Editor’s note: Annually, September 15 – October 15 serves as Hispanic Heritage Month, providing a time to pay tribute to the many contributions, cultures and histories of American Latinos who have influenced and enriched our nation. Throughout the month we are spotlighting members from the Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity – a diverse statewide coalition of leaders and organizations ranging from civil rights, business, civic, parent, and other sectors – and the incredible work they do for students and education equity.
Originally from San Perlita, Texas, a small border town on the Texas-Mexico border, Jose Luis Orozco, Jr. is a licensed professional counselor w
Orozco explains how he is a Tejano Texan from the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. According to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), the term Tejano, derived from the Spanish adjective tejano or (feminine) tejana, represents a Texan of Mexican descent.
“My father was born in Harlingen, Texas and my mother was born in Matamoros, Mexico,” Orozco explained. “I attended South Texas High School for Health Professions, Wabash College double majoring in classics/Spanish, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley graduate school for school counselor and school administrator.”
As a high school counselor, Orozco said, “there was no prouder moment than when you see the students that you have worked with for the past couple of years walk across that stage to be handed their high school diplomas.” However, he said that he knew in the back of his mind that there were students whose futures were filled with uncertainty.
Orozco recalls a high school senior coming to him after graduation and asking for help with an issue he was having with the college he was going to attend. He said the student was a “Dreamer,” referring to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, living here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“By investing in the education of all our students, we are investing in our future. The data is clear, these young people are making significant economic contributions to our country, and those will only grow if we encourage and support their educational ambitions. By pushing them out, we’re wasting a lot of talent and human potential that we desperately need in this country,” Orozco said.
Orozco is now the executive director at Voces, a space where the LatinX community of greater Battle Creek and Southwest Michigan join together and receive empowering support. The name means “voices” in Spanish and represents its mission and goal of “Many Voices, One Community.
“Growing up bicultural and bilingual is what has supported my work today. It feels like I have had to navigate two worlds my whole life,” Orozco said.
Orozco, also a member of The Education Trust-Midwest’s Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity, says ETM’s political advocacy has been appealing to him and is one of the reasons he was drawn to work alongside the organization’s advocacy efforts.
“If we do not have a place at the decision-making table, our voice cannot be heard. Ed Trust-Midwest has been the loudest voice for my community these past couple of years,” Orozco shared.
Being an advocate, Orozco encourages those to not be timid about speaking up for their community.
“Our students are watching every move we make, and we must take some bold steps if we truly want to make an impact.”