Alexandro Jara '09
Educator, Doctoral Candidate, University of New Mexico
When Alexandro Jara ’09 was a freshman at Santa Clara, he decided to switch his major from psychology because someone told him he’d have to get a post-graduate degree if he wanted to make a career in the field, and he was pretty sure a bachelor’s was going to be as much education as he could stand.
Ironic that these days Jara is spending a lot of time in the University’s Learning Commons, combing through a Latino newspaper owned by a local San Jose resident. He’s looking for information on San Jose’s Latino community, the subject of his dissertation in history at the University of New Mexico.
Jara also helped start La Raza Historical Society, whose purpose is to collect and preserve the history of Latinos in San Jose. “We want to help educate everyone about the Latino presence in this high tech region, to help create curriculum to show there has always been a diverse population in the United States.”
One goal is to digitize materials such as El Excentrico, a bi-weekly magazine published from 1949-1980, which provides a historical record of the cultural, economic, and social activities of the Latino community in San Jose. “We want to make these materials available to students in the San Jose schools, so they can see themselves in history,” Jara says.
Jara’s journey to a Ph.D. program grew out of his desire to become a teacher, an ambition that was fostered by his work at the Ethics Center. Though he started as a student receptionist, Jara attracted the notice of Center Character Education Director Steve Johnson, who encouraged him to become involved in the Character Program and to consider a career in education.
He was particularly attracted to the Center’s Character Based Literacy Program (CBL), which has a focus on curriculum for court-community and alternative schools that serve young people in the juvenile justice system. “I felt connected to CBL,” Jara says, “because a lot of those students are having struggles. The curriculum teaches you how to build a better character, to learn about yourself and who you are, to make good ethical choices.” By the time he was a senior, Jara was writing lesson plans for CBL.
Johnson also recommended Jara for a job at Sacred Heart Nativity School in San Jose, which serves at-risk Latino middle schoolers who are in danger of dropping out. That work inspired him to pursue a master’s degree so that he could teach history and Chicano studies at the high school level.
Originally, Jara assumed he would just get a master’s, but mentors at UNM encouraged him to apply for the doctoral program, where he was offered a full scholarship and a teaching assistantship.
Now finished with his coursework, Jara is focusing on his dissertation about the San Jose Latino Community from the 1950s through the 1990s. “I’m looking at how they were affected by and also affected local, state, and national politics, specifically around the issues of citizenship and immigration.”
In this election there has been a lot of discussion about the impact of the Latino vote, but Jara emphasizes that Latinos have been involved in electoral politics for years. “Now, the numbers are so much bigger, no one can ignore them,” he says. “California and the West always had a lot of participation, but now, Illinois, Kansas, and other states in the Midwest are catching up to the Southwest and West. I want to look at how we deal with these people, and how we can incorporate them as active participants in the political process.”