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More Latino students are going away to college

Many find it difficult to break from cultural traditions, but they and their families can see benefits.

February 15, 2010|By Larry Gordon

Often the key is financial aid, he and other experts said.

Such assistance was important to Julio Suastegui, who graduated from Compton High School and is now a freshman at Colby College in Maine. A physics major and track runner, he went east with a hefty scholarship but no winter coat. In the beginning, he said, he felt homesick and awkward as one of a small number of Latinos at Colby, but he now enjoys college in New England.

Suastegui, 18, is the first in his family to attend college; his mother works in a clothing factory and his father is in Mexico, trying to resolve immigration problems. Latino families like his find it "very hard to let go of a child," said Suastegui, who says he phones his mother every other day.

"I feel personally I've gotten an entirely new experience, interacting with students who are not just geographically but also culturally different," Suastegui said.

Boston College freshman Fuentes, a Los Angeles High School graduate, traveled east after receiving grants from the college and a Gates Millennium Scholars award for high-achieving minority students. That aid took the burden off her father, who works as a valet parker, and her mother, a housekeeper.

After some family debate about whether she should leave California for college, the final decision was hers, and her parents were supportive during her initial bouts of homesickness, said Fuentes, who plans to major in Hispanic studies and possibly become a Spanish literature professor.

"It's weird," she said. "The relationship with my parents is stronger now. I think the distance is what is bringing us more together."

So what would she advise this year's high school seniors about leaving home for college?

"I would be very honest with them," she said. "I would tell them it's not easy, but if you have the opportunity and don't take it, you will regret it the rest of your life."

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