Fresno Unified has first-ever Latinx graduation ceremony to recognize seniors and their families

Photo by Jonathan De La Cerda, Fresno Unified School District

A realm of emotion filled McLane Stadium on June 4 as nearly 400 high school seniors were recognized at the first ever Latinx High School Recognition Celebration.

The Latinx High School Recognition Celebration is a means for not only students, but also families to be authentically honored and included in the milestone.

“No hay palabras para descubrir lo que se siente. Mirar que tu hijo está logrando el sueño Americano lo que uno nunca pudo complir. Ser parte de eso se siente muy bien especialmente porque es en español,” dijo Maria Arellano, la mamá de Franklin Hernandez, un estudiante de Edison High School.

“There are no words to describe this feeling. Watching your child achieving the American dream that I was unable to reach. Being able to partake in this is amazing, especially since it is in Spanish,” said Maria Arellano, Franklin Hernandez’s mom, an Edison High School student.

Photo by Jonathan De La Cerda, Fresno Unified School District

Fresno Unified School District presented the celebration after students from Global Student League (GSL) in partnership with Youth Leadership Institute (yli) advocated the need for a ceremony that celebrated their culture and ethnic background in Spanish.

When the day came, students rejoiced in the fact that their dream became a reality. 

“This graduation is giving us the chance to be recognized in our own Latino/Hispanic culture and it is also a chance for our parents to understand how important it is to graduate high school and go to college. Especially after they have sacrificed so much for us to get us where we are today,” said Kiara Valenzuela Sanchez, an Edison High School student and member of GSL. 

Valenzuela Sanchez’s dad, Fernando Valenzuela, said having the opportunity to be a part of his daughter’s achievements is one of the best things in the world.

“Celebrar estos tipos de eventos con mi hija y saber que va saliendo adelante es lo más bonito que hay. Poder llegar a las etapas con tus hijos y poder mirar que se están cumpliendo sus sueños después de todos los desvelos y esfuerzos es increíble,” Valenzuela dijo.

“Celebrating these kinds of events with my daughter and knowing she is succeeding is the best thing ever. Being able to reach these milestones with my kids and watching their dreams come true after all the late nights and never ending effort is incredible,” Valenzuela said.  

The ceremony was held almost exclusively in Spanish with the English portions immediately translated live by students. 

Photo by Jonathan De La Cerda, Fresno Unified School District

To enhance the cultural scene, there were featured performances by Xochilt Marquez from Bullard High School, Mariachi de Mi Tierra from Roosevelt High School, a Baile Azteca by Los Montañeses de McLane High School, and a traditional Baile Folclórico from Edison High School. 

For Mariana Sanchez, one of the student speakers, the Latinx Recognition was a way for her to honor her family and her native state and country, Michoacán, México, which she made the difficult decision to leave in August 2020.

Sanchez chose to come to the United States in search of a better education and to ensure a successful future for herself, and for her mom, whom she said was the strongest person she knows.

“Eres la persona más fuerte que conozco, y aunque hoy no puede estar conmigo porque hay una frontera que nos divide, espero que desde donde esté se sienta orgullosa de mi,” Sanchez dijo. 

“You are the strongest person I know, and although you aren’t here with me today because there is a border that divides us, I hope you are proud of me from where you are,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez is a valedictorian graduate at Bullard High School. She spoke about arriving in the United States not knowing English, and how she is still graduating with high honors.

She said she owes a lot of her success to her mom who taught her that education is the one thing no one can take from you. 

Photo by Jonathan De La Cerda, Fresno Unified School District

Sanchez explained one of her biggest frustrations was the fact that her family was separated. 

“Me enloquece y me llena de coraje que para muchos una frontera solamente divide dos países. Pero para nosotros que estamos aquí esta noche, sabemos que esa frontera es mucho más que eso. Esa frontera también divide nuestra familia de nuestros sueños. Es injusto que no podamos tener a los dos en el mismo lugar,” dijo ella. 

“I’m frustrated and enraged that for many people a border solely divides two countries. For those of us here tonight, we know that a border is so much more than that. The border divides our family from our dreams. It is unfair that we are unable to have both in the same place,” she said.

She concluded her speech by congratulating her class and thanking her mom and her family: “Porque sin ellos, todo esto no sería posible.”

“Because without them, none of this would be possible.”

With over half of the students being first generation graduates and almost 70% of FUSD being Latinx or Hispanic, Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson said the celebration was long overdue. 

“There shouldn’t be one person here who doesn’t want our kids to learn about their cultural history, their language and the things that make them authentically themselves. Fresno Unified is over 70% Latino. Latino graduation is graduation,” Nelson said. 

At the ceremony, students were called to the stage one by one and were presented with a colorful serape hand stitched by Karina Orocio. 

Photo by Jonathan De La Cerda, Fresno Unified School District

Students who earned awards such as the Seal of Biliteracy, the State Seal of Civic Engagement, and Fresno Unified scholarship recipients were recognized as well. 

Keynote speaker Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias shared a few words about his upbringing in Mendota.

“A mi me trajeron a este país a los dos años, nos cruzamos ilegalmente con muchas familias, y entré a la escuela en los Estados Unidos donde me enseñaron que hablando español se castigaba,” Arias dijo.

“I was brought to this country when I was two years old, we crossed illegally with other families and I started school in the United States where speaking English was punished,” Arias said. 

He said Spanish was frowned upon because his educators and the people in the town believed English was the only acceptable language. 

Arias encouraged students to speak Spanish proudly and offered a piece of advice. 

“Hablen español con orgullo. Usen español para platicar con sus padres, preguntenle sus historias, sus pasiones, la razón por la cual llegaron aquí,” él dijo. 

“Speak Spanish proudly. Use Spanish to communicate with your parents, ask them their stories, their passions, and the reason why they immigrated,” he said.

For some students, the Latinx Recognition Celebration means representing their parents and the next phase of their lives.

“Me siento muy contento porque esto está representando a los padres hipanos y todo el esfuerzo que han hecho para poder sacar a sus hijos adelante,” dijo Cesar Diaz-Nava, un estudiante de Edison High School. “Mi familia se siente muy orgullosa de mí porque venir de México y ser el primero en graduarme y ir a la universidad los hace feliz.”

“I feel so happy because this is representing hispanic parents and all the hardships they’ve faced in trying to give their kids a better future,” said Cesar Diaz-Nava, an Edison High School student. “My family is very proud of me because having come from Mexico and being the first to graduate and attend college makes them happy.”

Photo by Jonathan De La Cerda, Fresno Unified School District
Jazmin Alvarado (she/her)

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