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A San Diego photographer helps bridge cultural gap for minority students

A local private school is helping to bridge the cultural divide for first-generation Mexican American students. The Francis Parker School in Linda Vista has 1,300 students who are predominantly white, which can be a challenge for children who are not.

The school has created a program called SPEAK, which stands for "Shaping Peer Empowerment Advocating Knowledge."

SPEAK supports minority students and their Spanish-speaking parents in navigating the academic, cultural, and financial opportunities available to them. A group of Parker’s Upper School students took a field trip Friday to the Centro Cultural de La Raza in Balboa Park, where they saw an exhibit called "Beyond Trasfronterizo Lens."

The exhibit displays the work of Carlos Solorio, a professional photographer born in Tijuana and later naturalized as an American citizen. “Transfronterizo is like cross-border. It means somebody who navigates both sides of the border naturally,” Solorio said.

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One of Solorio’s photographs is titled "Migrante X" and shows a lone man crossing into the U.S. on a desert road. The picture hit close to home for Marco Garcia Gonzalez, who is a junior at the Parker School.

“The migrant picture where it had that man in the background with the desert overlooking him. It just made me think about how my parents came to America,” he said, “they might have seen that or been in that picture, you know?”

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M.G. Perez
"Migrante X" is a photograph in the "Beyond Transfronterizo Lens" exhibit at the Centro Cultural De La Raza in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA, April 8, 2022. The photo shows a lone man on a desert road, with a Joshua tree in the foreground.

The cultural divide can go both ways when a student is caught between the difference between American life and their Mexican family.

“Connecting back to my family is a little tricky,” Jose Estrada Hernandez told KPBS News. Jose is in tenth grade and was born and raised in San Diego but has many family members in Tijuana. “There are moments that I don’t really understand what they’re saying or don’t understand the traditions,” he said.

Connecting students to successful members of their communities is an important part of the SPEAK program outreach. Jasmin Taylor is the college counselor at the Parker School. She said, “There are similarities in these mentors so our students can see other narratives and other stories of folks who are doing amazing things.”

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Solorio hopes the field trip to his photography exhibit inspires minority students who are first-generation in the U.S.

“We are living our ancestor's wildest dreams through education. We must pass the torch to the next generation and then it’s up to them to be the decision-makers or leaders of our people,” he said.