my daughters.

At Latinos for Education, we ensure that more Latino teachers are present in classrooms nationwide and receive the tools, resources, and community to sustain their leadership and impact on students. We also provide support and resources for Latino parents and caregivers to become better advocates for their children. Educator diversity, leadership development, and parent engagement are critical to our schools and the success of all students.

As I look ahead to my daughter’s first day of kindergarten, I am at peace knowing she will have an easier path than I did. And I feel so fortunate to be part of a collective movement for change, advancing our Latino students, educators, families, and leaders.

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David Henry serves as the Managing Director, National Development. In his role, he helps to develop and implement a comprehensive annual fundraising strategy – working to build and expand the network of philanthropic partners invested in Latinos for Education’s mission. Firmly rooted in his commitment to service and social justice, David has worked at various non-profit organizations striving to improve the lives of others and promote positive change.