By Raoul Lowery Contreras
What a week!
Only in America can the national house collapse around us under a President blinded by “greatness” and still manifest the country’s greatness of tomorrow. That greatness will be led by young Hispanics, particularly Mexican Americans. Students at the University of California come to mind.
Millions of American workers – almost half of all workers – do not have the jobs they had five months ago; almost a third of renters and homeowners missed a rent or mortgage payment in July; thousands of drivers line up in cars to receive free food; hospitals are full; over a million men and women file every week for unemployment benefits.
Amid all this, a brilliant light illuminates a path to greatness, bursting through the social and economic gloom wrought by our national health disaster. That light of promise is thousands of young Hispanics – over 90% Mexican Americans – smashing through seventeen decades of prejudice. Prejudice had blocked the only path for collective economic advancement this country has known since President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law in 1862, the Land Grant College Act.
It produced the University of California, Berkeley, founded in 1868. Along with the private Stanford University, UC Berkeley represented the pearly gates of higher education in California at the time. The Los Angeles University of California campus was founded as a two-year “UC Southern Branch” in 1919 and four-year UC Los Angeles in 1927.
In recent years, many experts rate UC Berkeley and UCLA as the nation’s best state universities. UCLA, for example, and its cousin, San Diego State University (SDSU, my alma mater) lead the country in annual applications for admission. Both received more than 94,000 applications for 8-10,000 openings for this fall.
Here’s the good news that rocked the gloomy USA this week:
Hispanic (aka Mexican American) applicants offered admission to the University of California’s fall semester have broken the 152-year history of the University as the state’s premier tax-supported, practically all-white state university. California’s historically small Mexican American population has not flourished at the University of California,
For a century after the U.S. annexed California in 1848, most Mexican-origin men and women struggled to gain an 8th grade education and then enter the workforce. Segregated schools were the norm; whites-only and Mexican-only schools in Southern California dotted towns from the Mexican border to the state capital, Sacramento. Children were handicapped by having to split time between work in the fields and study in one-room schools.
San Diego County closed its last Mexican-only school in the 1930s; an Orange County segregated school, however, lasted until 1946. San Diego’s newly-chartered University of California campus took over the Marine Corps’ rifle-training camp in 1964 and embarked on its half-century journey to be named the best university in the nation by the Washington Monthly. Its first graduating classes had few Mexican-origin, Black or Asian students, but the smallest cohort was Mexican-origin (my youngest brother was one).
Sociologist Thomas Sowell took note of lagging Mexican American educational levels when he wrote in his “Ethnic America” that in 1950, Mexican-origin men in California averaged 8 years of schooling, double those of their fathers. (This writer was 9 years old in 1950 and was the first in his family to graduate from high school, in 1958.)
That situation has improved every year since 1950. Studies track the school experience and record a plunging drop-out rate and record-breaking college matriculation! In fact, Mexican origin admissions have exceeded the traditional mostly-white college enrollment in California higher education.
This has happened and is happening now because the Mexican American population exploded in California in recent years, now the state’s largest population cohort. California State University (CSU) campuses surpassed 25% Mexican American matriculation in recent years. Some CSU’s have majority Mexican American enrollment: CSU Los Angeles (68%) and CSU San Bernardino and CSU Dominguez Hills (65%).
It was only a matter of time before the Mexican American surge would hit the University of California. The Mexican American median age is 27– half are over 27 and half under. Many more will complete high school in coming years and will be college bound.
Applicants were offered 79,953 freshman slots in the 9-campus University of California this year. Of these, 36% are Hispanics, 35% are Asian American, 21% are whites and 5% are Black. Significantly, 44% are from low-income homes, and 45% are the first in their families to attend college.
Underlying these numbers: In 2010, 42.5% of California high school graduates were Hispanic, while in 2020, 51.8 of all California high school graduates were Hispanic. Importantly, in 2020, about 94,000 Hispanic graduates of California met University of California/California State University admission standards.
These numbers will increase in coming years. The future is overwhelmingly bright for California and the country. The Hispanic future in America is guaranteed; that guarantees the American future.
In 1917, when Americans arrived in France to enter the “war to end all wars,” U.S. Army Colonel John E. Stanton thanked the French for their help in our fight for independence, saying “Lafayette, we are here.”
A Marine veteran, I am doubly proud of my Mexican and my American heritage and life. I can speak, I think, for millions like me – “America, we are here.”