This past Friday night I was fortunate to attend Tardes de Familia: Stories of Success, an event sponsored by the Multicultural Studies (MCS) Department at Palomar College. The event was packed with students and their families (114 headcount at one point in the evening) who gathered to learn and be inspired.
This event was created three years ago in order to create a space where students (in general) and Latino students (in particular) can be exposed to Latino professionals who come from a disadvantaged socio-economic background. Three outside presenters: Alejandro Galindo, Budget Analyst at the University of San Diego, Marco A. Rangel, Financial Consultant at Southern California Finance Wells Fargo Bank, and Jose Gutierrez, Cost Analyst with the Department of Defense and our very own Dr. Rodolfo Jacobo, shared their stories of struggle and triumph as children of immigrants navigating the world of higher education and career advancement in the United States.
All four engaged the crowd with emotional personal stories. Each narrative had its own uniqueness, but all carried common themes- those of difficulty and hardship, hard work and perseverance, the reliance on family and the desire to progress- as individuals and within their communities. “We believe we are immigrants ourselves in a new landscape, a new frontier which is higher education.” (Jacobo, 2013). The presenters vacillated between using English and Spanish, which really seemed to bring folks in the crowd together. Though my understanding of Spanish is very basic, the warmth and laughter in the crowd during the Spanish portion was so genuine and real, even given my own limitation in understanding all of the words, the message was clear to me.
The presenters were courageous in sharing not only their stories, but their emotions in front of one another and the crowd. All four men were unabashedly open and vulnerable and proud of what their families had fought for, what they had accomplished, and for being able to publicly express laughter and tears with this community. My wife (who accompanied me) and I were very moved by the whole evening, and on the ride home talked about how events like these celebrate the very fabric of the mission of community colleges and how lucky Palomar is to have such representation.
In addition to exposing the community to these success stories, the other intent is to create ownership of the academic space. To that end, parents and young children were a large part of the event in addition to our students and faculty. “I am of the opinion that if they (parents and children) see our campus as theirs they will see our mission as theirs. I also hope we see their needs as ours.” (Jacobo, 2013).
The event finished with donuts and coffee for all. Though I am pretty sure Dr. Jacobo ribbed me in Spanish a few times (and he definitely did in English!), I have to say this was a highly inspirational event. Thank you to the folks in MCS and other faculty, staff, and students who support this tradition at Palomar.