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Excelencia Lauds Successful Latino Academic Achievement Programs

Dr. Norma E. CantúDr. Norma E. Cantú

WASHINGTON — The 2015 Celebración de Excelencia kicked off Tuesday night with recognition of the 2015 Examples of Excelencia, or programs that are advancing Latino academic success. Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit dedicated to advancing Latino educational success, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

As the nation’s Hispanic population grows, ensuring that its members will have a good shot at getting a high school diploma and a college degree is all the more vital for the future success of the nation. Many programs were recognized, such as the Early College High Schools Program, at South Texas College; Fresno Pacific University’s STEM Program; and the University of Illinois College of Medicine’s Hispanic Center of Excellence.

At the event, Dr. Norma E. Cantú, professor of English at the University of Texas, San Antonio, spoke about how education transformed her life. “As the oldest daughter of a working class family of 11 children, college was but a dream, much like the castle in the sky that illuminates John Cole’s painting here in the National Gallery,” she said.

As a young woman, Cantú became a teacher and helped support her family after her father was disabled by arthritis and unable to work. She was soon disillusioned by the educational system, which, as she put it, “seemed to be designed to fail” the majority of children and adults. So she pursued a Ph.D. in English and became a writer.

She accomplished all of this, she said—as many others like her have as well—in the face of the “erasure” of Latino history and influence on the trajectory of the U.S. Many, including Cantú, have spoken out about the Anglo-centric retelling of events. As Cantú said, her youth was a time of protest for equality and that fight has borne fruit. 

Cantú noted that, this year, Juan Felipe Herrera, a son of migrant farmers, was named the nation’s 21st poet laureate, the first Latino to be honored in this way. An all-Latino ensemble is performing in the premiere of a Latino-written and -directed play, “Destiny of Desire,” at Arena Stage in D.C.

“Although Juan Felipe’s appointment and the Arena Stage play move us forward, they are not enough,” Cantú said.“The erasure is deep. But we can change that.”

Staff writer can be reached at [email protected].

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