During my travels in the summer of 2012, I had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. I flew back from Morocco where I worked as a counselor at an American style university until June. I landed in Los Angeles where I spent some time visiting friends.
On a train ride from Oakland CA to Los Angeles, CA I was face to face with incredible Puente Project college students sitting across the aisle from me. Puente (translates to Bridge in English). The purpose of the Puente Project is to integrate counseling and academic English with an emphasis on Latino/a literature. The Puente Project has an excellent reputation and national recognition for increasing the transfer rate of students from California community colleges to the four year University of California system. I was very privileged to work as a trainer at Puente when my dissertation on “Successful Mexican American College Students” was hot of the press in 2001. Being a Counselor and educator has enhanced my ability to have a meaningful career in which I can promote positive social change. I have also met highly committed and dedicated Puente Project colleagues.
The image of Andres Hernandez and Zulay Saldana comes back to me as I write. This brief encounter made a deep impact on me because we are on the same journey. Each of us has the determination to pursue an education and make a positive difference in the lives of others as well as our own life. All three of us found pre college experiences with rigorous teachers that played a positive role in our behavior both in and outside the classroom. I was surprised that our socio-cultural background was also very similar due to family responsibilities and financial concerns. Last and most important, we have tenacity to remain in education and beat the odds while Spanish is our primary language.
As the train was getting closer to Los Angeles, I captured a few words on paper before we went our separate ways. “My Mom has always pushed me to do better,” said Zulay, her pretty face lights up as she speaks. “ My Mom has been a single parent since she was 24 years old.” Zulay also acknowledged that being in the Puente High School Project and PCC (Pasadena Com College) Puente inspired her to get good grades and apply for admission to Cal State Northridge where she will major in Spanish Journalism. Her passion is to portray a more positive image about the Latino community. She emphasized, “There are good stories not just drive by shootings.”
Andres Hernandez looks out the train window and says, “It is amazing to me that just six years ago I worked on the farm land to help my grandmother in Mexico. Now, I am going to University of California in Berkeley. I went to register and walked around campus. All I can say is WOW!” Andres was greatly influenced by Puente at his community college (PCC) and indicates that be felt like part of a big family. “I hung out and became friends with my Puente classmates,” said Andres. “I also feel it is important to give back to my community.” The notion of social integration or participation in campus activities for Latina/o students is a direct relationship to leadership in community service. Andres volunteered to be a mentor to other Puente students and felt a great sense of belonging during his community college experience.
Finally, the train arrived in Los Angeles. I still had to make it to Oceanside, CA to see my family. Eventually, I drove to Tucson, Arizona where I currently live and work as a Counselor. Taking the train was a time of renewal for me. I found my life is interlinked with Andres, Zulay, plus many wonderful Puente Counselors, Teachers, and Writing Faculty. I hope this blog reaches Andres and Zulay as they begin another semester in college. They are a source of hope and inspiration for me and other Puente Project students.
By: Dr. Minnie Almader, Guest Blogger