It has been 23 years since a young woman educator from Fresno City College commented at the regular meeting of the Association of the Mexican American Educators that she was concerned about the lack of success among Latino males at her college.
In her experience, Latinas were making important progress, but many of the men were absent. During the meeting, the late Phillip Patiño, a school administrator, suggested there be a conference for Latino high school male students to encourage and inform them of the many opportunities in college. He had dedicated himself to the improved schooling of all children.
In March, the 22nd annual Sí Se Puede Conference was held at Fresno State. About 300 high school students attended workshops to hear directly from Latino professionals who overcame obstacles and challenges before becoming successful engineers, medical doctors, attorneys, journalists, law enforcement officers, businessmen, architects and elected officials.
The presenters unselfishly donated their time and expertise. The Sí Se Puede Conference was founded by Patiño, a devoted educator who has a school named in his honor, the Phillip J. Patiño School of Entrepreneurship.
The title and purpose of the conference reminded me of my first day in high school when my English teacher, Ms. Jones, required us to write an essay on the meaning of success. My friend, Emilio, wrote his essay in his best handwriting and was certain of earning a good grade.
However, when he received a B on his paper, I could tell he was disappointed and upset. Emilio’s determination led him up to Ms. Jones’ desk to lobby for a better grade. He began by saying there are different meanings of success.
“Even though my father is a farm worker, he is successful because he works hard and long hours to support his family. My friend, Cruz, is successful because he has a low- rider car and wears fancy clothes and expensive jewelry.”
Then Emilio went for the charm, “I think my brother is successful because he is going to college and studies every night. He wants to be a fine and outstanding teacher just like yourself, Ms. Jones. See, success has many definitions.”
. Jones, somewhat amused by the presentation looked at Emilio and explained, “Emilio, I enjoyed your essay and you made some very convincing points, however, throughout the paper, you misspelled the word success. You spelled success with three Cs. I have to penalize you for poor spelling.”
But Emilio would not be deterred. “Ms. Jones, that was deliberate, to me there are three Cs in the word success. The first C stands for courage, you have to be brave and relentless. You may fail, but you have to be resilient. It takes courage to be successful. One has to be bold and risk failure.
“The second C is for concentration, you have to be focused. Don’t let distractions get in your way. Put all your attention toward your mission.”
Jones seemed to agree, but Emilio wasn’t done. “The final C is for Sí se puede! Yes you can! You can succeed, You can achieve! That is what Cesar Chavez taught us. It is a spirit that anything is possible if you have ganas (will)!”
Emilio paused for the effect, but when there was none, he realized Ms. Jones was not bilingual.
“Ms. Jones”, said Emilio, “I deserve a better grade. As you can see, I know success has many dimensions.”
“I am sorry.” Jones replied. “Good writing requires good spelling.”
Unfazed and undefeated, Emilio responded, “Ms. Jones, some day in the future there will be a machine that will automatically correct spelling. Spelling will be a minor inconvenience. Then writers like me can focus on substance, prose, and creativity.”
The teacher, eager to end the conversation added, “Sure Emilio, and I suppose someday there will be a small device you can carry around in your pocket to communicate with others, and not even use words, only letters.”
Patiño was a passionate and unassuming educational leader and my mentor. I am unsure what would make him smile more proudly, that students from a school named after him attended his conference or Emilio’s unwavering articulated tenacity.
Paul A. Garcia of Fresno is a retired educator.