Raising Educational Expectations of Young Latinos

Graciela Tiscareño-Sato

Graciela Tiscareño-Sato is being honored as a Women Veteran Leaders Champion of Change.

As she exited the school auditorium, the little girl tugged gingerly on my sleeve. She had just watched me do my “STEM of Aviation” presentation that included a reading of Good Night Captain Mama/Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá, the first bilingual children’s book about women in the military. Excitedly and in Spanish she exclaimed, “Capitán Mamá, yo quiero volar en aviones como tu!” [Translation: Captain Mama, I want to fly on airplanes like you!]

Squatting down to her eye level, as mothers intuitively do, I told her I know she’ll learn all the math, science and reading needed to make her dream happen. Holding her hand, I told her to never, ever let any adult tell her she couldn’t do it. She smiled and joined her class. In that precious moment, the decision to use my status as a Latina military veteran turned publisher of bilingual and multicultural books that spark dreams of adventurous futures, was solidly validated. This little Latina whose first language (like mine) was Spanish, was now dreaming of one day flying airplanes.

As an American-born daughter of Mexican immigrants with a Master’s degree, silver Air Force aviator wings, and two decades of global work experience, my mission as a social entrepreneur in educational publishing is to create aspirational literature that’s widely adopted in schools and showcases the many success stories from my beloved Latino community. I intentionally pursued this endeavor for the benefit of young students and to simultaneously help reverse decades of low expectations of Latino students and negative media stereotyping in all its forms.

This work was sparked by hardship twelve years ago, when I birthed my severely premature, one-pound baby girl. Documenting the 137-day hospitalization and her blindness helped me cope with the difficulties. We’ve always been encouraged by parents of older blind children to have high expectations.

Our daughter is now a joyful Braille reader and writer, a whiz with adaptive technology, the 5th grade commencement speaker and a finalist in the “Braille Bee” at the California School for the Blind. If she can achieve all that without eyesight and with a severe hearing impairment, imagine what little Latinos without those impairments can accomplish, if only all educators, administrators and parents have high expectations of them.

Our nation is facing one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time–weak educational attainment numbers for our fastest growing ethnic group. In 2011, as we launched our first book, Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them, I cited frightening, absolute numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics in my article titled “Two by 2020 Mentoring Challenge.” The USA is only graduating 140,000 Latinos annually with bachelor degrees (versus 611,000 needed annually to return us to the top of the most-educated nation list.)

This country needs MANY more entrepreneurial success stories of people with last names like Ramirez, Salazar, Caballero, Rincon and Rojas as profiled in our Latinnovating series. It’s all-hands-on-deck time. If you have a college degree will you please pledge to mentor two Latino students toward their degrees by 2020? Millions of children of immigrants need mentors to ignite their imaginations and provide guidance on how one achieves a degree. This is how we can “Out-innovate and out-educate” other nations, rising to the challenge stated by President Obama.

I’m deeply honored to be recognized by the White House for my military service and my social entrepreneurship work. I recognize that my professional life, since breaking tradition and leaving my parents’ home to attend Berkeley on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, has been blessedly extraordinary. I’m compelled to motivate others to follow my lead and those whose stories my team and I are privileged to publish.

Graciela Tiscareño-Sato is CEO and Founder of award-winning, educational publishing firm Gracefully Global Group LLC located in the San Francisco Bay Area where she serves K-College students and educators as a bilingual STEM consultant. Graciela is the author of the Captain Mama and Latinnovating book series, and a sought-after keynote speaker and co-founder of the National Women Veterans Speakers Bureau, the first such bureau comprised entirely of professional speakers who are veterans and published authors.

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