It was Mahatma Gandhi who is credited with saying, “be the change that you wish to see in the world.”On Tuesday afternoon, that message was echoed as the Latino Faculty & Staff Association gathered speakers that have worked to change the world around Fullerton College.Hispanic faculty and alumni spoke to current students as part of the celebration for Hispanic Heritage Month.
What a change it has been for a few of the speakers on the panel. Many of whom recalled a very different Orange County than the one we now recognize. Former counselor Enrique Zuniga told students of having to attend a segregated Mexican school growing up in La Habra. He recalled a time when Fullerton College was there to teach Mexican students a trade and most dropped out without graduating.
“When we came to school here at Fullerton College, there was just a handful of raza,” Zuniga said. “You could almost count us here and little by little, of course, things have changed.”
Dr. Richard Ramirez, sociology teacher and Air Force veteran, told the story of attempting to found the United Mexican American Students club as a student and being shut down by an administrator.
“He looked at the title, turned around and threw our constitution into the trash can, walked up to us and said ‘as long as I am dean of students, I will never approve of a club with the word Mexican on it,’” Ramirez said.
Today, Latino students make up 49 percent of the student body at Fullerton College. Both Zuniga and Ramirez were members of organizations whose goal was to increase the Latino student population. Now, Latino and Hispanic groups can be found all over campus. The struggles have become less institutionalized, but there are still people throwing up barriers in front of Latino students.
Yadira de la Cruz spoke about coming to Fullerton College to prove to all the people that told her she could not succeed in school just how wrong they were.
“My freshman year of high school, I was sitting with a guidance counselor trying to pick out classes and she sat there not making eye contact with me. 20 minutes passed,” de la Cruz said. “[Finally,] she pulls her glasses down, looks at me and says ‘we all know where you’re going to end up. Let’s not waste time.’”
De la Cruz graduated from Fullerton College in 2010 and was offered a scholarship to attend UC Davis. As with all the panelists that day, she expressed that education remains the best way to fight back against those that wish to keep the marginalized down.
“You are being given this tool to dismantle a system that is built to oppress you,” de la Cruz said.
Ramirez described the current aims of the Latino Faculty & Staff Association as pushing the institution to fully embrace the student body and everything that it is made of.
“Change is a relative term. Change in the sense of the changing demographics of the student population, that is beginning to reflect the community makeup,” Ramirez said. “Change in terms of the infrastructure, much still needs to be done.”
Ramirez believes that the school needs to change the way the curriculum is delivered to students and find a way that best suits their needs. He spoke about how he allowed former Spanish speaking students to take tests in their native language and the results drastically improved.
“We should never use language as a vehicle of argument and say ‘you’re not smart.’ We should be able to adapt,” Ramirez said.
Adaptation and perseverance were the key points the speakers kept circling back to. Because while the road may be long and difficult, they are necessary qualities to possess if one hopes to change the world.