For Bay Area Latinos, City College Altered Life’s Trajectory

For Bay Area Latinos, City College Altered Life’s Trajectory

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The following profiles, produced by Spanish-language newspaper El Mensajero, are part of an ongoing series highlighting the importance of City College of San Francisco (CCSF) -- still mired in financial troubles --  to communities throughout the city. The series is part of a fellowship organized by New America Media and sponsored by the San Francisco Foundation.

Part I: A Second Chance to Learn

SAN FRANCISCO -- Salvador Ortiz, as much as anyone, can relate to the phrase: “It’s never too late to learn.” Salvador, a 34-year-old undocumented immigrant from Guadalajara, Mexico, never had a chance to complete junior high school in his home country. Now, he is enjoying his first semester as an undergraduate at City College of San Francisco (CCSF).

Yet the very institution that made education accessible for Ortiz and so many others like him – CCSF serves more students than any other community college in California – is today in the midst of an ongoing management and financial crisis that could result in the college being stripped of its accreditation in 2013.

When Salvador was 14-years-old, he was forced to drop out of junior high school in Guadalajara in order to get a job that would allow him to support his family. Ortiz’ dream of continuing his education, however, never left him. By the time he turned 18, he was finally in a position to continue his studies, but discovered it was too late to put back on the school uniform he’d left behind years prior. "No school could admit me, by (because of) my age,” said Ortiz. “I wanted to get to high school, but for that I first had to finish junior high."

Like so many of his compatriots, Ortiz made his way north. Settling in San Francisco, he took jobs at a laundry, a tapestry shop and a print shop, but also found time to take advantage of free English classes being offered at the CCSF Mission campus. It was there that he learned to use a computer for the first time, and picked up other valuable skills.

Eventually, Ortiz was able to earn the junior high school diploma he’d long sought, through a credit system at CCSF. "That gave me a new mood,” he recalled. “A new hope had born inside of me, to keep learning something."

Assisted by California’s AB540 – the law was adopted in 2001 and allows qualifying undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities – Ortiz continued taking classes at CCSF. He eventually completed his high school credits, and now has his sights set on obtaining a college degree.

"I would like to finish college in two years, if all goes well. This semester I'll take nine units, but if it wasn’t for the AB540 law, it would be pretty difficult to pay. The total cost for all of these units was $2,400, but with the AB540 discount I just had to pay $440 per class. That lowered (my tuition) almost $1,600."

In addition to pursuing his own academic goals, Ortiz also does his part to give back and help other students who rely on CCSF as their gateway to learning. A member of the CCSF Student Council, Ortiz was busy walking the Mission District in the days and weeks before Election Day, promoting Proposition 30 and Measure A – both which had big ramifications for education funding, including CCSF. On November 6th, his effort was rewarded when voters approved both laws.

Part II: Finding Her Purpose

Diane García admits that when she first began her studies at City College of San Francisco in the 1970’s, her mind wasn’t entirely on her studies.

“I was young, 22 years old. At first, it was a lot of work just to focus on my studies -- at that age, there are lots of other things to get preoccupied with. I credit my professors for really challenging me and helping me to focus on my career.”

Today, García is a professor at CCSF, and practices her profession at two hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s married to a Mexican-American and is the mother of three daughters and has three grandchildren. She attributes her success largely to the classes she took and the people she encountered at CCSF.

“When I graduated with a degree in radiology, my first job was at a city hospital. Thanks to the education I received from my professors, I was earning 9 dollars per hour, at a time when the minimum wage was just a little more than one dollar. Without my education and without city college, my youth and my life would have turned out completely different,” said García, in her office located in Cloud Hall, on the CCSF campus.

Pursuing a career in radiology wasn’t an easy decision for García. She had really wanted to be a nurse. But a friend eventually convinced her to choose radiology, and García went on to complete her technical coursework in radiology in 1979. She continued to study, earning a license in health administration and later, a master’s degree in health education.

"One way to give back to the community would be to train more radiologists. We’re not just taking x-rays in hospitals, we’re specialize in other areas, such as the detection of malignant tumors. I’m convinced that 90 percent of radiologists who are in hospitals in San Francisco, graduated from CCSF.”

García finds it alarming that CCSF could come to close its doors to the community. "It's a health issue that could be fatal to the city. I cannot imagine a city without doctors, radiologists, pediatricians, paramedics, pharmacists, surgeons, dentists, firefighters, and that's just in the medical and safety fields."

The 70’s weren’t the best of times for women, recalled García. So much so that her mother, a Guatemalan who, like her father, was a descendant of Italians, considered her daughter’s future to be inside the home. Higher education was for the men. “It was a difficult time. The first days, I had to sneak to class, without them noticing.”

Now, nearly four decades later, García lives to provide “radiology to the community that treats each patient with care, compassion, professionalism and superior technical skills."

Her commitment to the college is conveyed by García in her CCSF online biography:

“I feel proud to be an alumnus and a professor at CCSF and to have the opportunity to help create the next generation of radiology technicians, who you may very well meet one day. If that’s the case, you can rest assured that they’ve been well educated.”

 

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