September 15 through October 15 is Hispanic Heritage month in the U.S., and this blog is inspired by the wonderful cohorts of Hispanic faculty, staff, students, and alumni at Berea College. As usual, we prefer to focus on the students at Berea, and so I am glad to say that for 2017-18, Hispanic-, Latinx-, or Spanish- origin students accounted for 11% of our student body, 12% of our admitted students, and 13% of our transfer-student admits. In the current year, the admitted cohort constitutes 13% of total admissions— an impressive increase from the first year we collected the data, 2010, when the percentage was under 4%. The U.S. Census reports that Hispanic or Latino people constitute 18.1% of the American population, with heavy concentration in Florida, Texas, California and the rest of the American Southwest. As these areas are all outside our admissions territory, it is perhaps not surprising that our student body percentage is only about 2/3 the overall national percentage. The Hispanic population, however, is growing, particularly in the southern areas of our admissions territory, so we expect our admissions numbers to continue to increase.
These sorts of large-scale demographic classifications, of course, mask a great deal of diversity in a population. So here are some more interesting facts.
- Over the last decade, we have had Hispanic-American students from 24 different states/territories spanning from Rhode Island to Oregon to Puerto Rico, but with the largest numbers overall from our typical In-Territory regions. From beyond our admissions territory, the largest numbers come, unsurprisingly, from Texas, Florida, California, and Illinois.
- The nation of origin situation is even more complicated…
- Some of our F-1 International students are Hispanic; in the incoming class last year, we enrolled a total of 13 students from 10 Central and South American countries and one from Spain, compared to about 30 international students overall, which means that about 40% of our international students are Hispanic.
- You can also compare that number of 14 international Hispanics to 57 Hispanic students admitted from the U.S., so about 1 in 4 of our Hispanic students are internationals.
- We also have a few non F-1 Hispanic students of international origin, typically American citizens who happen to be living in other countries when they apply.
- According to national statistics, fewer than half of American-born Hispanics are fluent in Spanish, and the proportion is even less among the younger cohorts. We don’t have precise data for the Berea student body, but based on reported primary language used at home, it seems that 50 – 60% of Berea Hispanic students are fluent in Spanish.
- Hispanic Berea students pursue patterns of majors that are very similar to the student body as a whole, with biology, nursing, business and psychology leading the way.
- Hispanic-American students have roughly similar urban rural patterns to the rest of the Berea student body.
- We also monitor academic success carefully at Berea College, and here there is less diversity in this population, as Hispanic-American students outperform all other American Bereans in first- to-second-year persistence. That number for the current year amounts to 92.3%!
These differences, the fact of their connections to non-mainstream U.S. cultures, and a sense that America is becoming less welcoming to their ethnic group make identity a somewhat complicated matter for Latinos and Latinas. Some have had to deal with hostility; some are DACAmented and face an uncertain future; some wonder where their homeland really is; and some, especially those whose families have been in the U.S. longer, struggle with the question, “Am I Latino/a enough?” Yet, as individuals and as a group they contribute so much to our campus community and so these challenges are a matter of concern and sympathetic regret for all of their fellow Bereans. It is important for us to know and care, as it is also so appropriate to celebrate these wonderful Bereans this month.
I conclude with the words of a song by Gloria Estefan that captures some of this identity complexity…
Tiene un quejido, mi tierra
Tiene un lamento mi tierra
Nunca la olvido mi tierra
La llevo en mi sentimiento…
Oigo ese grito mi tierra
Vive el recuerdo mi tierra
Corre en mi sangre mi tierra
La llevo por dentro como no
Canto de mi tierra bella y santa
Sufro ese dolor que hay en su alma
Aunque estoy lejos yo la siento
Y un día regreso yo lo sé
My land has a regret, a lament
I never forget my land
I carry it in my heart, yes
I hear the cry of my land
My land lives out the memory
My land runs in my blood
I carry it inside
I sing of my beautiful and sacred land
I suffer that pain of its soul
Even though I’m far away I feel it
And I know one day I will return