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  December 1, 2003

Latino Youth, Though Disadvantaged,
Can Contribute To Society, Says Speaker

Be proud of who you are and strive to do your best, Ismael Carreras told the crowd gathered in the Zachs Community Room at the School of Social Work Nov. 14.

Carreras, superintendent of Unified School District #2 in Hartford, gave the keynote address, "The Importance of Culture, Positive Identity, and Self Love," at Escuchenos IV, an all-day conference organized by social work faculty members that focused on Latino youth in state care. About 200 people attended, including adolescents involved with the state Department of Children and Families, social work faculty and students, DCF administrators, judges, case workers, lawyers, and others.

The conference, in its fourth year, also included workshops for the adolescents with successful Latino adults who discussed their professions.

"What is culture?" Carreras asked.

"Values, practices, and customs of a group of people in society," replied a member of the audience.

"What is the first thing that influences our culture?" Carreras asked. "We are Latino. Our language also influences who we are.

"As Latino people we have a very distinct sense of humor; we have a very distinct way of expressing ourselves, and all of that is done through our language."

Carreras told the audience to be proud of speaking Spanish, but advised them to speak it well.

"Be proud of your language," Carreras said, "but I give you one admonition: Learn it. Forget this nonsense about speaking half English and half Spanish. Learn to speak both languages appropriately, because this is what we expect from you, the future leaders of this state."

Carreras said bilingual programs are at risk of being eliminated.

"Our language is constantly being assaulted," he said. "In the realm of education, there are many people out there trying to pass laws that say Spanish should not be used in school, and bilingual programs should be eliminated.

"This country is the only country in the world where a person can speak one language and believe they're highly educated. In many other countries in the world, if you cannot speak more than one language, you can't consider yourself an educated person."

Some people are afraid of people who speak languages other than their own, he said. They will "try to impose rules that will stop you from being able to express yourselves.

"We have a unique way of laughing at certain things," Carreras added. "When you say a joke in Spanish and try to translate it, it loses all of its meaning. It's not funny anymore."

Carreras said many Spanish-speaking people, in particular, are "viewed by many in this country as if we are takers. They don't see us as contributors. That's something that every one of you in this room has to start changing."

He urged the audience to become leaders. "You are capable of doing anything that you put your mind to," he said. "Forget what has happened to you up to this point. Turn disadvantages into advantages and use them to strive to be the best you can possibly be."

Carreras said Latinos have made many contributions to society, noting people such as former U.S. Surgeon General Antonia C. Novello and astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, who graduated from Hartford Public High School and UConn.