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Overcoming obstacles: A first generation Latino’s story of academic success By Christine Alexis of Jambalaya News

Carmen Arellano image by Jambalaya News

By Christine Alexis of Jambalaya News for NolaVie

People define success in many ways, but 20-year-old Carmen Arellano believes that it’s a matter of achieving her goals and accomplishing her dreams despite the odds.

Born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Arellano lived with her grandparents until she was 14. She attended a private school in San Pedro, Honduras, and was an “A” student. There she learned how to read and write in English.

In 2004, her family moved to New Orleans. Arellano believed that moving to the United States would help ensure a future filled with possibilities.

Arellano says that education is her family’s top priority. Her mother attended college in Honduras and studied special needs education; however, her diploma is not valid in the United States. Her grandmother graduated from high school and received a two-year secretarial degree, and her grandfather received only a fifth-grade level of education due to his family’s economic situation. Her family places such a high value on her education so that she can succeed and have better opportunities than they had.

In August 2004, Arellano began attending L.W. Higgins High School. Although she was fluent in English, she felt nervous speaking it, and a language barrier was created between her and her peers. Arellano also said that she had trouble adjusting socially because she could not understand slang words and felt uncomfortable speaking in social situations.

Studies have shown that Hispanic students have an extremely high dropout rate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “In 2008, some 32.8 percent of Hispanic 16- to 24-year-olds born outside the United States were status high-school dropouts. Hispanics born in the United States had lower status dropout rates than immigrant Hispanics, 10.5 percent for “first generation” and 10.8 percent for “second generation or higher,” respectively. Arellano, however, graduated high school with honors and accepted a scholarship to Loyola University in New Orleans.

According to research conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, “In 2007, Hispanics made up 15 percent of the U.S. population and 12 percent of full-time college students, but received only 7.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees.” Although obtaining a college degree may seem a distant dream for many, there are numerous resources for Hispanic students, including the Hispanic College Fund as well as online resources at and Arellano believes that financing her education was made easier as a result of her Latino heritage. “There are a lot of scholarships and organizations willing to help Hispanic students,” she says.

This past summer Arellano became a citizen of the United States, and plans on graduating next May with a degree in accounting. Her goal is to become a certified public accountant and to have her own firm.

Although she is an American citizen, she says she remains “torn between Honduras and the United States.”

“I am very proud of where I come from. My family and I speak Spanish at home and prepare Honduran food all of the time in order to preserve my culture.”

When asked how she overcame academic obstacles and avoided being part of the drop-out statistics, she said, “My family instilled in me the value of education and I always had faith in myself. I knew that putting a lot of effort and hard work into my studies would allow me to achieve my dream of attending college.”

Although her definition of success may be different from that of others, her story is an inspiration in overcoming academic obstacles — Arellano beat the statistics.


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