|SAN ANTONIO, September 10 - In his words honoring the 50th Anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro referred to “the grateful generation.”
He used the phrase to describe himself and other fortunate daughters and sons (Hispanics, Blacks, and Native Americans) who have much to thank MLK for his groundbreaking civil rights struggle. Indeed, here in Texas many Mexican-descent Texans are grateful, since after 1964 they have been able to realize their Dream of self-fulfillment. In my view, there are three distinct grateful generations.
The first group is composed of U.S. Rep. Castro’s parents and their contemporaries. Their lives improved considerably when as a result of their blood, sweat, and tears, LBJ signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Given that some of them were attending college/university at the time, they had enrolled when gross bigotry was everywhere. In consolation, minority students who were still under-graduates in 1964 had a front-row seat from where they witnessed the dramatic removal of actual and symbolic signs of hideous discrimination on- and off-campus.
Using only their Dreams for a better life, minority students helped plow a level playing field. LBJ was a key player! As a young teacher of poor Mexican-descent children in Cotulla, Texas, he learned first-hand the meaning of Freedom from Want, one of the four international freedoms. He believed, as FDR, that the U.S. poor must have food, shelter, and education. Thus, LBJ declared War on Poverty. Soon, Mexican-descent citizens realized they too were allowed a slice of the American Pie. Completing their studies, they graduated, and slowly climbed the ladder of success to reach the higher-paying levels of the labor force. Some got married and raised children. This cadre of minority graduates had one special reason to celebrate their good fortune. Many were the first in their families to get a college degree. Hence, they dearly valued this particular human right. Post-high school education, once out-of-reach for most minority-descent citizens in Texas and the Southwest, was not only a reality, but an expectation. Instantly, they became automatic educational role models to their children.
As a result, the second grateful generation was born. Because this group had witnessed their parents’ David and Goliath battle for equality, college/university became part of their life plan. Today, U.S. Rep. Castro and his peers have proven this simple cause-and-effect logic. Marching for equal rights was no longer necessary, since the 1964 Civil Rights Act had paved a firm pathway toward their Dream. Living in a world where only hard work and education mattered, the sky was truly the standard to measure one’s ability. So, the second grateful generation likewise inspired their children to value a good education.
Accordingly, the third grateful generation was created. They are the grand-children of 1960s activists. Some in this group are still currently in high school and college, while others have recently graduated and joined the world of work. Raised in an environment generally free of outward prejudice, they assume their children will also enjoy the human rights fruits planted by their grandparents. Sadly, if conservatives have their way, fulfillment of their children’s Dream may turn into a nightmare.
Regrettably, students who rely on loans to pursue higher education are being told by conservative leaders that college/university education is not for everyone. (Shamefully, many conservative politicians took advantage of low-interest loans to get their education and that of their children. Others relied on FHA-type loans to buy their homes, while others receive farm & ranch subsidies and tax abatements. So, now they’re saying that post-high school education is a privilege, not a human rights issue? Don’t let them get away with their hypocrisy.)
Almost daily, conservatives threaten to eliminate or reduce college loans for students who need the help; and raise the interest rates of those who already have loans. Worse, their goal is to privatize the entire education system. If they’re successful, only the affluent will be able to send their children to college, just as it was in the 1950s. Alarmingly, today’s citizens of all backgrounds may not realize that in these times of increasing poverty/hunger, the liberals provide, while the conservatives withhold.
For the first time in 50 years, realizing the Dream of college/university education may be in peril. That’s the reason that Mexican-descent young people must energize to keep the Dream alive. Remember, life was very unpleasant when your grandparents and great-grandparents were your age. With amazing grace and courage, they transformed the system. While the equal rights society we have today is not perfect, it is much better than the one existing before 1964.
One last reminder: As a group, Mexican-descent Texans still lag behind in most key progress indicators. Most are still needy and uninsured, but (con el favor de dios), that is soon to change with the Affordable Care Act. We can win LBJ’s War on Poverty in a generation or two, but we must make a commitment to change things, just like the 1960s generation. Education is the key! Consider this: A young citizen out of a poor barrio armed with a college degree that she/he got with low interest tuition loans is a bargain. They will repay the loan with interest and contribute ten times more to their community. The greatest, richest country in the world can ask no more of its lower-income Mexican-descent community.
Finally, students who depend on college loans and are concerned about the goings-on in the budget debate must not be intimidated. Find out where your elected representatives stand on the issue and vote accordingly. Never forget your grandparents’ sacrifice to ensure you and your children could also Dream of a better future. Continue with your studies and ensure your children stay in school. Help deny conservatives their goal to dismantle the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paraphrasing the words of George Santayana, those who forget the past are condemned to relive it.
José Antonio (Joe) López was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and is a USAF Veteran. He now lives in Universal City, Texas. He is the author of three books: “The Last Knight (Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe, A Texas Hero),”; “Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas)”, and “The First Texas Independence, 1813”. Lopez is also the founder of the Tejano Learning Center, LLC, and www.tejanosunidos.org, a Web site dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history that are mostly overlooked in mainstream history books.