San Jose

Children Still Struggle to Read in the Neighborhood Where the Latino-Rights Movement Began

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Nov. 20, 2014, 5:21 a.m.

SAN JOSE, Cal­if.—Dec­ades after civil-rights lead­er Cesar Chavez began fight­ing for farm­work­ers here in May­fair, Latino im­mig­rants still struggle to achieve the Amer­ic­an Dream.

Cesar Chavez Ele­ment­ary School is among the low­est-per­form­ing schools in Cali­for­nia. In 2012, one of every three chil­dren there could not read by the third grade. It’s the only ele­ment­ary school in the work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood of May­fair, where Mex­ic­an farm­work­ers settled long be­fore the Sil­ic­on Val­ley tech boom. Today, the com­munity is home to land­scapers, res­taur­ant work­ers, and house-clean­ers.

Par­ents are start­ing to see early-child­hood lit­er­acy as the way to break the cycle of poverty in their neigh­bor­hood. Somos May­fair, a non­profit com­munity or­gan­iz­a­tion, has trained about two dozen res­id­ents to be neigh­bor­hood “pro­motores,” knock­ing on doors and en­cour­aging par­ents to fill in where the pub­lic school sys­tem doesn’t. This month, those par­ents or­gan­ized the neigh­bor­hood’s first read­ing circles—one at a loc­al park and an­oth­er in someone’s drive­way. The cam­paign is called En Nuestras Manos (In Our Hands).

Most chil­dren in May­fair speak Eng­lish as a second lan­guage and don’t have ac­cess to a lib­rary, so it’s im­port­ant to make sure they don’t start kinder­garten be­hind every­one else, says Ca­m­ille Llanes-Fontanilla, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Somos May­fair.

“We are try­ing to cre­ate an al­tern­at­ive space that our cur­rent pub­lic edu­ca­tion sys­tem is not ad­dress­ing,” she says. “Which is why we call this En Nuestras Manos, be­cause it’s in our hands as a com­munity.”

Na­tion­al Journ­al re­cently vis­ited Sil­ic­on Val­ley to see how im­mig­ra­tion and tech­no­logy have trans­formed the San Jose area. In the com­ing weeks, Next Amer­ica will pub­lish a series of stor­ies about the people who are find­ing their place in Amer­ica’s wealth­i­est re­gion.

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