El Camino For Latinos Into STEM
One in five children in the U.S. today is Latino. If we are to survive in this increasingly globalized world, we’ll need all the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) whizzes we can get.
There is a perfect storm of Latino demographic shift and opportunities for economic and technological change in the works, and it all starts with making the choice, and encouraging our youth, to consider a career in STEM. Luck is the intersection of opportunity and preparation. The opportunity is upon us. It is up to us to prepare.
There are numerous reasons why I feel that we, as Latinos, should revolutionize STEM by taking it on:
- Our interconnected, transnational and bicultural outlook lends itself to a unique ability to connect globally with the scientific community, something which the often monolingual, monocultural folks currently dominating STEM in the U.S. cannot do as readily.
- Barriers to minorities entering STEM are often upheld by stereotypes and reinforced by racist narratives that program us to believe that Latinos aren’t “smart enough” to be good at science, engineering, or math. Latinos can break this stereotype by showing just how capable we are in these fields.
- The coming challenges in science and technology will in part prove to be environmental (an influx of “green jobs” is predicted). Latinos bring perspectives through historic, cultural, and indigenous roots to lend themselves to deeper understandings and appreciation for the need to push STEM toward environmental sensitivity, beyond the profit motive.
- A 2011 report shows that the average Latina earns 48% less than the average white male. Here is a way to change our economic position and our political clout in deeply impactful ways. Those that hold the purse strings are usually those that are at the forefront of technology and industry.
Recommendations for opening up pathways for Latinos into STEM:
Making a formidable Latino presence in STEM won’t occur by just wishing it so, or waiting around for someone else to do it. The time is now to take positive action for ourselves and our families and communities. Here are some ideas:
- Introduce children (and yourself) to Latino role models in STEM, and emphasize that it isn’t just old white males (usually with crazy hair and a lab coat) who are making a difference in STEM. Some examples are Ellen Ochoa, France Cordova, Luis Leloir, Carlos Finlay, Luis Alvarez, Lydia Villa-Komaroff, Luis Caffarelli and Baruj Benacerraf, as well as all these wonderful NASA Latinas
- Connect the knowledge shared in the family in cooking, farming, home repair, car repair, health, nutrition, etc. to the “bigger picture” of science, technology, and medicine. The richness of the things we know is not and should not be separate from the “official” knowledge of some “scientists out there.”
- You (and your kids) are smart enough. You cannot repeat this enough. In fact, in some ways we are smarter. We have been through so much, have navigated several cultures and languages, and have had to work harder just to have half the things others have effortlessly. There is nothing special that white, male scientists command that we Latinas and Latinos don’t also possess, and then much more. Diverse experiences lead to diverse ideas, and this is key to scientific innovation.
- Science museums, science camps, and after-school science programs are overwhelmingly populated by middle or upper class white kids. There is no reason why our children should not also have access to these programs.
- Combat deficit thinking when you hear it. “Math is too hard,” “Only geeks do that,” “That stuff’s only for boys,” “Stop asking so many questions,” are things I heard growing up, and things children even now contend with that steers them away from science and math.
- English does not own science and math. Science and math are universal and go beyond one particular language. The mindset that science, math, and technology are “complicated” fields that only those with a full command of English can even begin to navigate, is something that permeates education. Do not let this absurd falsehood infiltrate and bar your or your children’s potential brilliance from shining through. Language and ethnicity, together are how the “gatekeepers” of science ensure that only those who look, speak, and act like them, get access.
- Realize that those who hold the power in STEM (usually white males) would be all too happy to keep that power to themselves. The power is economic, social, and political. Getting into STEM becomes not just a path for those that have a “knack” for it: it’s is a political act. Remember this in your life’s path, and let your children know also, how important this is not just to themselves or their income (although there are great benefits there), but to all Latinos.
It’s time for a change in the way the world is run, and make no mistake that STEM runs the modern world. But unlike the way STEM has been kept from us, making us think we’re not worthy of it: now we can bring our souls, our cultures, and our perspectives into something that will lift all tides, if we remember who we are and why the revolution is necessary.
Jean Rockford Aguilar-Valdez is a doctoral student studying equity in science education and a former science teacher.
[Photo By N8tr0n]