Maria del Rocio Gomez-Uñiga returned to the United States from her native Mexico two months ago with aspirations for her three sons. She wants them to grow up and become educated so that they can someday realize dreams of their own.
Yet, like many parents in the Latino community, she found that she did not have a road map to college success. With English being her second language, she found it challenging to know what questions to ask or how to guide her children on a path to higher education.
It is for families like Gomez-Uñiga’s that Feria de Educación was created. A partnership between Univision and the California State University system that began in 2008, Feria de Educación came to the campus of California State University, Northridge for the first time on Oct. 15 to help Latino families learn more about education, so that young people can see a college education as something that is attainable.
The event kicked off on the steps of Oviatt Library, with CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison and officials from Univision, the CSU Chancellor’s Office and Cónsul de México welcoming attendees, who then went to information and activity stations and workshops that were located throughout the campus.
Families were encouraged to tour the campus to get a feel for what could lie ahead for their children. The workshops included how to prepare college applications, the various financial aid options available, as well as information on primary education so that young people are more prepared for college. The Matadome floor was broken out into sections where young people could get books, receive information about college and even dress up and take pictures as a police officer, doctor or whatever career they might aspire to be. The goal was to educate these families so their children are more prepared and not intimidated by college.
“More than anything, my kids were born here, and they need to be educated here,” Gomez-Uñiga said. “We’re learning about all the programs and the careers that are available to them. This gives us confidence that an education is possible, and also to visit and learn about the campus and everything that goes with it.”
Having CSUN host this event for the first time was important to the university and its mission to serve the community, especially the East San Fernando Valley, which has a high concentration of Latino families. Also, the campus’ size and resources made it a great home for the thousands who attended the event. CSUN’s location also made it easier to access for families that came from the Antelope Valley, Los Angeles and some even further areas.
“CSUN has always been very community oriented, and we consider ourselves stewards of place,” Harrison said. “So this is really a perfect partnership between Univision and the CSU, and having the Feria de Educación at CSUN – in the San Fernando Valley, which is one of the largest and most diverse communities in all of Los Angeles – really opens up these amazing opportunities to everyone in this Valley and beyond.”
The CSUN-hosted Feria is the second in a series of three events taking place on CSU campuses across the state.
“For many parents, we have experienced that it’s their first time visiting a university campus. It’s here in their neighborhood. It’s right in their backyard,” said Maryann Reyes Jackmon, senior director, external relations for the office of the chancellor in the California State University System. “This event is maybe the beginning for some, and maybe part of the journey for others. But it really begins at home, and what we do here is try to enhance what they’re doing at home already, having that college-going culture at home.”
Luis Patiño, vice president and general manager for Univision, talked about the original goal of Feria de Educación as providing young people the information and resources to reach for a college education.
“With this ideal in mind, this event was created to help and motivate, so that more Latinos graduate from high school and they continue on to get a university education, which forges their road to success,” Patiño said. “There is great potential in our young people. It’s our responsibility to give them access to the tools and resources that they need to feel empowered. Education is incredibly important to our community, and our alliance with the institutions of the California State University system allows us to continue to pursue the objective to empower Latino families and students.”
The Consul de México made a donation of 30,000 books that were distributed to the families who were in attendance at the event. Encouraging these families to read, in English and in Spanish, was the goal, with the hope that these young people continue to thirst for learning.
Gilberto Luna Moisés, the cónsul adscrito for the Cónsul de México of Los Angeles, stressed the importance of education for the 55 million Latinos living in the U.S. He pointed out that one in five college-age people in this country are Latino, yet only one out of 10 college students nationally are Latino. Feria de Educación is working to change that, and it has become a model for the other nine Cónsuls de México throughout California.
“There exists the belief, though it’s wrong, that Latino families don’t value higher education,” Luna Moisés said. “Parents of Mexican families are incredibly conscious of the need that their children progress to a college education so that they can have a better life. There are many disadvantages and barriers for Mexican families. Many of the young Latinos are the first people in their families to explore higher education. There does not exist the experience for the practical steps to enter a university. That’s why this event is so important.”
Many elementary school-age children were in attendance with their families, which helps to plant the seed early for aspiring to college. A reading room in the Matadome saw many adults reading to young people, encouraging them to expand their knowledge and horizons. CSUN Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students William Watkins sat with a group of children and read to them. Watkins said these types of events could have a long-lasting impact on these young people.
“It’s such a tremendous credit to these parents for being forward thinking,” Watkins said. “There have been times, as populations grow, where parents are a little bit uncertain about whether or not to advance their children to the next rung. We’ve seen for some time now, the Latino community really does understand that education is the way to advance their sons and daughters to that next rung, and to create pathways for success for their community. And to participate more fully in all the opportunities that comprise our community. Getting it started with these kids, it just fills my heart.”
Gomez-Uñiga is one of these forward-thinking parents. She sees a day when her children attend and graduate college. It was through Feria de Educación that she saw that path to college open up.
“It’s important for us as parents to know that they’re going to be fine, then we’ll be fine as well,” Gomez-Uñiga said. “We need to take advantage of these opportunities for us as parents and them as our children. We need to take advantage of these events.”