Sunday, June 26, 2011

On getting a college education . . . down with the 'UnCollege' movement

Chicago Sun Times and Huffington Post columnist Esther Cepeda had an interesting column last week. She wrote about the value of a college education and how some some people feel it's just not worth the money or the effort nowadays. These people have started what is often referred to as "UnCollege" movement. Their mantra is that you're better off without college, so why bother with all those debts and student loans.

For the record, the "UnCollege movement" began gaining traction among teens with its message that differentiation is the key to success. Launched in January 2011, UnCollege promotes self-directed, college-level home schooling tailored to a student's unique needs and interests. The front page of offers a tantalizing proposition: "With 70.1 percent of high school graduates going to college, a college degree no longer guarantees success. ... You can create your education by leveraging the resources of the world around you."

Perhaps, this is true if you have the resources or a big sponsor, but I doubt it. My position is, nothing can take the place of a solid college education to ensure economic and professional success.

Cepeda opened her piece by talking about Peter Thiel's effort to pay 24 teenagers $100,000 to drop out or delay college and start businesses in such diverse areas as biotechnology, finance, energy and education. Thiel, was an early investor in a little Web startup called Facebook, so he has money and can sponsor these students' dive into entrepreneurship. Cepeda writes that Thiel believes a college education isn't as intellectually rigorous as it once was and costs too much, and that burdensome student loans keep recent grads from taking the entrepreneurial risks needed to spur our economy. Agree, but Thiel's alternative will cost a lot more money to achieve and is not general enough to make an impact on the future of our county. In brief, it and "UnCollege" movement are short-sighted and elitist.

Cepeda, however, says we must pay attention to Thiel's point of view.

"Whether you agree or not, Thiel, himself a juris doctor, has done students and parents a favor by publicizing frequent criticisms of today's higher education system, hopefully spurring honest conversations about what anyone can reasonably expect from the college experience," Cepeda writes.

I feel that what most Americans expect is simple. We expect support from Congress and our state legislatures who must be made aware that a college education is an investment in our youth and our nation and not a line item on a budget report. We expect them to see beyond the dollar signs of today and peer into the dollar signs of the future. To do anything less would be short-sighted and elitist.

While Cepeda eventually comes full circle in her article and decides Thiel is not correct in his assumption that a college education is not worth the money or effort any more, it troubles me that there are people believing this is true. This "UnCollege" people just don't get it. They are trying to devalue the one thing that can help middle America and minorities to break away from the mold of working in the service economy and becoming leaders.

Who are they kidding? A college education is worth its weight in gold, and mucho más (much more). I remember my mother preaching to me and my sisters how some day we would be college educated. All three of us met her goal and all of us have at least a master's degree. I remember her bragging about my uncle Pete and how he was still in college getting his education. It didn't matter to her that Tío Pete had been at the University of Texas for 20 years, he was in college, she would proudly proclaim. Today he is a proud Longhorn, as is my daughter. Both have degrees from the University of Texas.

A college education is what will get you a job, nowadays. You may not get a job in your chosen field, but a college education will get a you a job. Most companies are looking for people who are intelligent, well read, can take a project and complete and then be able to write about it in reports. They are also looking for people with critical thinking skills, the ability to work in groups and those with decision-making ability. All these things are honed in college.

You can not go through a university - any university in our nation - without having to encounter all those items I mentioned above. A college education will prepare you for work, just about any where short of a rocket scientist of heart surgeon. When employees ask for education level, they are trying to see how far you get on the education totem pole. If they see a potential employee has a bachelor's degree, they almost immediately know they are more than likely dealing with a person of character, a person who has stick-to-itness and a person who, once committed to do something, will work hard to accomplish his or her goals. That's what a college education and a bachelor's degree says about a person. A college education is your ticket to get in the door, be interviewed and have a shot at a decent job and living. Of course, once the door is opened, you are on your own. That's life. But, chances are, you'll be ready.

There are those in higher education circles that say our universities - especially a regional university like Texas A&M-Kingsville - lack rigor and that those who graduate from them are simply not ready and did not learn.

I disagree.

Regional public universities like Texas A&M-Kingsville are all about the opportunity to get a quality higher education. Texas A&M-Kingsville serves South Texas. Texas A&M-Kingsville serves the rural communities or hamlets like Premont, Concepcion, Freer, Riviera, Sarita, Hebbronville, San Diego, Aransas Pass, Robstown, Ingleside and those little towns in the Rio Grande Valley, those south of the metropolitan areas of San Antonio and Houston and those down the Rio Grande toward Del Rio. Texas A&M-Kingsville gives students in this area - whether they be Hispanic or Anglo, black or white, have indigenous roots or an Asian background - the opportunity to learn.

And, you can't tell me that, when they leave these universities like Texas A&M-Kingsville, students don't know more about life, politics, economics and education then they knew when they left their humble home or ranch in their hometown to seek a college education. I feel this "UnCollege" movement is just part of the wave to put down higher public education just at a time when it is needed the most. It is happening at a time when more and more Hispanics are seeking a college education. Oh, okay, so education was all the rage when the Hispanic was not going to college, but now it's no good. Baloney! You can't put a price on public higher education. Instead of bemoaning the fact that it's not good any more, invest in it and give your money to people who want to learn and contribute to the country.

Entrepreneurship is wonderful. Some people are cut out for that and do not need a college education. But, the truth is that most of us are not cut from that mold. We need something to jump start us and give us the confidence to go out and succeed in life and try new adventures. A college education gives you that. It gives a person an opportunity to learn, experiment and then to try, to try to be anything in the world he or she desires. The higher you go up on the educational totem pole - i.e. master's degree, a doctorate, medical or law degree - the better off you will be. I know this for a fact. I've seen it with my own eyes. My college classmates have gone on to do great things. They have been everything from generals, to college presidents, syndicated columnists, judges, lawyers, educators, superintendents, state representatives, colonels, etc. Now I get the joy of seeing my students succeed and they are just as ready as my group was in the 1960s and 1970s and much more prepared than we were.

A college education not worth the money? Baloney.

Cepeda writes, ". . . for average students, the traditional path (college) is probably still going to be the best option. In March, MetLife released the results of its annual teacher survey that for the first time included a representative sample of Fortune 1000 business executives. Seventy-seven percent of the business leaders believe there will be few or no career opportunities for students who don't complete some formal education beyond high school."

She then asserts that businesses at every level are looking for degreed employees. She quotes Dan Ryan, principal of Nashville-based Ryan Search and Consulting and a member of the national Society for Human Resource Management as saying, "I was an HR generalist for 12 years in two different industries and saw that more and more companies are starting to rubber-stamp positions with 'college degree required.' Why? Because there are so many degreed applicants available and the fact that someone can get through a collegiate program provides a baseline."

That baseline means that "yes," this person can get the job done. "Yes," this person is highly-motivated, is intelligent and a critical thinker.

No one can ever deny that there will always be those who are intelligent enough, geniuses if you will, like Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook who will be successful without a college degree. And, there will always be child prodigies like Justin Bieber who are just going to be successful. But, for the rest of us, our ticket out of the ties that bind us and our ticket for success lies in obtaining a college degree.

And, in conclusion, I ask myself, "Where would I be without a college degree?" Ask yourself that same question and see what you answer. It may surprise you.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My first beer with my father . . .It should have been a Lone Star

This Father's Day, I sipped a beer with my father.

It was the first time I had done that. It was a rite of passage which I had missed and, on this Father's Day, I felt the need to make it reality.

My father died July 12, 1958, just 17 days prior to my 10th birthday. It was a horrible blow. The accident was horrible. My mom was injured in the accident as well. I survived without a single scratch.

Life went on, as it tends to do, but I often wondered what my father would think of me as I was growing up. Would he be proud of me? Would he have agreed with me fighting for civil rights during the Chicano Movement? Would he think that my life as a journalist was worthy? And, now, with the many mistakes I've made in life, would he still applaud me and be willing to sit down and talk things over with me over a beer or two? Would he even approve of that?

I may never be able to answer those questions. It has been 53 years since his death. I remember it as if it was yesterday. He didn't see me grow up and I didn't see him grow old. I never drank a beer with him. I'm sure, once I was of age, he would have been a part of that rite of passage for Mexican, Tejano young men.

I do remember odds and ends about our relationship. Some of the memories are sad and others joyful, of course.

One sad memory revolves around him being a truck driver. His job would often take him to places like El Campo and other parts near Houston. The drive back was dangerous and usually at night. That was at the time when Mexicans and Tejanos were not welcomed at many restaurants. He got home late one night, about 11 p.m. and was fuming. He hadn't been allowed to eat at several restaurants on his way back home. As a World War II veteran, this hurt him deeply. He was hungry and I remember he yelled at my mother to make him something to eat, pronto. My mom and he cried that night. I stood by and wondered, "why?" Today, I understand. I'm glad I got to share that sad moment with him and my mom.

Other memories are joyful. He had but a third-grade education, but I remember him clearly showing me his A-B Certificate and Perfect Attendance Certificate from his last school days before he dropped out and went to work. He was telling me, this is what is expected of you, too.

I was in the second grade at the time. And, he was always trying to get me to understand things. For example, we were driving to Laredo one day in our 1955 Chevy Bel Air. It had no air-conditioning, of course. The hot wind from the semi-desert terrain approaching Laredo would blow through the windows like a gas-oven flaring in the middle of the afternoon. I remembered he asked me, "Manuelito, how far is Laredo from Hebbronville?" I answered, "You said it was 55 miles when we left, apa (dad)." He would say, "Good, bueno, good." Then, he would ask me to look at the speedometer and ask in Spanish, "How fast are we going in this car?" I looked and said the double 5s. I answered "55." He replied, "Good, bueno, good."
I knew some sort of a test was coming. Then, he asked, "So, if we're going 55 miles per hour and Laredo is 55 miles away, how long will it take us to get to Laredo?" I said, "Pos (well), apa, we're going to get there in an hour."
I still remember his smile. He was so proud of me. He had made his point. I too was smart like him. Ha.

Time passed and before you knew it, he was gone. Our car got hit from behind in the middle of Oilton, Texas. The car spun around three, four or five times. There were no seat belts at the time, so people were flying inside the car, except me. I just stayed in the middle, protected I think by centrifugal forces. I saw my mom about to be thrown from the car. Just then my dad reached for her. He flew across the front seat and grabbed her arm, pushing her back inside the cab. He flew out! He flew out! I heard a scream and then there was silence except for the moans of my mother, who had a broken leg, and the sobs of my cousins who suffered some scrapes. I had nothing wrong. I ran out of the car yelling at the top of my lungs, "Apa, Apa, Apa.

I saw him. His legs were up in the air and I thought his body was inside the cab of the car. But the roof was flattened and he had been crushed from the waist up. I knew he was dead. I touched his legs, they fell to the floor with a numbing, staccato thud and I saw his torso was crushed. I stood there for about 5 seconds. I could hear my mom's moans. She was yelling for her husband, "Manuel, Manuel . . ."

The other little girls had crawled toward her. When I got there, I took care of them first, taking them to a shady area. My mom could not move, so I just hugged her and told her dad was on the other side of the car. I think she knew. Then, I don't remember. Within minutes an ambulance approached and took my mom. At about the same time my Grandfather Chapita arrived and said for me to go with him in his car. We raced to Laredo's Mercy Hospital's emergency room. Mom needed medical attention. My grandfather asked me all sorts of questions and told me he had made arrangements to stay in Laredo with reltives. I never saw my dadi again.

The rest is a blur and another story for another day.

Time passed. I grew up. I never got a chance to have that rite of passage of drinking a beer with my father. This Father's Day, for some strange reason, I felt it was time.

I visited his grave site in Hebbronville's Catholic Cemetery. The cemetery was clean, for a change. His grave was well kept. It was hot, very hot, about 103 and the Gulf breeze from the southeast was humid and very, very warm. I spruced up his grave site, raked, cut a few weeds, and dug in the flower arrangement I had bought at HEB in Kingsville.

Then, I sat down on top of the ice chest under the anacua tree that has grown to the south of his grave. I said a couple of prayers, made the sign of the cross and then asked him, "Papa, would you like to have a beer with me?" In my mind, he said, "yes."

I took a 16-ounce Miller Lite can (I thought, I should have brought a Lone Star, what he used to drink), and popped it open. I made the sign of the cross again and said, "Papa, this is for us."

The beer was cold and refreshing. It had been in the ice chest for nearly two hours. It hit the spot, really.

I read his tombstone. It honors his service to our country. A small, brand, spanking new red-white-and-blue American flag was to my right just by his headstone, waving furiously in the wind, which was gusting at over 25 mph. I laughed at that thought. "It would take us, oh, 2 1/2 hours to get to Laredo, right dad?" I asked him.

I looked up and saw a sea of U.S. flags waving in the wind. Each veteran had been given a brand new flag for Father's Day. Literally, there were over a 100 that I could see. I smiled and remembered how this once proud veteran had been denied a hot meal after fighting for our country in World War II. "Things are better now dadi," I said to him. "You fought a good fight," I told him.

I took a sip of my beer, and then another and another. I drank slow 'cause I wanted to cherish this moment. About 15 minutes later, about 1/5 of the beer was left. I asked, "Dad, take a sip with me?" and poured it over the edge of the tombstone.

Just then, a gust of wind knocked down the hoe and rake behind me which I had leaned on the anacua tree. One hit me on the head. Was he talking to me? Was he getting after me? Or was he just joshing and saying, "It's about time?" I prefer the last thought. It was about time.

I smiled, looked up and saw the flags waving furiously in the Gulf breeze and saw other people just like me coming to honor their fathers that day. I thought, that was good. I said to myself, "I'm glad I had this beer with you dad."

It was time to go. I had finally had a beer with my dad. I took the empty can and put it gently in front of his grave marker, making sure it was anchored between the new flower arrangement and the old and hoping it would make it through the night with this stiff wind.

I got up, made the sign of the cross, kissed the two fingers on my right hand and gently knelt down in front of the grave and touched the headstone.

I said aloud, "Thanks dad. I'll be back. This was nice. We'll do it again some day soon."

As I walked away, a strange thought crossed my mind, as if someone was telling me, "Bring Lone Star next time. . . "
I will.

Happy Father's Day - Amando

On this Father's Day, I want to stop to honor the man who took care of me, raised me and showed me the value of being a good man. Today, I realize I have let him down many times and I apologize for that. Still, I hope that in some way I have made him proud of me through the years. Today I want to honor my step father Amando Saenz (pictured above waving and in his Army uniform). I want to tell him simply, "I love you Amando, dad."

My biological father died in a car accident when I was nine, just a few days short of my 10th birthday. It was as hard a blow as a boy that age could take. Two years later, Amando became my step father as he married my mom, Maria.

I remember Amando visiting the family to watch on TV Gillette Friday Night Fights with my father. They would sit in the living room, drinking beer and munching on snacks and talking about everything from the weather to high school football and their experiences in World War II.

Amando was a bachelor. One day my father asked him when he was going to be married. Amando responded quickly, "Manuel, I'm not going to get married until I find a woman like your wife, Maria."

He was serious and my dad didn't take too kindly to the words. I still remember his reaction. He was, well, aghast. There were other words exchanged and shortly after, Amando left.

But, he had made it known. He liked my mother. Such is life.

After my dad's horrific death, Amando started coming by asking how he could help. Soon, he started courting my mother and shortly thereafter they were married.
Amando became my step father, but he really just became my father, I know that now. I remember the first birthday present he gave me - an entire box of TOPPS baseball cards. Wow! I looked for a Mickey Mantle card. Of course, there wasn't one of the famous New York Yankees star and swith-hitting slugger who was my idol. I still have all those cards, which I hope some day my sons will cherish and perhaps pass on to their children, especially my grandson Aidan (pictured here with a baseball cap when he was maybe 9 months old) who seems to love baseball at the early age of 2.

Amando was always there for me. He was kind, understanding, and loving.

I remember some of the older folks in town who used to gather in front of the Post Office to chat and watch the traffic go by and see who was arrested and going to jail across the street. One day when I was going to get the mail, one of the old men, my neighbor, Don Lupe (who rode with Pancho Villa) asked me how my family was doing. I said fine. Another old men asked me for Amando, in particular. Don Lupe interrupted and said that Amando was a true caballero and wonderful person. Then, he said that Amando had a perfect name. "Amando esta siempre amando," he said, explaining that Amando was loving and caring and a good person who liked everything in the world and had a positive attitude, always. "Siempre nos saluda a mi a mi esposa Estefanita con una sonrisa y siempre esta allí para ayudarnos (He always greets me and my wife Estefanita with a smile and he is always ready to help us). Si, su nombre esta perfecto. Amando esta siempre amando (Yes, his name is perfect. Amando is a loving person).

Of course, after a lifetime having him as my step father, my dad, I agree.

On this important American holiday, I can't help but reflect on how he made a big difference in my life. I was so lucky and blessed. I could have gotten a mean old man for my step dad, like many young people do. Instead, I got the most loving and caring man in the world to guide me through my rough teen years, college experience and life, in general. I owe much to him and I in no way can repay him for the kindness and guidance he gave me.

I'm sure he doesn't know how proud I was of him when I was growing up. He was a stellar example of a father. He had gone to Laredo Junior College. Few Mexican American man could claim that. That example, and others, helped pave my life. I at times likened him to St. Joseph, who helped raise Jesus and must have made a difference in his life. Not that I am anything close to being holy, (ha), but Amando's loving ways impacted who I was, whom I became and who I am now. Growing up, I often said a prayer of thanks at night or at church for being blessed with such a wonderful step father, dad.

I know I've let him down, like all children do at times to their parents, but every thing I do I do thinking of what he would say. And, that is a proper way for a man to show the love for his father. That is what God and Jesus expect us to do, as well.

And, about his love for my mother, there was no question. I remember that conversation he had with my dad very distinctly. I knew then he loved my mom, even then. They became a wonderful and adoring couple. I was happy for mom and for Amando and, I guess, for myself and my sisters, Lynda and Judy.

So, Happy Father's Day Amando, dad. May you have many more and please forgive me if I disappointed you somewhere along the way. I love you Amando, dad. Please take care. Happy Father's Day to the most loving person I know. As Don Lupe said, "Amando esta siempre amando." Today we give you some love back. You deserve that and much more. Enjoy!


Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Ortiz Legacy . . . the Sumer of 1997

This past November, long-time South Texas congressman Solomon Ortiz was defeated by almost unknown Republican Blake Farenthold. It was shocking. Ortiz had led Congressional District 27 - which includes Nueces County and portions of South Texas all the way to Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley - with an iron hand and iron will. He had protected the district by assuring military bases remained here and working on sweetheart deals for the Ports of Corpus Christi and Brownsville. It seemed ludicrous to believe he could be defeated. Perhaps holding office for almost 30 years had softened the former Nueces County Sherriff into believing his job was secure. Ortiz didn't really campaign, other than a few unfortunate TV ads showing Farenthold in pajamas with two scantily clad women hugging him. He should have talked about the issues, I think.

Ortiz was a powerful congressman. Make no mistakes about it. From the minute he stepped into the House of Representative chambers when first elected in 1982, he wielded power. He was coming from a highly Democratic district that included two U.S. Navy bases, two ports and a burgeoning economic force in the Rio Grande Valley. Included in the district were three famous ranches - King, Kenedy and Armstrong. Back then, the oil and gas industry was in its heyday and refineries like Coastal States on the Port of Corpus Christi were setting the stage for a worldwide gas exploration revival. There was the National Seashore and tourism, too, to boost the economy.

Ortiz came with power and when he left this year, he took a lot of it with him. It will take years for Congressman Farenthold to regain some of that power. He is Republican in Democrat country, but he is our Congressman and we wish him luck.

Congressman Ortiz, however, was special. Throughout his Congressional career, Ortiz made a reputation as a fair-minded advocate who worked easily with both Republicans and Democrats when making policy. He served as Chairman of the Readiness Subcommittee on the House Armed Services Committee. He also served on the influential House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Ortiz was a senior member of two important committees, co-chair of the Border Caucus, co-chair of both the House Depot Caucus and Naval Mine Warfare Caucus, and as Dean of both the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Texas House Democratic Delegation.

While I was fortunate to visit with Congressman Ortiz on several work or poltically-related occassions, one visit will always standout in my mind and heart. It was the Summer of 1997 when I was fortunate enough to coach a youth softball team to the 16-and-under national tournament in Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.

Somehow, the girls were more interested in visiting Washington, D.C., and all its museums and monuments than they were about playing softball. It was understandable. Many of them had never been past San Antonio or Houston.

After raising the $12,000 needed for the trip in one week, we rented two big vans and headed northeast toward our nation's capital. How we crammed 15 girls and 18 of their friends and parents into those vans, along with all our equipment, I'll never know. But, no one complained. Prior to our departure I had called the Congressman's office about visiting with his office and maybe have him greet the girls and parents. Congress was in session and I felt this would be a long shot. His staffers seemed reluctant to say it could be done. Then, just before we took off from the Miller High School parking lot in Corpus Christi, the phone rang at home. It was almost 10 p.m. We were leaving at 1 a.m. to make good time and get past Houston before rush hour. It was the Congressman. We could visit with him on Aug. 12. He said he or someone in his staff would greet us at his office and we would take a tour of the White House, see Congress in session and maybe he would talk to us.

I kept it from the girls and family as long as I could. We were in the area a week, played our games and did the best we could, and then the day to visit him arrived.

Ortiz and his staff members gave us the royal treatment. It was constituent service at its best. We got to see all the members of Congress working, posed with him for a picture, visited his office in D.C. and took pictures with him. Each girl sat in his chair in his office and were just thrilled. He then told his aides to help us take a tour of the city's monuments. It was a strange feeling, seeing the wonderful monuments of Lincoln, Roosevelt, the impressive Washington monument and much more. Touring the Kennedy Performing Art Center and seeing the Arlington Memorial and JFK's graveside were memorable events. Touring the Smithsonian and the Captiol Building was an experience I won't soon forget, and neither will those girls. I still remember little Andrea (all 4-foot-10 of her) racing from one end of the building to the other taking as many pictures as she could. "I'm going to take pictures of every monument and poster (they were pieces of art) here. I have to hurry," she said heading off down the corridor to the laughter of the security officers there. Later, I bought her a set of post cards. She just tucked them into her purse without a word.

The girls, the parents and I enjoyed every moment of the day-long tour. The Vietnam Memorial was special to me. The girls were just starry-eyed. I thought, "I wonder if they understand what these monuments mean about our country and our legacy of freedom?"

Then, it happened. They saw the Vietnam Nurses Monument featuring two nurses taking care of a wounded soldier while one of them summons a imaginary helicopter to come down and help. Almost instinctively the girls fell to their knees or sat down. Some reached out as if trying to help the nurses summon the invisible rescue helicopter. Most had tears in their eyes, just as I had when I saw and touched the Vietnam Memorial nearby.

At that moment, I realized it was worth it, our trip to Washington, D.C., had been worth it and Congressman Ortiz had been part of some wonderful memories these girls - now all young women in their late 20s or early 30s - would cherish for a lifetime.

I feel, that for many of them, it was a life-changing experience. There were many other wonderful moments on that trip to Washington, but visiting the Congressman and experiencing the monuments and what they mean were special. We thanked Congressman Ortiz for his gracious hospitality and later sent him a letter with our photograph.

He didn't have to take time off from his very, very busy schedule to even say hello to us, but that day we were part of his agenda. We were part of his life for just a little while and, Congressman Ortiz, it paid off...thanks.

Just this past week, documents belonging to Congressman Ortiz were donated to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. The photographs, congressional correspondence, research papers, meeting minutes and other governmental documents that span Ortiz's congressional career have found a home here in South Texas. The collection includes correspondence related to South Texas Naval operations and large, multimillion dollar block grants that reveal the complexity of the legislative process. It contains letters from oil industry leaders seeking legislative support, credit unions looking for tax breaks and everyday individuals voicing their opinions.

It also has thousands of constituent letters covering a myriad topics. I hope that among that collection is a letter of thanks from the 1997 International Westside Pony League Girls Fastpitch All-Star team. It was signed by all the girls on the team, the coaches - Mike Galan and myself - and all the parents, even those who could not attend. It was our simple way for saying thanks to OUR Congressman for taking time out from a very busy schedule to make time for us - just a bunch of softball crazy people from Corpus Christi who thought it would be nice to visit with our Congressman while we were in Washington.
We did.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sanctuary cities...really?

Gov. Rick Perry and the Republican leadership in Texas are trying to pass a law that would prevent cities from becoming “sanctuary” cities. The term "sanctuary city" has no legal meaning, but it generally refers to a municipality that has established policies prohibiting police officers from enforcing immigration laws or cooperating with federal immigration officials. In fact, Texas law states that police officers generally cannot arrest people without probable cause of a crime, and immigration violations often are civil matters, not criminal cases.

So, okay, where are these sanctuary cities in Texas? As far as I am aware of, None of Texas' major cities claim to be a “sanctuary” city. So, then, what is behind the motive of our gun-toting governor and his Republican cohorts? It's simple, this is just another cover for the anti-Hispanic agenda being advanced by the governor and his Republican compatriots in Austin.

Some have said Houston is a sanctuary city and Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio are also in the same line. Ironically, all of the police officers in the cities mentioned above are following what is practice by the Texas Department of Public Safety of not allowing troopers to inquire about immigration status during routine patrols. Houston does not allow its troopers to stop individuals solely based on the suspicion that they might be illegal immigrants. "We do not enforce federal immigration laws," said Tela Mange, a DPS spokeswoman has said in news reports. "If, for some reason, a trooper on a traffic stop suspects that someone may not be here legally, the trooper can contact ICE for assistance, but we can't detain that person solely because we think they may not be here legally."

With no respect to the people in Arizona who supported anti-immigration legislation, if this sanctuary bill persists and becomes the norm of the law, our legislators will bring shame to Texas. Unfortunately, "Gov. Perry and the Republican-led Legislature are on the brink of enacting a law that will bring shame to this state, hurt our economy, set back public safety and insult my family," State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte wrote.

Van de Putte argues that the state's Republican leadership is pushing a measure that would allow law enforcement to judge her by the color of her skin even if she had not committed a crime. I agree. All Texans should be outraged.

Fact is, the Texas Rangers, DPS, the state's business community all feel this is a bad idea that would negatively impact the economy and cause much unneeded strife for all citizens of Texas. "Policies such as these serve only to rip communities apart, and rip families apart," Van de Putte has said.

Texas' strength is its diversity and its acceptance of other cultures as it tries to identify what Texan represents. It's as simple as ordering a Polish sausage taco (sausage wrap)at a high school football on Friday nights, having a beer at Wurstfest in New Braunfels and celebrating the Czech heritage in La Grange. The names of our cities and towns speak of diversity: Fredericksburg, San Marcos, Pawlekville, Benavides,etc. Texas is nothing more than a blend of cultures. The Spanish and Mexican took the accordion that the Czech, German and Polish immigrants brought to Texas and trasnformed its sound into a unique blend of music that has evolved into Tejano. Why stop that natural evolution where bratwurst and chorizo can co-exist?

Let's make one thing clear right now. Rick Perry is not thinking about Texans at this point. He is thinking about a possible run for the Republican nomination for president or vice-president. This is why our state is now allowiwng anti-immigrant propaganda to rear its ugly head in our state. It's propaganda for Perry. Nothing more.

Now, we are no better than Arizona. Why have we decided that we are no better than Arizona? As Sen. Van de Putte points out, "Let's not forget that since Arizona passed its legally challenged law, tourism has gone down and so have tax revenues from visitors. The economy has taken a big hit and job growth has stalled. The situation is so dire that this year, as conservative extremists tried to move new anti-immigrant bills, business leaders told them to stop for the sake of the state's economy. And they did."

We are better than Arizona, right? Let's stop this. Let's send Perry the message that Texas' strength is its diversity. Democrat Leticia Van de Putte represents District 26 in the Texas Senate.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

On teachers . . .

(Note: Pictured here is Coach Eliseo Ramos. He was my history teacher and baseball and football coach at Hebbronville High School. Coach Ramos had a big impact on my life. He showed me how to be a respectable man. He always dressed up to teach and he was always ready with a quick lesson. As a coach, he always had us prepared to play anyone we faced. He told us were as good as anyone else out there. Turns out, he was right. Thanks Coach.).

When did our teachers become the enemy?

I have been watching with much interest the recent struggles on school financing throughout the nation and in Texas. Somehow, watching the various state legislatures arguing for cuts in public school financing has been akin to watching Attila the Hun attacking defenseless women and children in a mountain village. It doesn't make sense.

It's bad enough these legislators (mainly Republican) are attacking our children, but now they are attacking the lifeblood of the public education system - the classroom teacher.

First of all, teachers are not paid much. They sacrifice much of their lives to ensure that a proper balance of education is put forth to scores of children who enter their classrooms. Many spend their own money and many spend countless hours counseling students (and their parents in some instances) as they try to make it through today's rugged society. These classroom teachers are the heart and soul of public education. Much of their individuality in the classroom was taken away from them when state mandated curriculum became all the rage. Now, testing has taken away their personality as they teach to test. Now, we have assured we are not going to pay them adequately. Just leave, old man and old woman. You are in your late 50s or early 60s but just leave, they are being told. We don't need your knowledge, education and classroom savvy any more. Leave!!!!

And,they have. Every state of the union reports high increases in teachers taking early retirement or, for those who are younger, just leaving the profession. It's as if the letter "T" for teacher resembled the "A" in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. The teachers are being depicted as the bad apples here and are being asked to leave with their tails between their legs, so to speak.

Well, they shouldn't do that. They are the ones who have kept the American way of life alive. Without public school classroom teachers we would be no better than a monarchy where the haves have more and the have nots don't even get the scraps. But, oh, that's the way some politicians want it and that's what they will get - people eating scraps.

What the politicians don't know is that America's success is based on people being able to share a piece of the pie. It's call the American Dream. As long as everyone gets a piece of the pie, it's okay. If you limit educational opportunities, the ones who baked the pie (okay, the politicians and their rich sponsors) will get a bigger share of the pie and those of us left behind will get only the crumbs that may fall from their voracious and arrogant appetite for power. That will destroy America. Doing away with a quality public education for all will destroy our country and our way of life. Making the teachers the enemy to dispose of will eventually result in ruin for our country and our way of life.

I remember my teachers. It wasn't easy growing up Hispanic in a Anglo-dominated educational world. But, somehow, these marvelous individuals were able to transform a proud and somewhat arrogant little boy into an educated man.

In elementary school, the nuns at Little Flower School taught me confidence, patience and perseverance. Sister Grace and Sister Leticia gave me the confidence to read and write in English, and I still do that. Mother Josephine showed me how to be leader, just by example. They all taught me the wonder of books and joy of writing, in any language that I could command. In high school, my teachers showed me that reading, reading, reading and writing, writing, writing would make me a better student. They also taught me not to be afraid to speak my mind and to do so with confidence. Teachers like Mr. Oliphant, Mrs. Morris, Mrs. Pearson, Mr. and Mrs. Perez, Mr. Smith, Mr. Huerta, Mr. Valon, Mr. Martinez and Coach Gonzalez.

Coach Eliseo Ramos (pictured above) touched my life in remarkable ways. He was a true professional educator. In the classroom, he treated everyone fairly and with respect. He always dressed professionally. He demanded excellence from all of us, and most of us gave it back. In the playing field as a baseball and football coach, he demanded excellence, sacrifice and focus. His teams were winners and he left a lasting legacy in my hometown of Hebbronville. Today, the baseball stadium is named in his honor. We were great, thanks to him. Coach Ramos was just a solid example of how to fight for what you want and to never, never think others are better than you. He taught me that I could compete with anyone in the world in spite of my limitations, if I just worked hard enough to succeed. I have followed that example. Thanks, Coach Ramos.

Mr. Oliphant, in particular, exposed my friends and I to the world outside my little hometown of Hebbronville. Through reading assignments and class discussions we explored the world of philosophy and history. I bet he never knew I would some day write a book.

Mr. Smith was so wonderful. He took a young man with a very heavy Mexican brogue (of which I was very proud) and tutored him every day and on weekends with tongue twisters and other exercises to transform me into a - well - decent speaker. He saw that I had the charisma to make a good speech but felt my very heavy Mexican accent would hinder my ability to communicate. So, on his own, he helped this young man whom he saw potential in and whom he felt would have a better future with this work. He was, in essence, my speech therapist and I am forever grateful to him for doing this.

At the university level, teachers continued to make a difference in my life as I tried to prepare myself for a career in journalism. At Texas A&I, Fred Neusch, Bill Holmes, Ben Hobbs and Sheralyn Alexander certainly honed my skills. Mr. Neusch in particular prepared me for a career in sports journalism. How else could a young man from Hebbronville wind up a Dallas Cowboys beat reporter and covering the Super Bowl? Well, it happened. Dr. Ward Albro, Dr. D.J. Stinebaugh, Dr. Ed Su and Dr. J.D. Phaup were among those who made a difference in my life, as well.

My teachers at the high school or university level saw teaching as a mission. Many of them "picked" to go to a rural community where they could make a true impact and be proud of their professions.

A recent radio commentary by Glen Ford pointed out that many politicians simply want to do away with teaching as an honorable profession. Full-time teachers are not needed, he says those politicians feel. Public education’s corporate enemies – Democrat and Republican – are now waging open warfare against teachers unions, seeking to strip them of collective bargaining rights, he said. But that’s just the beginning, he feels. “The billionaires, and the politicians they have purchased, want nothing less than to destroy teaching as a profession.” In the ideal corporate world, most teachers would have the status of temps - or subs. How can we teach our children with temps? It would be like the replacement players making believe they are the real pros in the National Football League. Now, that's something Americans won't stand for, right? So why not go to bat for our teachers? Why not be outraged about losing our qualified teachers? Where's the outrage?

It's time. We must be outraged and we must fight back. We have to. No one gave the Republicans the mandate to attack public education in the manner they have. NO ONE! We asked them to be fiscally conservative and to watch over the budget, but now they've gone too far. They have become the enemy of our children and our future and someone has to stop them. Education should not be messed with. It should be nurtured and cared for and made the best for everyone.

Texas has a long history of fighting for school finance reform (The Edgewood Cases). Forty years later, we are still fighting. But, if these current trends continue, there will be nothing left to fight for in the future. All we will have is a series or charter schools and private schools and only the chosen ones will get an education. If that happens, the American way of life is gone. Trust me. We will become a second-rate country in an instant. Soon, we will elect a king or queen. Soon, the rich will have us serving them tea in their hot tub. Soon, we will become indentured servants to a rich classes society led by vulgar politicians whose only salvation would be the dollar bill. Soon, we will not exist.

Ray McMurrey, head of the Corpus Christi teachers union said, "I am convinced we are in the midst of an organized scheme to devalue and defraud public education to the point it becomes dysfunctional. The deceptive plan also places blame on teachers for the impossible position public education is in, further convincing the public that tax credits, vouchers and private schools are the answer."

He is right. This is a well-planned scheme to deny a proper education to millions of our children. Consider this, "Why is this happening just as the majority of Texas' public school children are Hispanic?" Why is public education being devalued just as the Hispanic children are the ones who must be educated? You have to wonder, is there a plan here? As one well-known politician would say, "Youbetcha!"
Politicians, mainly Republicans, want to devalue education because then only their children will be able to afford a quality education. Have you seen the cost of a college eduation recently? They have to be stopped.

We must fund public education properly, not adequately, or it's over, as McMurrey said. We should stay the course of supporting our public schools and let our state officials know that defaulting on public education is never acceptable. Instead, we should ask our legislators to fully fund education, even if it means finding new revenue (insert rainy day fund for Texas here).

We should encourage our legislators to support laws demanding higher standards for teacher certification. Empower teachers to handle discipline in their class rooms to uphold safe schools, and allow teachers to assign failing grades when deserved without harassment by administrators.

And, the key here is not the dollar sign, although that would help. The key here is continuing to treat teachers with a little respect, a little dignity and a little class.

They deserve, at least, that.

Thank you Sister Grace, Sister Leticia, Mother Josephine, Mr. Oliphant, Mrs. Morris, Mrs. Pearson, Mr. and Mrs. Perez, Mr. Smith, Mr. Huerta, Mr. Valon, Mr. Martinez, Mr. Neusch, Dr. Phaup, Coach Gonzalez and Coach Ramos (and all the others, including those in college), thank you.