Blanca Ortiz stands in front of about 20 people at Zona del Sol, speaking with her hands as much as her voice, which moves easily between English and Spanish. She’s back living on Santa Fe’s Southside, where she was born and raised, after earning her bachelor’s degree in Indiana on a full-ride scholarship.
Ortiz tells the assembled of her success through secondary education, and now of her hopes to attend the University of New Mexico for a law degree. She wants to inspire other Southsiders to start or complete their education.
“I want education to be something that is accessible,”Ortiz tells SFR. “I feel like an educated community is a strong community, which is one of the reasons that I’m here. Being that I recently graduated, I want to get back into the community and start organizing and be fully present here.”
Ortiz, along with the non-profit Earth Care and the Santa Fe Community College , chose Zona del Sol for this informal event, aimed at increasing college enrollment for the Hispanic and Latino communities. It’s the first in a planned monthly series to provide a comfortable, bilingual space where people can get help applyiing to SFCC and for financial aid.
“What’s really important for us is to get the word out specifically for our Southside community,” SFCC Director of Recruitment and Dual Credit Marcos Maez tells SFR. “We have information sessions and open houses from semester to semester at SFCC but sometimes transportation is an issue, so we want to bring it closer to home.”
From 2011 to 2018, the total number of students at SFCC has steadily declined from 6,520 to 5,432—a 17% drop, according to figures provided by the college. The Hispanic or Latino share of degree-seeking students at the school has dipped from 53% in 2013 to 51% in 2018. Hispanics or Latinos made up 45% of all students in 2013; that number has since dropped to 44%.
SFCC's plans for Southside-specific workshops have never come to fruition until now, when the college partnered with Earth Care for the Zona del Sol event.
The “neutralized location” helps increase Southside enrollment and make residents feel more comfortable, especially for Hispanic males. SFCC has seen low turnout numbers for that population.
“Hispanic males, they are just not enrolling in college or if they are enrolling, they’re not completing and graduating with a certificate or degree,” Maez tells SFR. “We’re using this as an opportunity to have folks from the community get involved with SFCC staff and Earth Care as positive influencers. It’s one thing for me and my staff to speak about the importance of college, but it’s a whole other thing to have their friends, their relatives, people that they trust. That gives us credibility to give them that nudge that college is a really good option for you.”
SFCC and the non-profits also want to dispel a widespread and harmful myth that keeps many from even considering college.
“There’s a myth that is still going around that if you are not a citizen of this country, you can’t qualify for financial assistance or you can’t register for college classes,” Maez explains. “Part of this is just debunking that myth and letting people know that if you don’t have a Social Security number, we are a sanctuary school and a sanctuary city. We don’t ask questions. … We have other ways to get you through the application process and other ways to get you to complete a financial aid application.”
As Ortiz finishes her remarks, the dozen or so Southsiders break into two groups, either heading toward Zona del Sol’s computers to fill out free applications for SFCC or to meet with the college’s financial aid staff to begin the process of applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Ortiz tells SFR she wants to become an immigration lawyer.
But for now, she plans to stay connected to her Southside home and Latino roots and increase education attainment for the people in her community by working with SFCC and Earth Care on the series of workshops.
Ortiz says financial instability and lack of information are two major barriers that keep Southsiders from going to college.
“When you’re financially unstable, you feel that your world is more closed off,” she says, standing beside a table covered with food for attendees. “When your socioeconomic background is limited and it’s a little more disadvantaged than others, the lack of information runs with it. Not many things like this [workshop] are happening on the Southside. I think what we see a lot in our community is having resources for a short period of time and then they’re taken away. I’m hoping this [workshop] becomes something permanent.”
To find out where and when the next meetings will be, email Marcos Maez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 505-428-1779.
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Katherine is a Florida native in Santa Fe to cover the texture and life of the city's Southside using writing, photography, videography and audio. She's a grant-funded fellow in the Report for America program and her work is underwritten by the Brindle and McCune foundations, Enterprise Bank and Hutton Broadcasting.