Equal opportunity for progress
by Juan Carlos Valle
The proposed Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, is legislation that is not only timely and fair, but also essential for the advancement of many youth and individuals across our nation and within our local communities. An important provision of the DREAM Act is the expanded educational opportunities to qualified individuals. From personal experience and as an immigrant to this country, I can fully attest to the fact that numerous economic possibilities opened for me upon my successful completion of my high school and post-secondary education. I remember the day I saw some kids getting off the school bus. The orchards of south Medford offered no indication of a better life, yet seeing those clean, well fed school kids made me dream of a seemingly unreachable future, a path to education.
What I did not know is that the orchard had planted a seed in me, which would later grow into a vein of possibilities. The simple goal of a high school diploma brought me to Eugene, where several barriers such as language, reading, writing and a list of socioeconomic challenges awaited me. One night while sleeping under a bridge in Eugene, I envisioned myself going to classes and without worrying about supporting my 12-member family back in Mexico. Eugene, with its array of nonprofit organizations, not only embraced a young homeless kid in his quest for a better life, but it also raised a man with a strong sense of gratefulness to his community.
The DREAM Act ensures that underrepresented minors have an equal opportunity for progress. More specifically, children of undocumented individuals, many whom of no fault of their own, are here following their parents and do not know any other education system or way of life but that of our country. Their impediment in pursuing their dreams is their legal status. As a community, we should all join together to motivate high school students to finish their degree and to continue on to post-secondary education. The DREAM Act is a motivating tool we can employ to encourage our youth to pursue their dreams and to make better personal decisions. In the end those choices can lead to better quality of life for the entire community. In college, one can drown in the sea of academia and idea forming; however, it ignited and propelled me into a professional career and civic engagement. In fact, through the formal educational process I have experienced remarkable endeavors and acquired a plethora of perspectives within cultures and communities I encountered while in school. My DREAM began in the orchards and for many high school kids in our community, their opportunity could come in the form of The DREAM Act.
There is also an aspect of informal education that is just as important for sustaining a harmonious and thriving community. Many people receive their news and even their education through different communication venues. In fact, for many, what they see in print or on TV is, whether or not verified, their reality. An example of this kind of “education” is the type that is generally learned via the influence and impact of the popular media. Therefore, when media promotes a portrayal of individuals within a community that is positive and respectful, it naturally serves to promote a healthier community as a whole.
Conversely, when the media in general presents stereotyping perspectives, we all miss out on the opportunity to offer all perspectives of people. Newspapers like EW are taking the opportunity to share multiple perspectives, in this case Latinos, and capture the admiration that other newspapers in the region pursue.
I believe there is also the issue of public accountability. As the Latino population is projected to increase to 130 million by the year 2050, we should also expect the decision-making individuals and entities to know their community. “But those are just numbers,” many would say. I disagree. To truly experience how the Latino population is growing, all you have to do is go to a local elementary or middle school; you will come face to face with the reality that a significant portion of our future leaders and economic contributors are Latinos. Therefore, as a society, we must work to prepare our youth to assume leadership roles that will not only sustain, but also improve and secure our quality of life. A great place to start is with the DREAM Act.
This issue of community accountability includes both our elected and non-elected officials in the county and the city. The inaction and opportunistic approaches that have been at play by individuals within the Lane County community, year after year, has certainly limited, if not completely negated, many Latino youths’ ability to succeed in life. Our community has waited far too long and too many dreams have been denied. This is a travesty. Elected and non-elected officials are intended to serve as the stewards of community health, and it is their designated responsibility to serve the entire community population, without regard to enhancing their own future. Indeed, the accountability to support every youth is in your hands.
I have a powerful dream. In this dream people are judged by the level of their investment and commitment to their community. My dream includes expectations that our Latino sons and daughters will take our whole nation in a positive direction while creating their own futures. This dream is one of hope that our Latino youth will benefit from the DREAM Act and engage in healthy activities that might also include civic and community engagement. They are the seeds in the orchards. With planting, watering and some sun, they could blossom into a tree of life for all to enjoy. Remember, these are our future leaders whom will continue our hard labor and passing the DREAM act will put our kids in a position to meet and exceed our hopes and expectations.
What is your DREAM?
Juan Carlos Valle is a longtime resident of Eugene. He is the Board President at Centro Latino Americano and serves as Vice-Chair for the Police Commission, an active member of United Coalition of Color and a budget committee member of LRAPA, among other positions.