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Anthony Perez wants to know why so few other Latino students are in leadership positions

Last year Anthony Perez was student body president at Alhambra High School. But even though the  school is nearly half Asian, half Hispanic, he was often the only Latino student in the room. This year out of 52 elected officials, all are Asian students. Anthony wants to know why.

This piece originally ran on Hear in the City.

For the past four years I have been among the most popular kids at Alhambra High School. I have been student-body president and even elected prom king and boy of the year. But I feel like a misfit. At my school, it’s not normal for a Hispanic student to take on leadership positions other than on the football or dance team.

“Anthony, you seem more Asian than Hispanic,” is something I am told all the time. But actually, I’m Anthony Perez and proud to be 100% Hispanic.

Still, as a freshman I felt intimidated when I went to my first student council meeting. Of the 25 students in the room everybody else was Asian, even though my school is nearly half Asian and half Hispanic. During the four years since then, I have grown accustomed to being the only Latino student in the room. I took out my microphone in journalism class. Like every other advanced class I’ve taken, except AP Spanish literature, it’s almost all Asian.

Perez (top row, fourth from right) with newspaper clubI asked my friend James: “Do you feel that there is a difference in the way that different ethnicities perceive extracurricular activities. For instance, Asian households and Hispanic households. Do you feel that parents there feel a different way about being involved?”

“I think that Asian kids, especially at home have more of an obligation to be in extra-curricular activities, because a lot of parents place emphasis on that they think that volunteer work can get them into a good college, which is where a lot of Asian parents want their kids to you to go,” James said. “I’m not Hispanic so I don’t know from their perspective, but from what I see at our school a lot of Asian kids flock to service clubs, while there seems to be a lack of Hispanic participation. I don’t know what the cause is. That’s just my observation.”One reason I joined these clubs is because I wanted to get into a good college, something my parents always encouraged. But some– like the video game club or Rubic’s Cube club are just for fun. No other Hispanics are there either. Is it just peer pressure? One day I ask students in my only all-Hispanic class, AP Spanish literature.

Perez at dance

I asked my friend Michelle and Sara: “Why do you think not as many Hispanics go out for student government than Asian students.”

“I think it comes back down to friends knowing friends and you not getting in because you don’t know the right people,” Michelle told me. “I think Asian families are more strict on that stuff they always want their kids to be involved than Hispanic parents.” Sara told me that in her own household her parents were not particularly strict.

Of all these responses, parent involvement makes the most sense to me. After all, I’m not sure where I’d be if my parent’s hadn’t pushed me to succeed.

Jose Prado has a son on my AP Spanish literature class. He’s also asociologist at Cal State Dominguez Hills and has studied student participation at our high school. So I decided to talk to him.

Prado says parents who are not involved are often too busy working. And so it all boils down to the connection between a teacher and a student. And that teachers often don’t have that connection with Hispanic students.

“So as they are segregated and excluded inside the classroom, so too are they segregated and excluded inside the extra curricular tract,” Prado said.

Perez (upper left corner) taking a picture with ASBHe’s done his own study of Alhambra High and found that, based on yearbook pictures, 85% of the participation in clubs were Asian students. When I went out to collect some of my own data many Hispanic students had the desire or intention to join, but they said that they were intimidated.

“We need to understand this experience between the context power, race, and class. And these are things that aren’t part of common everyday language, especially within the context of schools,” Prado said.Now I’m about to move on to college. I’d hoped my being student body president would shift the dynamic and make it easier for other Hispanic students to get involved. Sarah Chavez is running for executive board of student council. I talk with her in the lunchroom on Election Day to try and figure out what was pushing her to break these boundaries.

“I was a little nervous and excited but at the same time more determined to try to show people that you don’t have to be Asian to do everything… I wanted to take a stand in a way but also for fun and show there’s a way for more Hispanic students to get involved.

Perez at a rally

Listening to her makes me feel like maybe I had in fact opened the door for more Hispanic representation in student government.

“Yes, it has a lot. I’ve dealt with it a lot in this campaign,” Sara said. “People telling me do you feel uncomfortable running because a lot of executive is Asian? And people told me hey I’ll vote for you because you’re a Latina. And people tell me it’s weird that I’m running. So I’ve dealt with it, but it’s pushed me further to campaign and stuff.”But I am really surprised when the winners are circled on the wall, and Sarah’s name is not there. And no other Hispanics are elected to student council for next year. Asian students hold all 52 positions. I suspect that there weren’t as many Hispanic voters, because many of them aren’t familiar with voting for a Hispanic candidate. I go to talk to my principal about the issue, but he refuses to comment on the record. I think he should be talking about it. Almost half of our school is not represented in student government, whatever the reason, that’s a problem.

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14 thoughts on “Anthony Perez wants to know why so few other Latino students are in leadership positions”

  1. Jill Korpal Shanmugasundaram AHS '86

    This isn’t new news at AHS. As a member of the class of 1986, I can tell you that Asian students held a majority of leadership roles, and at that point they were about 42% of the school population. As you can imagine, a large number of my friends in high school were Asian, and I honestly didn’t even notice until I was a junior and was in a class that was less diverse than most of my others.

    In the intervening 24 years, it has been my observation that it is the students that are pigeon holing themselves. If kids don’t take the time to talk to someone who doesn’t look like they do or doesn’t have the same life experience, then it is the individual who is to blame. Self-segregation is a BIG problem. Immigrants used to strive for assimilation, but that is no longer the case.

    By the way, you failed to note another glaring disparity – the ratio of female students in leadership to male students. In your second to last photo I count 15 female students and 10 male. At one point in the 1990s, the Head of Boys Federation (does that even exist anymore?) was actually A GIRL because no boys could be troubled to participate.

    And to the previous posters… No one is discouraged from running for an office – pay your ASB fees, keep your minimum GPA and citizenship and take the plunge. You can’t win if you don’t play – and you certainly can’t blame the winners who have taken the time and committed the energy to participate.

    1. I don’t understand the point of this article, unless people are being excluded solely based on ethnicity.

      It should make no difference what the racial make-up of representatives are. Once you vote for people because they are like you (woman, man, white, asian, etc.) it is a sad situation. You should vote for the best candidate…period.

      Representatives should represent the interests of all their constituents, not just those from their specific “group.”

    2. I agree with what you’re saying here. I think the important thing to remember about this issue is that when one group of students isn’t being represented in student government, someone should be talking about it. No one is blaming the “players” of the game (asian students), but no one is encouraging Hispanics either. Because Asian students have held an edge over Hispanics in this respect, for so many years (25+) the system is favoring them. This really needs to change.

  2. Anthony, look at http://www.assembly.ca.gov/clerk/memberinformation/memberdir_1.asp

    CA State Assembly and you will see many Latino leaders – Juan Arambula, Anna Caballero, Charles Calderon, Hector De La Torre, Edward Hernandez, Tony Mendoza, Mary Salas, John Perez, Manuel Perez

    and http://www.senate.ca.gov/~newsen/senators/senators.htp CA State Senate members include Ron Calderon, Gil Cedillo, Jenny Oropeza (AHS Grad just died) Alex Pedilla, Gloria Romero,

    and the Lieutenant Governor of CA is Abel Maldonado, and the Mayor of LA is Antonio Villaragosa, and many City Council members of Los Angeles.

    Obviously, Latinos vote in CA State elections – I don’t know why they don’t vote in AHS elections. There are plenty of Latino political leaders – maybe you could invite some to speak at AHS.

    1. Thank you for pointing this out. I am aware that there are many Hispanics within California politics, but the point of this story deals with student politicians. I don’t know how effective bringing a Hispanic politician to school would be just because in my opinion motivational speakers never really effective in motivating teens.

  3. Thank you for all the comments and the support! I am glad that my story has sparked at least a small discussion about this issue. Truth be told, I was in the honors and AP tract my whole high school career. This meant that I had many Asian friends. However, the fact that I was hispanic and could relate to Latinos on a racial level also made it easier for me to attain relationships with them. I felt like I appealed to the majority of the school because of these two reasons—being a hispanic honors student. My wish for AHS is not only that more Hispanics get involved, but that more Hispanics join the honors and AP tract. Now that I am in college (albeit for six weeks so far) I realize the importance of racial diversity and cultural awareness. Just like one of you commented before, AHS is run by Asian American students. This isn’t “bad” it’s just a fact.

  4. Mr Perez, the issue you raise goes beyond AHS. It is an issue that has implications across all of AUSD and as someone else noted symptomatic of issues with state and federal governments. The lack of representation stems from characteristics that plague Latino’s (Mexican, Guatemalen, El Salvador, Nicaragua, etc etc), lack of organization. It is a bidirectional issue, the young don’t trust parents, the parents sometimes rather not deal with the kids. (I’m sure no parent wants their kid to go to continuation school, or become a teen parent, or decide to think they’re cool and join a gang, but there you have it) Though we feel education is important we don’t put the same emphasis on it. There are several cultural differences between Asians of all types, yes all types there are several just like there are several types of Latinos. But that is way beyond the scope of this discussion.

    A final observation for pondering:
    Q: How does the AYSO, here in Alh,North Alh Little Leage, & Alh Little League differ from the Summer Enrichment Program @ AHS?

    A: Enrollment, POLAR OPPOSITES.

  5. Yes I see mostly Asian students involved in student government & fund-raising, but if Latinos feel “left out” then it’s up to them to get involved, don’t blame others, be positive, get involved, do extra curricular activities, press your parents to speak up for you – colleges look at student’s school involvement

  6. I agree with much of what Anthony writes here and that this was a very uplifting article for Hispanic students everywhere, regardless of what social situation they are in.

    However, we must realize that this is Alhambra, a city in the SGV that has experienced a diaspora of Asian immigrants arrive in epic proportions since the early 80s. In an unintentional move, the Asian demographic of students have made themselves the permanent establishment within the high school social circle (at least for AHS as far as I am concerned), and this is all too true for any school with a higher race demographic.

    As a college student, I have seen for myself what opening up our cultural borders on our campus can do to unite students regardless of race, and I don’t see why AHS doesn’t attempt to try it out for themselves. It would do wonders in letting the student body know that the campus is open to all, not just exclusive to the majority.

  7. Thank you for a well written article. It is nice to see a thoughtful consideration of all factors involved (Family, community, and school). many times individuals take the easy way out and say it is the school administrations fault and demand them to “do something” this often ends up with “fake” solutions like setting in stone that no more than 50% of the council be Asian, or giving 2 for 1 for every Hispanic vote. These solutions would make the council more diverse but at what cost. the real solution is to increase the amount of positive talk among friends that it is “OK” if not “cool” to be involved. But it also requires us to understand that civic participation can not be mandated… just look at the percentages of voters who actually vote or how people try to avoid jury duty. the issues at AHS are symptomatic of a much larger problem. One that can’t be “fixed” by a school policy

    1. I feel that many hispanic’s feel somewhat apprehensive about running for council position’s at Alhambra High School. Truth is whether you like it or not, that high school is predominantly ran by Asian Americans. They hold tremendous power over which student becomes elected. I went to Alhambra High School, I saw what went on whenever hispanics did decide to run. I knew a few of the hispanics that ran for certain positions but many decide not to run because they feel discouraged. The fact that many school government leaders are Asian, they feel as if they will not recieve support from them. These young students see this as a hopeless opportunity because they feel the Asians control who gets to be in charge. Reality is difficult to accept but this is the truth. However, Anthony Perez is hispanic and he did a spectacular job as school president. The school should encourage a balance of leadership despite the ethnicity percentages. Two heads are better than one. Combine all the talents and success will be around for years to come for that high school. If you are hispanic or asian; it should not matter. Voice your spirit and come togehter to create a powerful community.

      1. I read into your comment a sense of helplessness and acceptance of the status quo – other than whining that the “Asians control who gets to be in charge” can you be specific on how you might energize the Hispanic students to band together and elect first one and then more officers. Obviously Mr. Perez was able to appeal to a wider group of students than just the Hispanics. I see at the school I work at that when we have elections often times even just reviewing the speeches I can tell you the ethnicity of the writer based on the topics addressed and the promises made. You seem to elude that the administration or teachers actively discourage Hispanic student from running, How might they do this? examples?

  8. rick swartzentrover

    Maybe it’s because Asians are programmed by their leaders and mentors to be leaders while Hispanics are programmed by their liberal leaders to play the victim. You can’t be a leader if you always play the victim card and blame ever one and every other race for your failings. There is even proof in the article of this victim hood mentality. Look at what the only adult Hispanic leader questioned has to say. Jose Prado said

    “Prado says parents who are not involved are often too busy working. And so it all boils down to the connection between a teacher and a student. And that teachers often don’t have that connection with Hispanic students.”

    “So as they are segregated and excluded inside the classroom, so too are they segregated and excluded inside the extra curricular tract,”

    In other words it not the fault of the Hispanic Student or his/her parent it’s society’s fault, it’s the teacher’s fault, it’s racism’s fault, it’s the “MAN” keeping the Hispanic Brother down. Woe is we, we are the poor victims so change how you do thing to accommodate us. Blah, Blah, Blah. Maybe if the liberal Hispanic leaders would take a clue from the Asians and stop blaming everyone else for their problems then Hispanic students will learn to stand on their own two feet and have REAL pride in their race. No one can take pride in their being the victim 24/7. Of course this opinion will just be written off as a racist opinion by a racist clansman. (I’m not) Because the only way some leaders can get others to follow them is to make them smaller. BTW this is not just true of the Hispanics; it is quickly becoming true of poor White America as well. Thanks to the Liberal Media and Two bit leaders in Congress, young whites are falling down the same death slope. It’s time for all of us to grow some guts and learn to be REAL MEN & WOMEN not victims babies crying “I didn’t get my way so I’m gonna hold my breath until you give everything for free!”