Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

Home school no longer just for the deeply religious, enters mainstream

Home school no longer just for the deeply religious, enters mainstream

Published Sept. 27, 2013


When he was a toddler, Joseph Biner of Westchester was shy and withdrawn. And yet he couldn’t sit still in a chair for any length of time.

His mother, Patty Biner, began to dread the prospect of sending him off to kindergarten.

“I wanted to find a more constructive way to teach him,” she said. “I didn’t want to just throw him to the wolves.”

Kids might bully him. Counselors might label him.

“I’m sure they would want to say he has ADHD and put him on medication,” she said. “I think most ADHDs are just boys being boys.”

Patty and her husband, George, decided to home-school their child. In doing so, they joined a rapidly expanding movement.

Once primarily the domain of the Christian right or the far left, home schooling is increasingly appealing to families that don’t consider themselves deeply religious or ideological.

The practice instead appears to be entering a new phase of mainstream attention, attracting greater numbers of people who are most concerned about subjecting their kids to the pitfalls of the traditional school environment: standardized testing, peer pressure, bullying and even violence.

Related story: Home-schooling families take play seriously

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released its five-year report on home schooling. Among its findings: the number of home-schooled students ages 5 to 17 in the United States has jumped 17 percent since the last study in 2007 — to a record 1.77 million students. That represents about 3.4 percent of all the nation’s K-12 students.

Meanwhile, the proportion of K-12 students who are attending private schools has shrunk in a decade, from 12 percent to 10 percent.

Pam Sorooshian, who co-founded a group for home-schoolers in Long Beach called Dragon Tree, said the home-schooling option is no longer perceived as bizarre in the way it was when she was home-schooling her three daughters, now all in their 20s. (Two are college graduates and the third is a senior at Cal State Northridge.)

“When we first started home schooling, people would kind of look at us blankly,” said Sorooshian, an economics professor at Cypress College in Orange County. “They’d say, ‘What? Can you do that?’ Now, they say, ‘Oh yes, my niece home-schools,’ or ‘my nephew home-schools.’ Everybody knows somebody who does it.”

As home schooling enters the mainstream, it is also becoming more secular, according to the survey.

Every five years, the Department of Education asks respondents to cite the most important reason driving their decision to home-school. In 2007, the one cited by the highest proportion of parents — more than a third — was “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction.” But the share of those parents has shrunk since then, from 36 percent to 21 percent.

Now, the plurality belongs to the 25 percent who say their chief reason for home schooling is a concern about the traditional school environment, specifically as it relates to “safety, drugs and negative peer pressure.”

To be sure, a large share of families still home-school for religious or moral reasons. By the study’s count, nearly two-thirds of the families included “a desire to provide religious instruction” among their three top reasons for home schooling. But even here, that figure is eclipsed by the 91 percent of families who selected “school environment” among their top three reasons.

By the survey’s reckoning, the growth of the home-school movement has been meteoric, doubling since 1999.

Joseph Murphy, a professor of education at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee — and a leading expert on home schooling — believes the growth will soon level off.

“Most home-schooled households have a mom who stays at home,” he said. “There are only so many people in the country that can afford to take a breadwinner out of the box.”

Data hard to track

In any case, reliable statistics on home schooling can be difficult to find.

The U.S. Department of Education’s figures must be viewed with a careful eye because the methodology changed from conducting random surveys by land-line telephone — which fewer and fewer people have — to sending them out randomly via mail.

In California, the statistics are even fuzzier. That’s because, technically, there is no such thing as home schooling in California. Here, it is done in several ways. Families that go it alone must establish what amounts to a miniature private school. They can hire a credentialed teacher to tutor their child. Or they can home-school through an independent study or online program sponsored by a public school.

While the California Department of Education keeps a tally of private schools in the state, it omits from the count any private school with fewer than six students — and in so doing neglects to track the number of home-schoolers.

As is required of private-school operators, home-school families that opt to become mini private schools need only fill out an online form every October. This is called a “private school affidavit,” and amounts to a notification to the state that the school exists. The affidavit includes a verbal pledge, agreed to under penalty of perjury, to offer the same general branches of instruction that students get in traditional public schools.

“You can’t be teaching basketball all day, or dance,” Sorooshian said. “To be honest, there is nobody who is authorized to check on that. We don’t report to anybody. We have a lot of freedom to do things the way we want to.”

Though K-12 home schooling is becoming more mainstream, it isn’t being treated as such by all four-year universities.

Some advocates single out the University of California as especially unfriendly to the home-school movement.

“I have people who talk to me about getting into college after high school, and I always have to warn them about UC,” said Wes Beach, a home-school advocate in Santa Cruz County who serves as a kind of guidance counselor for home-schoolers. “There just isn’t a way unless you get really high test scores.”

Beach said he’s worked with only one home-schooled student who went straight to a UC campus (Santa Cruz) as a freshman.

The reason: The UC system has strict guidelines on the coursework that must be completed before students are eligible to apply. Those courses — known in education circles as the “A through G requirements” — in essence need UC’s stamp of approval.

Conversely, home-schoolers often don’t draw a bright line between subject areas, instead favoring an approach that allows the interests of the child to drive instruction.

Julian Sharisi, who grew up in Long Beach but is now a student at the private Sarah Lawrence College in New York, remembers a typical school day during his high school years. He would wake up between 9 and 11 a.m., eat breakfast and then read whatever interested him. Class for that day might include a private piano or cello lesson, a dance or acting class, or a trip to a museum or play.

“I never really liked math or algebra; I didn’t see the point — I wasn’t particularly good at it,” Sharisi said. Then he got into music theory and computer science. “Suddenly, I have a passion for math and physics,” he said.

Beach says the one exception to the UC system’s impenetrability is UC Riverside. About five years ago at that campus, a group of professors whose children were home-schooled lobbied the administration to create a separate set of guidelines for such students. To this day, the campus has a committee of professors — many of them current or former home-school parents — that vets home-school applicants.

Many home-schoolers skirt the point-of-entry challenge by taking two years’ worth of community college credits, thereby rendering their high school transcript moot — and enabling them to transfer into four-year universities as juniors.

That’s what Sorooshian’s daughters did. All three went to Cal State schools. One is working as an adjunct professor at Cal State Long Beach.

Sorooshian isn’t really among the wave of more mainstream families. A statistician by trade, she’s a self-described hippie at heart.

Sorooshian subscribes to a form of home schooling called “un-schooling,” which some view to be radical, though she believes the method is widely misunderstood. The idea is to let the child’s interests or real-world applications drive instruction, rather than textbooks and curriculum.

When one of her daughters was 5, for instance, rather than make her fill out worksheets that teach the concept of counting money and making change, Sorooshian might instead have taken her to a bakery, given her a $20 bill to purchase a cookie, and then asked her how much money she should expect to get back.

The Biners, meanwhile, lean toward the libertarian end of the political spectrum. Their concerns had less to do with countering the establishment and more to do with the school environment. In a sense, their trail was blazed by Patty Biner’s brother, who pulled his son out of school long before Patty’s eldest child was of school age. The reason? The boy had been held at knife-point in a middle-school bathroom.

“The principal did nothing,” she said. “The teachers did nothing.”

Patty’s oldest son, Joseph, is 14, and now attends Da Vinci Science charter high school, which has no home-school component.

“He tested very well,” said Biner, a stay-at-home mom with a master’s degree in engineering. (Her husband is an engineer.) “His advisory teacher was shocked to find out he was home schooling his whole life.”

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

Trapped in ESL: Some students wind up in English-learner programs even though they only speak English

Trapped in ESL: Some students wind up in English-learner programs even though they only speak English

Nov. 24, 2012

Julian Ruiz of Torrance has been classified as an English learner even though he doesn t speak Spanish, or any other language besides English. His mother, Millie Ruiz, has unsuccessfully been trying to get him redesignated as fluent in English. (Brad Graverson/Staff Photographer)
Julian Ruiz of Torrance has been classified as an English learner even though he doesn t speak Spanish, or any other language besides English. His mother, Millie Ruiz, has unsuccessfully been trying to get him redesignated as fluent in English. (Brad Graverson/Staff Photographer)

Julian Ruiz is an English speaker who doesn’t know a word of Spanish or any other foreign language.

Yet when the 7-year-old entered kindergarten in Torrance three years ago, he was classified as an English learner – a student not fluent in English.

This shunted him into a category that his mother, Millie Ruiz, says he shouldn’t be in, and triggered a dispute with the school’s administration.

Ruiz says her son is trapped in the school district’s English Language Development program, giving him a label he doesn’t deserve.

“There comes a point where we need to introduce some common sense into the whole scheme of things,” Ruiz said.

Related story: California’s English language learners getting stuck in schools’ remedial programs

In California, about 23 percent of K-12 students are English learners. Some believe the number is too high.

A 2011 UC Berkeley study concluded that California districts are misidentifying large numbers of kindergarten students as English learners, in part because the test that determines whether they deserve the label is too difficult.

The result: Scarce resources earmarked for the purpose of helping nonfluent students are being spent inefficiently.

“There is that unfortunate opportunity for these kids to be identified as English-language learners and be locked into a program that’s not appropriate for them. I guess the criteria needs to be changed,” said Gil Navarro, a member of the San Bernardino County school board.

Some English-learner advocates see it differently.

Dan Fichtner, president of a nonprofit support group for teachers of English learners, said it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“We believe that it is better to err on the side of being conservative than to make a mistake and lose those first formative years,” Fichtner said.

As for Julian – a second-grader because he was held back in kindergarten – he must keep the designation until at least third grade, like all students in the program.

In California, it all begins with a language survey, filled out by every parent sending a child to kindergarten at a public school. It includes four questions:

* What language did the student use when first learning to speak?

* What language does the student use most frequently at home?

* What language does the parent speak when talking with the student?

* What language is most often spoken by adults in the home?

Ruiz answered the first three questions with “English.” But her fourth answer – “English/Spanish” – triggered the language test requirement.

Like about 90 percent of state kindergartners who take the test, Julian failed to score high enough to avoid the English learner label.

Jose Collazo, 22, of Pomona came to the United States with his family when he was little more than a year old. He remained in ESL classes throughout elementary and high school in Pomona Unified.

Collazo took the English-fluency exam four times, and although he was under the impression he had passed, he was never taken out of the ESL program.

That became a problem in high school, he said.

“I didn’t understand why my other friends were taking college prep and I didn’t,” Collazo said.

After speaking to a guidance counselor, he was able to take college preparation classes, but was still required to take ESL courses.As a result, Collazo said, he was unable to take some of the college preparation classes he needed.

In the summer of 2011, Ruiz decided – after two years in the program – she didn’t want to participate any longer. She refused to take time off work to bring her son to the district office to take his mandatory annual California English Language Development Test.

The school sent her a letter that Ruiz took as a threat. It said, in all caps: “Please note that your child will not be put on a class list in September if he/she does not complete this testing process prior to school starting in the fall.”

Ruiz did not have him tested that summer. That fall, the school pulled Julian out of class to take the assessment.

The results came back a few months later: “No change for this school year.”

Staff writers Rebecca Kimitch and Beau Yarbrough contributed to this report.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

Why do foreign-born ESL students become fluent more quickly than native-born English learners?

Why do foreign-born ESL students become fluent more quickly than native-born English learners?

Feb. 9, 2013


Actually, she knew one phrase — “thank you” — as well as the 26 letters of the alphabet. But other than that, the Arabic speaker was surrounded by thousands of students with whom she couldn’t communicate.

“It’s like you’re just in your own world,” she said of those first few months. “You cannot understand anything.”

Late last month, the high school senior celebrated a milestone: She accepted a certificate showing that she has officially met the requirements to exit the school’s program for students who are still learning English. Put simply, she is now considered fluent.

Meanwhile, Stephanie, another senior at San Pedro High, remains stuck in the school’s remedial programs for English learners, even though she was born in the United States, and has been labeled an English learner since kindergarten. (The Daily Breeze is withholding her last name of the Spanish speaker at the request of her teacher.)

Gabriel Luna of Mexico, left, Cristian Garcia of Columbia, Eevan Nooh of Iraq, Leonardo Perez of Mexico and Yingjun Xie of China are among those receiving their certificates of completion in the ESL program at San Pedro High during a Jan. 30, 2013 ceremony. (LANG Staff Photo by Sean Hiller)
Gabriel Luna of Mexico, left, Cristian Garcia of Columbia, Eevan Nooh of Iraq, Leonardo Perez of Mexico and Yingjun Xie of China are among those receiving their certificates of completion in the ESL program at San Pedro High during a Jan. 30, 2013 ceremony. (LANG Staff Photo by Sean Hiller)

The difference between Eevan and Stephanie underscores a little-known paradox that has long been at play at San Pedro High and likely beyond: Foreign-born students who come to America as teenagers knowing nary a word of English consistently test out of the English-learner program before high school students who have been stuck in the program since kindergarten. In fact, the comparison isn’t even close.

In the last three years at San Pedro High, a full 100 percent of the foreign-born English learners — about 10 pupils a year — have exited the program before graduation, compared to just 15 percent of their U.S.-born peers, said Laura Rodriguez, the school’s English Language Development coordinator.

Although broader statistics on the distinction between native- and foreign-born English-learners are scarce – neither the California Department of Education nor the Los Angeles Unified School District keep such tallies – the issue is worth examining.

The phenomenon at San Pedro High jibes with a nationwide study released this fall by John Hopkins University concluding that immigrant children tend to academically outperform their second- and third-generation native-born peers.

The trend was on display on Jan. 30, during a little-after-school ceremony at San Pedro High for students who have met all the requirements for being redesignated as fluent. Eevan was among 11 students so awarded. Eight of them were like her in that they had recently emigrated from other countries. Amazingly, this crew represented as many countries as students: El Salvador, Colombia, Tanzania, China, Peru, Ukrania, Iran and, of course, Iraq. Just three of the students were born in the United States.

The eight students getting redesignated were among 35 foreign-born English-learners at the school. The three U.S.– born students — known in education parlance as “long-term English learners” — came from a pool of 136. Sixteen of those U.S.-born students are seniors and in acute danger of not achieving fluency before graduation.

Karla Glover is the teacher of the foreign-born students, whose program is known as English as a Second Language.

“To see my students reclassify when they are in ESL when there is 136 that cannot do it in 9 to 12 years … it’s a lot of honor for me,” she said at the ceremony.

Comparing the success rate of foreign-born English-learners with their U.S.-born peers may offer insight into how to tackle one of the state’s most pressing educational problems. Making up nearly a quarter of all of California’s K-12 students, English learners have the worst high school dropout rate of any demographic group in the state.

Jill Aguilar, an associate professor of education at California State University, Dominguez Hills, believes the paradox demonstrates an oft-overlooked reality: Second-generation U.S. students whose parents speak another language at home often fail to gain a mastery of their supposed native tongue.

That is, many students who enter kindergarten speaking primarily, say, Spanish never really learn to read in Spanish, or even attain oral proficiency. This means they’re trying to learn a new language even as they are learning how to read.

“It delays their progress in Spanish and it delays their progress in English at the same time,” she said. “It ends up almost like a created learning disability.”

By comparison, students who arrive to the United States from other countries as a teenagers have often mastered their own native language.

“All they are doing is replacing words in their own language with English – it’s a vocabulary problem, really,” she said.

Aguilar believes bi-lingual education is the answer; she calls the 1998 decision by California voters to eliminate it a tragedy.

Rodriguez — the ELD coordinator at San Pedro High — disagrees. She believes the crux of the problem has more to do with motivation.

“The foreign-born students are more motivated because they are here for a better life,” she said. “Whereas the ones who have been here don’t see that. They feel more entitled.”

Eevan Noah certainly had good reason to appreciate her lot in life when she arrived at San Pedro High with her two siblings. Their Christian family was driven out of Iraq by Islamic militants irate that their father worked as a truck driver delivering goods to U.S. military forces, said Eevan’s older sister, Evett, who attended the Jan. 30 event to snap a few pictures of her sister.

“They gave us a paper saying you betrayed the country, and if you don’t get out of this country, we’re going to kill all of your kids,” Evett said. “The next day we got out of the country.”

Like Eevan, Evett went through the school’s ESL program, as did their brother, Andro. All three siblings are or were honor students at San Pedro High.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

California’s English language learners getting stuck in schools’ remedial programs

California’s English language learners getting stuck in schools’ remedial programs

Melanie Perez wishes she could have played the saxophone. Octavio Reyes would have liked to take a computer science class.

Both students at San Pedro High School say they can’t sign up for these electives because, at some point in their school careers, they were stuck having to take remedial classes for English learners – even though both speak English fluently and have performed reasonably well on English tests.

“I actually feel retarded when (the teacher) says, `What is this (word)?’ and it’s a carrot,” Octavio said. “It’s pointless. I already know it, and I don’t think it helps me.”

Their complaints highlight a wider problem that, although little known, could be among the state’s most pressing educational challenges: Students stuck for years in the state’s remedial programs for English learners are often denied the opportunity to take enriching electives or the more rigorous courses required for getting into college.

Related story: Trapped in ESL: Some students wind up in English-learner programs even though they only speak English

It’s a problem that has been attracting more attention of late, leading to a raft of reforms that some say could make California a leader in the field – which would be fitting, considering a third of the nation’s English learners attend California public schools.

But as is, the state is failing many of these students.

Low odds for success

Numbering 1.4 million, English learners make up nearly a quarter of all K-12 students in the state – and nearly 40 percent of all California’s kindergartners. One in four quits school – the worst dropout rate of any demographic group in California. Only 60 percent graduate high school within four years.

Several pieces of legislation addressing this mammoth bloc of at-risk students were signed in late September by Gov. Jerry Brown. All take effect Jan. 1.

One, authored by Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, D-Bell, seeks to prevent English learners from languishing in the system for years by compelling the state Department of Education to reveal the number of “long-term English learners” at each school district.

Another, by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, will force the state to come up with more consistent guidelines for deeming kids fluent. The implication here is that many students are unnecessarily stuck in remedial classes when their command of the English language is sufficient.

A third bill, also by Padilla, takes school districts to task for banking state money earmarked for getting these students on track.

School officials chafe at some of these characterizations, in particular that last one, especially at a time when schools are suffering from historic shortages of state funding.

Meanwhile, advocates of English learners say large numbers of them – for whatever reason – get stuck in the system, and that, at some point, their very status as English learners seems to inhibit their chances for success.

“If kids haven’t been reclassified (as fluent) by fifth grade, they have pretty much been tracked, and are not going to be able to go to college,” said Oscar Cruz, the head of Families in Schools, a nonprofit advocate for parents of low-income and minority families. “They’re on a path where they’re just taking remedial classes.”

Lara’s AB 2193 would create a consistent definition for long-term English learners and force school districts to not only keep track of such students, but also students at risk of earning the distinction.

Studies show that some 60 percent of English learners in grades 6-12 are considered long term, meaning they’ve carried the label for at least six years.

Padilla’s SB 1108 – co-authored by Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton – aims to create a more consistent set of requirements for deeming students academically fluent. As is, the state provides minimum guidelines, but allows school districts to tack on additional stipulations, arguably creating more barriers to reclassification.

“The criteria are just all over the map,” Padilla said, adding that he would prefer to see districts err on the side of removing the label.

Padilla’s other bill, SB 754, is a transparency measure that seeks to pressure individual school districts out of the practice of stashing the extra money they receive to provide services for English learners. Specifically, it would compel them to prominently post online their budgets and carryovers in these accounts, as well as explain why the money hasn’t been spent.

School districts generally receive $300 to $500 a year in state dollars for every English learner they designate, but they don’t spend it all. (This amount doesn’t include the additional funds they receive from the federal government.)

In 2010-11, the state gave California’s school districts a total of $915 million for helping English learners and low-income students. Known as the “Economic Impact Aid” fund, it lumps the two allocations together. By year’s end, the school districts’ combined ending balance from this fund amounted to $382 million – or 42 percent of the annual apportionment.

The 2011 carryover for LAUSD alone was $61.5 million, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

That money, Padilla said, “should be spent; it should not be hoarded.”

Octavio and Melanie

Octavio is a good example of a student who could be fluent by state standards, but isn’t due to an unique additional local requirement.

A senior at San Pedro High, Octavio still bears the “English learner” label even though he cleared the state-set hurdles for fluency. These include passage of an exam taken annually by English learners until they pass, and demonstrating a basic level of proficiency on standardized tests.

But the Los Angeles Unified School District also has another requirement for shedding the label: Students must maintain at least a C average in their English classes. That has been Octavio’s hang-up.

“It was mostly because I didn’t try,” said Octavio, who has been an English learner since emigrating from Mexico at age 10. “I would get bored.”

Other districts have their own tack-on requirements. The K-8 Hawthorne School District requires its English learners to pass a written exam. In Torrance, English learners must score higher on standardized English tests than what the state requires.

As for Melanie, who is a freshman at San Pedro High, she has been successfully reclassified as fluent but says the year and a half spent taking remedial English classes at Dana Middle School in San Pedro denied her the ability to take desired electives, such as band. While she was born in the United States, many other students were immigrants.

“There were times that I didn’t care to do my work,” she said. “I was like, `Why am I in this class if I know English?”‘

New master plan

Even as several pieces of English-learner legislation have become law statewide, LAUSD has its own new initiative.

The nation’s second-largest school system has more English learners than any other district – nearly 31 percent of its 650,000 students. Officials estimate that nearly 40 percent of those are considered long term, unable to attain proficiency after five years in a program.

LAUSD’s strategy for teaching English to these students is detailed in its 150-page master plan, which was overhauled last year after a federal civil rights investigation found that English learners weren’t getting the same quality education as other students in the district.

Under the new plan, the district is more closely monitoring the progress of its English learners, with tutoring and other forms of intervention available to those struggling with either language or academic lessons.

“The goal is to increase proficiency in elementary grades, before students get to middle and high school and get mired in the long-term category,” said Hilda Maldonado, director of LAUSD’s Multilingual and Multicultural Education Department.

“We’re using more of the district’s data system to be able to monitor the progress and achievement of our students.”

The district also wants to remove the roadblocks impeding students who can’t test out of the English-learner programs despite their obvious fluency. Beginning next year, Maldonado said, teachers will be assessing middle and high school students with the goal of getting students reclassified even if they can’t hit the academic benchmarks on report cards.

The disconnect

Statewide, there is an apparent disconnect between the number of English learners who demonstrate proficiency on standardized tests and the number of students who matriculate out of the English learner program.

In 2010-11, nearly 40 percent of California’s English learners made the grade in English on standardized tests, but only 11 percent were reclassified as fluent, according to the California Department of Education.

A South Bay district with a lower-than-average reclassification rate is the K-8 Hawthorne School District. Here, just 8 percent of English learners were deemed fluent in 2010-11, even though nearly 50 percent scored proficient or better on standardized English tests.

Hawthorne schools Superintendent Helen Morgan – whose schools are generally strong performers given their high rates of low-income families – makes no apologies for setting the bar high for reclassification.

“In our instance, the writing component is more of a hurdle, but we want to make sure they are good writers before we drop all the support,” she said.

Torrance schools

Torrance Unified seems to do a better-than-average job of getting students out of the program in a timely fashion.

For instance, in 2010-11, the latest data available, while just 11 percent of English learners in California were reclassified as fluent, in Torrance the figure was 14.4 percent.

Kati Krumpe, the district’s director of state and federal programs, says reclassified students in Torrance tend to outperform many of their peers who were never in the English learner program.

“I think that shows that the program is working,” she said.

As for the 39-year-old Padilla, he himself was an English learner as an elementary school student in the Los Angeles Unified School District. That was before California voters passed Proposition 227 in 1998, thereby ending mandatory bilingual education.

“My textbooks in first grade were 100 percent in Spanish,” he said.

He is the rare example of an English learner who thrived, eventually earning a mechanical engineering degree from MIT.

Taking a step back, Padilla says the crux of the problem is a lack of urgency on this topic.

“English learners are a segment of the population that continues to grow,” he said. “If the trend is on the way up, and the educational attainment level of English learners continues to stagnate, I think we have a perfect storm for a crisis. And many would say the crisis is already here.”

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

State’s Dream Act doesn’t help students near graduation

State’s Dream Act doesn’t help students near graduation

By Rob Kuznia Staff Writer
Posted: 10/13/2011 07:43:33 PM PDT
Updated: 10/13/2011 07:55:08 PM PDT

From coast to coast, the passage of the California Dream Act has prompted loud cheers from supporters and bitter outrage from critics.

But for Vilma Nerio, a senior at California State University, Dominguez Hills, in Carson – and an undocumented student – last weekend’s signing by Gov. Jerry Brown felt almost inconsequential.

Nerio’s problems pertain more to the near future: though she is within striking distance of earning her teaching degree, she will have no way to land a job once she graduates.

“There are no undocumented teachers out there,” she said.

For Nerio, the more important Dream Act is the federal version, which would provide permanent residency to qualified undocumented students. In December, it came before the U.S. Senate, and fell five votes short of being considered for final passage.

Nerio is far from alone. In August, a study by the American Sociological Review found that undocumented students with college degrees often must settle for the same low-wage jobs that their parents perform. In fact, of the 31 graduates of four-year universities interviewed, none was working in their chosen professions.

“I know many who have been out three, four, five, six years and there is really nothing for them,” said Roberto Gonzales, author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Chicago.

“They speak English much more fluently than their parents and have an education level that far surpasses their parents’, but find themselves stuck in the same narrowly circumscribed set of options.”

He added that the phenomenon is relatively new, because the first generation of college-educated undocumented students is only beginning to graduate en masse.

Titled “Learning to be Illegal,” the study found that attending college has been a way for many undocumented students to delay the stress of living in a manner that feels impermissible.

Nerio, a Gardena resident, didn’t know she was an illegal immigrant until she was 17.

Her friends were getting their driver’s licenses and she told her mother she’d like to do the same. That’s when her mom dropped the bomb: Nerio was shuttled over the border from her native El Salvador when she was 1.

“It was a big shock to me,” she said. “I thought I was just like everyone else. I was a typical teenager, hanging with friends, going to school, going to football games.”

Nerio said the news had a profound effect on some of her friendships.

“About half of them were fine, but the other half took it as `You broke the law, go back,”‘ she said. “We’d had sleepovers together.”

Now 25, Nerio said she may have to return to El Salvador for up to a year to qualify to obtain her visa.

“The problem with me is I don’t have any family back there,” she said. “I’ve been in California for 24 years, I consider this my home. Going back to a place I’ve never been to is quite scary.”

Nerio, who has maintained a 3.2 GPA at CSU Dominguez Hills, said doesn’t blame her mother for bringing her over, or for waiting so long to tell her.

“Her main reason to bring me here was to give me a better life,” she said. “She only went to fifth grade and then stopped. After fifth grade you had to pay for your school. Our family is not wealthy, so they said, `Well, this is it for you.’ She didn’t want that for me.”

Hispanic Business Magazine Shifting Paradigms

NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Charlie Villanueva a part of league’s growing Latino demographic

NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Charlie Villanueva a part of league’s growing Latino demographic — Hispanic Business Magazine

Originally published on April 13, 2009

Believe it or not, basketball wasn’t the first love of Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony, now one of the best players in the NBA.

Nor was it for Charlie Villanueva, a starting forward for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Milwaukee Bucks v Dallas Mavericks

For both players, that distinction belonged to baseball.

But it makes a little more sense when you learn about their heritage. Anthony’s father was Puerto Rican, and Villanueva’s parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic.

In fact, Anthony, whose mother is black, started playing basketball only when he no longer had the option to play baseball.

“Once I got to high school, the school I went to didn’t have a baseball team,” he told

Now, they are two of just six U.S.-born Hispanics in the NBA.

If the NBA has anything to say about it, Hispanic kids participating in athletics will rank basketball first. Perhaps more importantly, the league hopes, so will Hispanic sports fans.

Of course, the league isn’t simply crossing its fingers. It’s throwing resources at the problem — flooding the zone, so to speak. And it appears to be working.

The Hispanic viewership of this year’s All-Star Game in February surged by 13 percent over last year, with 472,000 Hispanic households tuning in, according to Nielsen ratings. Particularly pronounced was the one-year jump in male Hispanic viewers between 18 and 34: from 166,000 last year to 249,000 this year — a rise of nearly 40 percent.

The NBA isn’t the first American mega-business to recently gain full appreciation of the golden opportunity presented by the burgeoning Hispanic market.

This year, Wal-Mart announced that it will open two stores that cater expressly to Hispanic customers, and Coca-Cola released a new nationwide ad in Spanish.

According to the U.S. Census, from 2000 to 2007, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population grew from 12.5 percent to 15 percent. In raw numbers, that translates into 10 million more people.

The NBA has been working hard to reach them.

From inviting Hispanic entertainers to sing the National Anthem to broadcasting more and more radio and TV games in Spanish, to trotting out its small-but-growing number of Hispanic players at public-outreach events, the campaign officially launched in 2000, but has ramped up recently.

Three years ago, the NBA launched Noche Latina, a kind of “Hispanic awareness month” for the NBA that occurs every March.

As part of the program — which doubled in size this year to include eight major Hispanic markets — the players don uniforms emblazoned with the Spanish version of their team names.

“The Miami Heat” becomes “El Heat;” the San Antonio Spurs, “Los Spurs.”

The league is also tapping more international Latin players.

Since 2000, the number of Spanish, Hispanic or Latino players from outside the United States has grown to 17 from five. (One player — Eduardo Nájera of the Denver Nuggets — is from Mexico.)

To get Latin American countries stoked on basketball, the league stages pre-season games in those countries. Thus far, it has played 25 such games since 1992.

The league also enlists the Hispanic players themselves to spread the word.

Villanueva last summer personally delivered 10,000 pairs of shoes to indigent kids in the Dominican Republic, from where his parents emigrated. Some were so poor they couldn’t afford shoes, he told

“Seeing people out there walking barefoot; that’s unacceptable to me,” he said. But the reception, he said, was fantastic. “People are just so excited to see one of their own doing something positive for the Dominican Republic.”

Of course, in the high-profile world of professional sports, a star can be a liability as well as an asset.

Anthony, for all his talent, has had his share of PR troubles, not least of which included a 15-game suspension for cold-cocking Knicks player Mardy Collins in the face as a brawl between the two teams was winding down.

To his credit, Anthony — who recently tied the league’s record for points scored in a single quarter (that’s 33) — also has donated millions of dollars to charities, including an education center for inner-city children and a new practice gym at Syracuse, his alma mater.

Like Anthony, Villanueva got started on baseball, due, he said, to being raised by Domincan Republican parents. Villanueva said he started playing basketball only because he idolized his older brother, whom he described as a rebel.

“My brother always wanted to be different, and I always wanted to be like my brother,” he told on Friday.

Villanueva, too, is something of a rebel. Not unlike Shaquille O’Neill or Dennis Rodman, he openly talks about someday pursuing interests outside of basketball.

For instance, Villanueva has always wanted to become a detective, and said may one day pursue that dream.

“One thing about me is I love solving things,” he said. “I think I’ve got a good feel for people — interrogating them and whatnot.”

Another thing about Villanueva is he is technologically savvy — so much so that it recently landed him in some hot water. His crime: Twittering to his fans from the locker-room during halftime.

(Twitter, too, was introduced to Villanueva by his brother, who works as a highlights editor for ESPN.)

After the half-time Twitter, the 24-year-old was chewed out by Bucks coach Scott Skiles, who said the hi-tech shout-out — which took Villanueva 10 seconds to perform from his cell phone — made him seem unfocused. But when it comes to reaching out to fans, Villanueva might also be ahead of the curve.

A day or so after Twitter-gate hit the papers, the number of subscribers exploded, from about 900 to 7,300. Now, just three weeks later, his virtual audience has swelled to more than 19,000, which could very well make him the most Twittered-up player in the league. (Click here to see his Twitter page.)

With recent studies showing that Hispanic youth take to Internet technologies faster than non-Hispanics, there’s a good chance that Villanueva is unwittingly doing double-duty in his efforts to help the NBA’s reach out to Hispanics.

As for the coach’s order, Villanueva demurred, but also openly pondered the difference between signing autographs at halftime – which is allowed — and Twittering.

In any case, Villanueva said his halftime Twitter was an innocent occurrence, not a calculated attempt to market himself.

“It was all over the TV; everybody was talking about it,” he said. “The reason why is it was something new that nobody had done before.” He added, with good-natured resignation: “I will always be remembered as the guy who Twittered during halftime.”

It might not be the same as setting the NBA record for points scored in a single quarter. But when it comes to the business of basketball, it might be just as valuable.

Maybe instead of detective work, Villanueva’s second calling is marketing. In 10 or 15 years, the NBA might do well to recruit him a second time.

Hispanic Business Magazine Shifting Paradigms

Healthcare Reform May Leave Illegal Immigrants Worse Off

Healthcare Reform May Leave Illegal Immigrants Worse Off
May 13, 2010
By Rob Kuznia, Staff Writer

Weeks after passage of a historic health bill, Hispanic advocacy groups say the sweeping new law will generally bring much-needed benefits to Hispanics and businesses across America.

Those same groups, however, are raising concerns about how the health care reform bill will affect illegal immigrants who currently have coverage.

While it’s been widely reported that illegal immigrants are left out of the newly signed health law, less talked about is how the new law could actually make things worse for insured illegal immigrants — as opposed to merely maintaining the status quo.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will bring coverage to 32 million of the current 45 million uninsured Americans and cost roughly $850 billion over 10 years. But it could also cause many illegal immigrants to lose the coverage they have. And the number of illegal immigrants with coverage is surprisingly large.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that roughly 40 percent of the 11 million or so illegal immigrants residing in this country are insured, either because they purchased health coverage themselves or received it through their employers. The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce puts the estimate even higher.

“I don’t think many people know that approximately 50 percent purchase coverage,” Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the chamber, told Hispanic Business magazine. “These folks are in jeopardy of losing what little coverage they have.”

The bill that was signed into law March 30 not only prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving federal subsidies, it also — to the chagrin of immigration-rights advocates — bars them from purchasing insurance with their own money on the soon-to-be created statewide exchanges that will pool ratepayers to lower premiums.

To be sure, under the new law, illegal immigrants still will be able to purchase coverage out of pocket. It’s just that, because their plans will be excluded from the exchanges, they could see the cost of their premiums skyrocket out of reach.

This is because the creation of the new exchanges could have the effect of draining current risk pools of almost everyone except the illegal immigrants, said Jennifer Ng’andu, deputy director for health policy project with the National Council of La Raza.

“I think you could say on some level that undocumented immigrants (with coverage) are the ones who will be worse off than before,” she told Hispanic Business magazine.

Thus far, nobody knows exactly how the market is going to react, as the exchanges won’t take effect until 2014.

“But many people are starting to anticipate drastic increases in health insurance costs,” Ms. Ng’andu said.

Ultimately, fewer illegal immigrants getting coverage would translate into more people using emergency rooms or community health clinics for their health-care needs. These costs tend to ultimately be borne by ratepayers and taxpayers.

Elena Rios, M.D., president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, said the issue underscores the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

“I think this country needs immigration reform to allow unauthorized immigrants who live here and work here and pay taxes to be able to have certain services,” she told Hispanic Business magazine.
Broadly Many Benefit

On a broad scale, though, many Hispanic groups are generally pleased with the new law.

With one in three of all U.S. Hispanics uninsured — and at least 20 percent of Hispanic-American citizens and legal residents uninsured — the population has more to gain than any other, Dr. Rios said. (About 15 percent of the entire U.S. population is uninsured.)
“It’s a phenomenal step forward for the Hispanic community,” she said.

Small Business Fares Well

Hispanic-owned businesses also stand to benefit.

With 98 percent of Hispanic-owned businesses employing fewer than 50 people, the legislation’s effect on small business is of primary importance to many Hispanics.

Over the past decade, the meteoric rise of health care costs has significantly hampered the ability of small businesses to offer health benefits to their employees.

Since 2000, the proportion of small businesses offering health benefits has dropped more than 20 percent, from two-thirds to less than half. The bulk of that drop has occurred over the past three years.

The new law benefits small businesses in several ways, Mr. Palomarez of the chamber said. First, it allows them to purchase insurance through the exchange. Also, small businesses that opt out still stand to benefit, as most of their employees will qualify to purchase individual plans on the exchange, improving the ability of those businesses to stay competitive with larger companies.

Finally, and most immediately, all small businesses offering health benefits to their employees will qualify for tax breaks.

“They can avail themselves this year of essentially free money,” David Ferreira, the chamber’s vice president for government affairs, told Hispanic Business magazine.

Mr. Ferreira said one disappointment to the chamber is how the law requires businesses with more than 50 employees to provide coverage. The chamber had hoped that the threshold would be set at 100 employees — or, better yet, dropped altogether.

But in terms of how the bill affects Hispanic-owned businesses, the difference between 50 employees and 100 employees is relatively slight, he added. While about 99 percent of all Hispanic-owned companies employ fewer than 100 people, about 98 percent employ fewer than 50.

“We’re fighting over inches at this point,” he said.

Other Benefits

The new law stands to benefit U.S. Hispanics in many ways, advocacy groups said. It comes with a huge prevention component, meaning, for instance, that doctors will have financial incentives to discuss healthy lifestyles with patients.

This is particularly beneficial for Hispanics, who suffer disproportionately from obesity, diabetes and heart disease, Dr. Rios said.

The new law also means doctors and nurses in many areas of the country will have to undergo cultural competency training, which could include taking Spanish classes or hiring translators.

“It exists now, but not like with the court system,” Dr. Rios said. “The health care system has been light years behind. This is going to bring the system into the 21st Century.”

As it is, she added, just 5 percent of the nation’s doctors and nurses are Hispanic — a percentage that the National Hispanic Medical Association would like to see grow.

The new law also increases to 26 the age in which young people can stay on their parents’ plans. The current age varies from state to state, but in general coincides with the college years of middle-class families, which generally end around age 22, Dr. Rios said.

Also experiencing some improvements are the citizens of the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which received about $1 billion to establish an exchange and provide more affordable care.

“In the end, we think there are key gains that give us a foundation to be able to extend affordable insurance to many Latinos and immigrants across the country,” Ms. Ng’andu said. “The bill was by no means what we hoped to have, but it’s something we believe sort of lays the foundation for a better health care system

Hispanic Business Magazine Shifting Paradigms

For Hilda Solis, a Chance Encounter with Former Teacher Changed Everything

For Hilda Solis, a Chance Encounter with Former Teacher Changed Everything

When Hilda Solis was a senior in high school, just a few weeks away from graduation, she wasn’t thinking about college.

Instead, the daughter of immigrant parents who met in citizenship class wanted to be a receptionist, or — if she was really lucky — a county clerk, like her older sister.


But one day, a chance encounter changed everything. Walking through the halls at La Puente High School in her native Los Angeles County, the teenage Solis bumped into her former seventh-grade history teacher.

The teacher, whom she remembers as Mr. Sanchez, had since become a high school guidance counselor. He asked about her future plans.

When she answered that she hoped to work for the county, Mr. Sanchez surprised her by responding in the negative.

“He said, ‘Oh no, you’ve got to go to college,'” she said, speaking to during a recent sit-down interview. “I said, ‘What are you talking about? I can’t afford college.'”

It turns out Mr. Sanchez knew what he was talking about. He helped Solis navigate the paperwork maze of applying to Cal-Poly Pomona, where she was not only accepted, but also received a full Cal-grant scholarship and financial aid. She went on to earn a master’s in public administration from USC. This led to an internship in the White House Office of Hispanic Affairs in the Carter administration.

Today, Solis, 52, is the nation’s Secretary of Labor, making her the first Hispanic woman to serve as a regular U.S. cabinet secretary.

Hilda Solis’s story is surprisingly common, and shows how the booming U.S. Hispanic population, while making steady gains over the years in education and the workplace, remains a sea of untapped potential.

It also offers a telling illustration of how razor-thin the line between ordinary and extraordinary can be. Especially for the Hispanic population, which still suffers from disproportionately low high school and college graduation rates.

Many prominent Hispanics have stories that are eerily similar.

One of them is Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, now one of the nation’s highest-ranking public education officials and this magazine’s recently named Woman of the Year.

But in Melendez’s version, the high school counselor told her she wouldn’t be able to hack it at the four-year college of her dreams, UCLA. It wasn’t until one of her instructors at a community college encouraged her to apply to UCLA that she did. For there on out, she thrived. Today she’s the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education.

Another trailblazer with a similar story is Millie Garcia, president of California State Univerity’s Dominguez Hills campus, and California’s first female Hispanic president of a CSU school. Garcia grew up in a Brooklyn tenement neighborhood surrounded by factories, where her parents worked. Newly drawn boundary lines seeking to de-segregate the students meant she would attend an upper-middle-class public elementary school. Her five older siblings didn’t benefit from these boundary lines. To this day, Garcia, who holds a doctorate in higher education from Columbia University, is the only member of her family with a college degree.

“I’m not smarter than them; I just had more opportunities,” she told HispanicBusiness Magazine. “Anyone can do this if they work hard and have a good support network.”

Unfortunately, success stories like theirs are still the exception.

A education/18hispanic.html” target=”_blank”>study several years ago by the Pew Hispanic Center found that just 16 percent of Hispanic high school graduates earned a bachelor’s degree by age 29, compared to 37 percent of whites and 21 percent of African Americans. Also, in 2007, the dropout rate among Hispanic high school students was an alarming 21.4 percent, compared to 5.3 percent among whites and 8.4 percent among blacks, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

With low graduation numbers comes low expectations from teachers and career counselors. Such expectations can have a permanent effect on a person’s potential.

Conversely, the stories of Solis, Melendez and Garcia illustrate not only how student performance often rises to the level of heightened expectations, but also the profound difference one good educator can make.

In Solis’s case, the effect of the counselor’s encouraging words spread to the rest of her family.

Solis was the middle of seven children. After seeing Solis thrive in college, all three of her younger sisters followed suit. Today, one of her sisters has a doctorate in public health from UCLA. Two more have engineering degrees from the same school. In addition, her older sister — the county clerk on whom Solis modeled her own early ambitions — went back to school. She’s now in the process of earning her Bachelor of Science degree in business.

It could even be said that Mr. Sanchez’s intervention had a tangible effect on all Californians — whether they like it or not.

In 1994, Solis became the first Hispanic woman elected to the California State Senate. She served aggressively.

During her four terms, she successfully spearheaded legislation to raise the California’s minimum wage and protect poor neighborhoods from being the default locations for landfills. In 2000, her commitment to “environmental justice” made her the first woman ever to win the Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

The ripple effects of Ms. Melendez’s scholastic success also spread far and wide.

Before getting to where she is, Melendez was superintendent of the struggling Pomona Unified School District near Los Angeles. Under her tenure, the students’ test scores skyrocketed, so much so that Pomona witnessed record improvements for three consecutive years, and achieved the second-highest jump in California. In 2009, Melendez was named California’s Superintendent of the Year.

“It really is all about expectation,” she told HispanicBusiness Magazine in April. “I firmly believe that the interaction between the student and teacher is the most important that occurs on the school ground.”

Solis says there are many, many more who could thrive if they had someone encouraging them to excel — like how Mr. Sanchez encouraged her.

“He motivated me, he believed in me,” she said. “And I think about if he didn’t do that, and how many other kids didn’t run into him, who could be doing the same thing I’m doing. There’s no magic to it; I wasn’t a 4.0 student. I was a decent student, but I also worked very hard.”

Hispanic Business Magazine Shifting Paradigms

Mark Sanchez: Behind this Successful NY Jets Quarterback is a Hard-Working Family

Mark Sanchez: Behind this Successful NY Jets Quarterback is a Hard-Working Family

As New York Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez gears up to play the biggest game of his life against the Colts on Sunday, you can bet his two older brothers are doing their best to minimize his myriad distractions — like an offensive line warding off a sack.


After all, it’s what they’ve been doing all year.

Sanchez, 23, was drafted in April, putting him in the tiny pool of Hispanic NFL players that currently makes up just 1 percent of the league’s entire roster. It was a major triumph in itself, meaning Sanchez had gone from being a middle class son of a Southern California firefighter to an instant millionaire.

To ease the jarring transition, the two older brothers who used to knock him around in the backyard sprung into action to help manage what had suddenly become the Sanchez corporation.

“While he might not have to punch a clock or put a tie on like most of us, he still has a ton of work to do,” Sanchez’s eldest brother, Nick, told this week. “We wanted to maximize Mark’s potential to succeed.”

Nick, 37 — and himself a former quarterback for Yale — is a business litigator by trade, and now serves as his little brother’s agent. He worked long and hard, for example, on Mark’s $50.5 million, five-year contract.

The middle brother, 31-year-old Brandon, took time off from his job as a finance specialist in the precious metals industry in Southern California and moved into Mark’s new home in New York. There, Brandon helps his brother manage the surprising amount of day-to-day tasks that come with the high-profile job.

That can mean everything from handling charity calls, media interview requests and business queries to the more mundane duties of making sure bills get paid on time and the car’s oil gets changed.

And then, of course, there’s the 800-pound gorilla: how to deal with the sudden geyser of money.

“I liken somebody in Mark’s position to more of a lottery winner than a traditional business person,” Nick said.

Like a lottery winner — and unlike most people — Mark’s earning power will most likely taper off in his older adult years. And like lottery winners, pro athletes often find themselves unprepared for the onslaught of financial suitors angling for investments and partnerships. The brothers help Mark navigate that minefield, as well.

“If this is the only time he works to take care of himself, we want to make sure he’s not investing in speculative businesses,” Nick said. “Instead of trying to grow, it’s more trying to protect.”

If victory is a fair gauge, it’s safe to say Mark’s support network hasn’t hurt. This Sunday, on the heels of a roller-coaster season that began with three wins out of the chute and then endured a rocky middle, Sanchez’s Jets will face Peyton Manning, the league’s MVP, and the Indianapolis Colts for the NFC championship.

The brothers’ heavy involvement during Mark’s rookie year embodies the closeness that the Sanchez family has long held dear. To be sure, there have been rough patches: their father, Nick Sr., and mother, Olga Macias, divorced.

Yet, through football, the family has been able to reunite. Olga and Nick Sr., along with sons Nick and Brandon, have attended several games together this year.

So have scores of other relatives. Last Sunday, when the Jets upset the San Diego Chargers, 127 of Sanchez’s relatives sat in the stands. Many most likely had to break off old team alliances: Sanchez grew up in Orange County, about an hour north of San Diego.

If it isn’t common for most Mexican-American boys to get involved with football, it sure was for the Sanchez sons.

Nick Sr. was a quarterback for an inner-city school in Los Angeles, and then for East Los Angeles Junior College.

He passed his knowledge of the game first onto Nick, (who does not go by “junior”) and then Brandon. Nick Sr. also volunteered as a trainer for the football team at Mission Viejo High School. So by the time Mark came around, football was everywhere.

“Ever since he could walk, he was at our practices,” his brother Nick said. “Running around, chasing us, putting on pads, falling over because they were too heavy.”

During his elementary and junior high school years, Mark played in junior leagues — usually as a center or lineman, never as a quarterback. (He didn’t play QB until high school.) As a kid he served as the high school team’s ball boy. He and his father often worked long into the night on his passing game at a local park, with the aid of their pickup truck’s headlights.

Despite all the training, Mark’s father says he never expected that one of his young boys would make the NFL.

“Never in a million years,” Nick Sr. told

To him, sports are largely about character.

“I’ve always felt there’s more to be gained from athletics than running and jumping,” he said. “I was a big proponent of the mental strength it provided.”

Nick Sr. added that even though Mark is in the NFL, nobody in the family has forgotten that he’s still the little brother.

“His two older brothers have done a tremendous job of keeping him humble,” he said, with a laugh, adding, “he’s still the one they harass.”

It might be tough to remember when watching Mark on television, all suited up and revered. But at the end of the day, Nick Sr. said, he’s still 23.

“You take those guys playing on Sundays out of their helmets and out of that environment, and put them home on the couch, you see they’re the same as any other youngster that age,” he said. “He still likes to eat pizza and chicken wings, watch TV and play video games. I feel really good about that.”

Hispanic Business Magazine Shifting Paradigms

The Hispanic Paradox: U.S. Hispanics Live Longer, Despite Socio-Economic Hurdles

The Hispanic Paradox: U.S. Hispanics Live Longer, Despite Socio-Economic Hurdles

When it comes to Hispanics and health care, the horror stories are well known. Less so is the mysterious phenomenon known as the “Hispanic Paradox.”

Again and again, we hear that the Hispanic population is disproportionately beset by the bugbears of poverty, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and lack of access to quality health coverage and insurance.

These unfortunate facts are indisputable. But what many people don’t realize is that, when it comes to the bottom line — that is, mortality — the news for Hispanics is good. Very good.

In the United States, Hispanics, despite their socio-economic hurdles, on average live longer than blacks by seven years, and whites by five years, says Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine at UCLA.

“There’s something about being Latino that is good for their health,” Hayes-Bautista told, adding wryly: “Just think if we had access to health care.”

Widely known as the “Hispanic Paradox,” the phenomenon was discovered and coined by researchers decades ago.

At the time, many scientists were skeptical, speculating that the data must have been skewed. They hypothesized that immigrants who came to the United States were simply younger and healthier than the average American, or that a large share of older immigrants returned home to die.

But recent studies have refuted the doubting theories, and the science community today generally accepts the Hispanic Paradox as real.

Now, Hayes-Bautista is on the front lines trying to figure out why this is so.

“There’s something going on here,” he said. “Is it diet, is it family, is it spiritual, is it the Latino mind-body balance? I don’t know.”

Hopefully, Hayes-Bautista said, his extensive research on the topic will eventually shed some light.

The longer lifespan of Hispanics has been described in several ways by different studies, and to varying degrees.

In 2007, the Public Policy Institute of California found that the average lifespan of a Hispanic man in that state is 77.5 years, compared to 75.5 among white males and 68.6 among black males. The lifespan of Hispanic men was topped only by Asian men, whose average lifespan came in at 80.4.

In 2008, the National Center for Health Statistics released a study showing that the overall mortality rate for Hispanics in 2006 was 550 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 778 for whites, and 1,001 for blacks.

Hayes-Bautista said that Hispanics in the United States are 35 percent less likely than whites to die of heart disease, and 40 percent less likely to develop cancer.

Immigration plays a factor, he said, albeit a small one.

For instance, the mortality rates of first-generation immigrants are consistently better than that of U.S.-born Hispanics. But he said the difference between these groups is seldom statistically significant.

More noteworthy, he said, are the behavioral differences between immigrants and the U.S.-born.

Immigrants, he said, are far less likely than U.S. born Hispanics to smoke, drink, do drugs and contract sexually transmitted diseases. Similarly, he said, U.S.-born Hispanics with high levels of education also tend to avoid these high-risk behaviors and their consequences.

Perhaps more surprisingly, another stark contrast between immigrant and the U.S.-born Hispanics is tied to infant mortality. Hayes-Bautista said that although both groups rate “extremely good” on this measure, the U.S.-born Hispanics have a 20 percent higher infant-mortality rate than that of the immigrants.

“U.S.-born Hispanics have higher income, higher education, are far more likely to have health insurance, yet their outcome (on infant mortality) isn’t quite a good as immigrant parents.”

This might lead one to ask whether this means that Mexicans live healthier than Americans. Not so, according to the CIA World Factbook of 2008.

On that index, the life expectancy of Americans in 2008 reached 78 (a national record). For Mexicans, it was about 76.

However, Hayes-Bautista said the lifestyle in rural Mexico is much healthier than that of urban Mexico. What’s more, he says, the bulk of Hispanic immigrants in America hail from the rural pockets of Mexico.

Elena Rios, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, said overall, the immigrant Hispanics are younger, and abide by healthier habits, than U.S. born Hispanics.

“With the immigrants, the first generation has healthier habits: less driving, less smoking, less fast foods, more walking,” she told “As the second-generation Hispanic families happen, they pick up the Western — the American — lifestyle.”

As a result, Rios said she wants any healthcare reform package to include an educational component urging Hispanics to get back to their basics, such as traditional foods.

“It is important to have more prevention and education when they are younger, before they get into bad habits,” she said.