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By Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, Ph.D.

El Diario La Prensa

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hispanic Heritage Month provides a good opportunity to reflect on how Latinos have helped to improve the quality of life in New York.  And to be clear, New York, which is undoubtedly the greatest city in the world, owes much of its dynamism and leadership to the contributions made by Latinos, particularly during the past four or five decades.

One of the reasons I am proud to be the president of Hostos Community College is precisely because this institution embodies many of the contributions Hispanics have made to our city and our state.  About four decades ago, a community coalition led by Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Latinos, and other progressive sectors mobilized to ensure that there would be a City University presence in one of the poorest areas of New York.  After the school opened, Hispanics did not rest until Hostos had all the resources and the infrastructure necessary to serve its students.  Without that initial leadership and without the continued efforts of Latinos, Hostos would not be a reality today.

Today, the outcome of that struggle led by Hispanics is a college that serves all New Yorkers regardless of race, ethnicity, social class or creed.  Our educational mission places particular emphasis on the teaching of Latino and African-American students.  Hostos has done well in accomplishing its mission throughout the years.  This semester our Latino and African-American students represent at least 58% and 22% respectively of our whole student body.  Over the past 40 years, Hostos has been the public college with the highest percentage of Hispanic students in the state of New York.  We also have the highest percentage of Latino faculty, 33%, in the state of New York.

There are so many other important institutions in our city — I think of ASPIRA, El Museo del Barrio, the Hispanic Federation, and Latino Justice, among others — that probably would not exist if Latinos had not fought to create, expand and maintain them.  Also, I have no doubt that our community will continue to create new and improved ways to contribute to the quality of life in New York.  Almost every day I have the privilege of interacting with young Latinas and Latinos who are creative, talented, energetic and committed.  I'm sure many of them will take leadership roles and change New York in the near future.

This month is also a good time to make a resolution that will have real impact. It would be great if today each of us decided to make a monetary contribution, volunteer, or find a concrete way to contribute to a Latino organization.  These difficult times require the support of everyone. Do not forget that in the past, others gave of their time, effort and resources to build institutions that contributed to the common good.  If we want a better future for our community, we must get involved now.  We need more concrete actions in support of our Latino community and for the institutions that serve it.  That well might be the best way to celebrate this Hispanic Heritage Month.


President Félix V. Matos Rodríguez
Eugenio María de Hostos Community College of the City University of New York

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