Farm work requires a lot of work but little education. It's more important that kids learn to work than learn to learn. That is changing rapidly, both there and here. As challenging as this new reality may be in the short term, I submit that, with the proper response, it holds great promise for both our countries in the longer term.
Owing to this agrarian past, education was not a particularly cherished asset, nor graduation a special milestone. That has changed. Graduations are now huge--and I mean huge--events in greater Phoenix, at any school w/a significant Latino population, and that's a lot of them. Schools are increasingly scrambling to accomodate eye-popping attendance and participation in graduation ceremonies. Arenas, domed facilities, mega-churches--all are fully-booked this time of year. Ceremonies often have to be staggered to allow for the intense interest.
Why is this? For Mexican-Americans and other Latino-Americans, graduation ceremonies are the new Family Event--the Must-See Rite of Passage. Last year, a brand-new high school was shocked when the interest in their graduation was so high that traffic was snarled for miles, and they had to enlist volunteers to help cars park up to a mile or more away from the School Auditorium.
Family Life in the Spring is now planned around these august occasions, with the graduate--often the first in the family to achieve that status--a true object of pride and hope. The ENTIRE family participates to applaud and celebrate these new heroes and heroines, and, for those who can't make it to the ceremony itself, there is always the graduation party, often drawing hundreds to the warm, generous helpings of great food and hearty congratulation.
Younger siblings, nieces, and nephews watch wide-eyed, and they get it--the new value, the new cool thing, is to excel at education. Schools scramble to identify announcers that won't mangle Spanish surnames.
At the ceremony I attended last night, the Valedictorian, a brilliant, highly-articulate Angla, headed to Harvard on a full ride, addressed the Issue of the Day head on: (I paraphrase)"In a year when the issue of immigration has generated intense controversy, we have benefitted tremendously from the great diversity on our campus. Some 27 languages could be heard at our school. This has only made us richer, better, much more prepared for a diverse world."
It is human capital, after all, that will tell the tale of this new century. By that measure, we're putting money in the bank.