Hispanic Heritage Month has been celebrated in Merced County for about a month and the commemoration will continue through the end of October.
Leading the celebration is Raul Z. Diaz of the Merced County Office of Education, director of migrant education for Region III, which includes Merced, Madera and Stanislaus counties. The program serves 31 area school district and 6,500 students from preschool through 21 years of age.
Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of Hispanic American champions.
“I know people before us who opened the doors for us. It’s our responsibility to open the doors wider and deeper for generations to come,” Diaz said.
Diaz, 66, has been in education since 1976 and has been a high school counselor, and administrator of migrant education programs in different capacities for 30 years in Stanislaus, Monterey and Merced counties.
The last of nine children and the first in his family to go to college, Diaz said his career has been “quite a journey” and he has no regrets about going into education.
“No, I would take this path again that God has led me to. Those are my roots,” Diaz said.
Hispanic educational leaders often are asked what was the difference, the thing that made them succeed. It boils down to the desire to strive, “ganas” which is the Spanish word for having the hunger to succeed, according to Diaz.
The desire to succeed is part of the immigrant trait and that’s no different for Irish, Italian, Chinese or Hispanic individuals, the desire to live the American dream. It’s the desire to succeed, strive and be all you can be, Diaz said.
Like all groups, Hispanics are involved in all facets of society from farming to business, education and leadership in government, he said.
The primary focus of the MCOE Migrant Education Program is to help students complete their education and remove barriers to them along the way. These barriers could be academic, health or lack of information from their parents, Diaz said.
“So many children have not set foot on a university campus like UC Merced, Merced College, Stanislaus State and Fresno State. They have never been to the ocean or the Bay Area. They have never been presented with educational options like past generations,” Diaz said.
About 80 percent of migrant education students are English language learners and are working hard to develop English language skills. The migrant program’s goal is to support English language learning activity and boost writing and mathematics skills, so students can compete in mainstream education activities.
While the Hispanic Heritage Month commemoration ends Oct. 15, Diaz said it will continue through the end of the month through a collaboration with all Merced Union High School District high schools.
Hispanic students are encouraged to celebrate “The Day of the Dead” by building altars with pictures, drawings and mementoes in memory of their loved ones. These altars will be on display at Trevino’s Mexican Restaurant at Main and K streets in Merced from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2; patrons will be asked to vote on their favorite altars.
This celebration is to foster the value of traditions in Hispanic parents and their students.
“We encourage people to go by and look at these altars. A program on Nov. 2 will recognize these students,” Diaz said.