May 21, 2004

Young Latino Men Keeping Their Palabra

By Raymond R. Beltrán

After a lunchtime assembly at Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, a stream of young men, ranging from 9th to 12th grade students, gathered into Mr. Pedro Fuentes’s classroom to have a celebration commemorating their soon-to-be departed teacher, who’s acted as a personal confidante to them within the passed three years in a program they attend, ending next year, called Stand and Deliver.

Stand and Deliver members, Saul and Michael, help pass out 550 toys they helped to collect for Smythe Elementary students yesterday. Photo by Patricia Burch.

As the young men, along with their female companions, began considerately passing out cake and soda to each other, they sat, ate and shared personal stories that would usually be perceived as taboo or overemotional in their neighborhoods, where many of them become pressured into taking on a more defensive, machismo role.

Stand and Deliver is actually Mar Vista High’s adaptation of the California Department of Education’s Gang Risk Intervention Program, or GRIP, a support group where young Latino men can go every Thursday, at lunch, to discuss troubling questions in their lives and seek out alternative ways of dealing with problems.

With their ‘homeboy’ style of dress and pelón hairdos, the young men confessed that it was their single parent mothers who were their role models. Others expressed that without the Stand and Deliver program, they probably wouldn’t have been introduced to mature alternative ways of dealing with aggression and confrontation.

“The first three years, we started small,” said Fuentes, teacher and Stand and Deliver coordinator. “The assistance in mentoring wasn’t really focused on gang intervention. We weren’t really targeting students who were joining gangs, and I didn’t want to call it gang intervention because I didn’t want the [students] to get intimidated by it.”

In the program, young men are allowed to talk about personal problems without the fear of ridicule. It revolves around real life issues that young men learn to attain, or deter from, in the real world, issues like respect for other’s opinions, responsibility, machismo, sex, drugs and gangs.

Some of the young men spoke up at the celebration, very honestly, about how their fathers work most of the day and that they feel they have no relationship with them. Others say they are perceived as gang related cholos, because of their style of appearance, even though they have aspirations to succeed in the future, and while one speaks in the group, that person has all the attention.

According to their group facilitator, Gabriel Nuñez-Moran, topics range from mainly values to family, to leaders, to stepparents or mentors, and often times the young men’s feeling of neglect at home is expressed.

“The model that I use is the ‘circulo de homres,’” says Moran, a UCSD graduate who’s dabbled in psychology. “The model of respect can come from the circulo, because when we’re in it, we’re not above or below anybody.”

The group stresses the meaning behind their palabra. Without it, according to their mentors, they have no honor, and it has been on occasions a reason some former members have broken relations with Stand and Deliver.

“When you say you’re going to do something, you do it,” stresses Fuentes. The program now serves seventeen students and Fuentes attributes their loyalty to their palabra, because each young man has made a commitment to help support each other.

Rene Amador, a junior classmen at Mar Vista High, admits that before he joined the Stand and Deliver program, he really didn’t care about much. Now that he’s been able to exorcise disturbing moments in his life through the circulo, he’s become a self-disciplined young man that thinks before he speaks. Before, he says he wouldn’t think twice about fighting with someone who was aggressively staring, or “mad-dogging,” him.

“If I mess up, it will be a problem that I’ll have to deal with the rest of my life,” says Amador in a confessional manner, while serving his teacher and his mentor bottled water from the class refrigerator. “We just have to ask ourselves, is one fight really worth getting into trouble for?”

This program, which is coming to an end this year, does only cater to young men. According to Fuentes, there are plenty of programs that discuss the topics of women’s issues, but rarely do men have an outlet where they are allowed to share personal and emotional thoughts without getting viewed as a “punk.”

A woman who attended the class party admits that one of her male friends, Carlos, has been much nicer since he’s been attending Stand and Deliver.

Although the program has been a positive step up for young Latino males living under relentless conditions, the recent state budget cuts have chosen GRIP as one program that will not be funded in the 2005 fiscal year.

According to San Diego County Office of Education Coordinator, Anthony Ceja, the money, which comes to approximately $200,000 per school year for the San Diego County, comes from the California Department of Education for programs pertaining to gang intervention.

Ceja, who also writes grants for the program, says that San Diego’s grant is shared between the Oceanside and the Sweetwater School District, where 11 schools and 1 community center share the money, $2,626 of which has been going to Mar Vista’s Stand and Deliver chapter every fiscal year.

The money is provided to schools in order to pay stipends to mentors like Nuñez-Moran, who has been working as an intern at Mar Vista High. Besides that, grants provide money for field trips and renting vehicles to transport students. This year, Stand and Deliver’s grant will also fund a private graduation for its members, who will stand on a podium and speak to their parents about what they’ve learned in the program. They will also be hiring a taquero.

“They have to be low income communities, where they’ve been impacted by gangs,” says Cejas about the district recipients of the statewide grants.

Mar Vista High School Principal, Dr. Louise Phipps, an advocate for Stand and Deliver, says that because her school receives Title 1 (Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantage) appropriations, as they are considered an English Learners environment, she may be able to find funds to continue the program.

“The reality of schools is that they need programs and people who are willing to work with kids,” says Dr. Phipps.

Pedro Fuentes is leaving to Bakersfield next year, and the funds to hire interns like Nuñez-Moran will be eradicated. Stand and Deliver, according to Cejas, is not in the fiscal year 2005 books. Even though the reality of our economic state rely on the backs of the disadvantaged, the young men express hope for themselves, having learned values they say they will take with them forever.

“You have to let your problems out. All of us have the same problems,” says Fuentes. “You have to get to that point, and everyone here is enough proof that they [the young men] will. They’re going to find a way to keep it going.”

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