As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, I think back to when I arrived at Oxnard College to serve as president. It was personal for me. Like many of Oxnard’s families, my parents worked tirelessly to give my siblings and me a better life. That’s why, as a first-generation college graduate, I love nothing more than seeing our Latino students overcome adversity with grit and determination to build better lives for themselves and their own families.
These values — hard work, dedication to family and perseverance — define our community. And our drive to make a brighter future for the next generation defines the American ethos.
All Ventura County Community College District colleges — Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura — are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as Hispanic-Serving Institutions. Oxnard College has been since opening in 1975. What we’ve found through these many years, and what my family and so many others like it show us all, is that students who face great adversity often show the most resolve to get ahead. Should we seize it, their untapped potential might easily come to represent America’s greatest strength in the years to come. Through higher education, this generation’s energies and talents can be harnessed to build stronger communities and a more prosperous American century.
But let me take a few steps back and tell you about my parents. Amador and Josefina Sanchez came to the United States from Mexico with eighth-grade educations and a genuine faith that this land of opportunity, dedicated to freedom and justice for all, would enable their children to fulfill their potential and live a life of dignity and prosperity. My two siblings and I watched our parents work hard and sacrifice. The values they practiced each day informed our own. We learned the nuances of the English language, and we took our studies in earnest. My brother and sister went on to start highly successful businesses, and I went into the field of commercial law before beginning my career in higher education.
I am deeply grateful to our nation for the opportunities I have been given, and it is now my privilege to pay it forward by helping Oxnard College’s students find their own paths to success.
More than 75% of Oxnard College’s students are Latino, and many of them are first-generation college students, as I was. First-generation college students often have a difficult time navigating the complicated landscape of our higher education system. I love encouraging them by sharing all of the missteps I made along the way, with no one around to “show me the ropes” all those years ago.
At Oxnard College, and throughout the district, we help students forge their educational journeys with concentrated resources and services. For example, our EOPS/CARE program connects students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as those with young children to mentorship opportunities, financial assistance and academic counseling. Similarly, our Dream Resource Center provides key resources to help undocumented students thrive on our campus.
And just this year, we launched a new program, Proyecto Éxito, to help Latino and low-income students pursue their career and transfer goals. This initiative, funded by a $3 million grant from the federal government over the next five years, will help Oxnard College students go on to rewarding careers and excellent universities.
We see this daily at Oxnard College — the resilience, potential and determination of our students. The generational transformation that occurs on our campus — bolstered by supportive families and impassioned educators — is the essence of our work. And so, while we join others in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, truth be told, we like to think we live it all year-round.
Luis P. Sanchez, JD, LLM, is the president of Oxnard College.