Founded by bilingual community liaison Carmen Mercado,“El Cafecito” is a program that strives to support Latino immigrant families at Mountain View High School as they assimilate into the new culture. The program’s goal is to “teach parents how to effectively navigate the education system and utilize technology in order to stay up to date with their child’s performance in school… regarding grades, attendance, and graduation,” Mercado said.
The group of Latino parents meets with Mercado every Tuesday for four weeks, and meetings consist of presentations about news and events pertaining to that particular month. “At the first meeting, we encourage parents to recognize their children’s accomplishments, and the parents have lunch with their students,” Mercado said. “The second is a health and discipline tutorial, the third teaches parents how to use the school web page, and the fourth provides information about graduation requirements.” Mercado emphasized the importance of preparing for graduation early on. “Parents need to be thinking about graduation from the beginning of their child’s freshman year.”
Mercado explained that her idea for “El Cafecito” emerged when she was working as an interpreter for conferences at MVHS. “Every time I translated at conferences—disciplinary
conferences, parent conferences, etc.—I wondered, ‘What do we need to do in order to avoid arriving to this point—the disciplinary conference? How can I help these parents?’ That was when I decided to call all the [Latino] parents in order to meet with them and ask, ‘What would you like to hear?’” One of the mothers who took part in the meetings had the idea to name the new program “El Cafecito,” referring to the common Latin American tradition of conversing with friends over a cup of coffee.
“El Cafecito” helps Latino families throughout the difficult process of cultural assimilation. “The transition to a new place, new environment, and new culture takes place through conversation,” Mercado said. The meetings, which require much collaboration between the parents, provide a place for everyone to ask questions, express their concerns, and share their experiences. Additionally, “El Cafecito” helps involve Latino parents in the school community through the organization of events that take place at MVHS. For example, each “El Cafecito” meeting is the responsibility of one of the participating parents, and there are various events for which the administration calls for assistance from “El Cafecito.” One of these events is Latino Awards Night. Mercado said that the parents “took care of the refreshments, decorations, and are eager to help organize any event.”
Mercado explained that she understands the situation that many of “El Cafecito”’s families are facing because she has experienced similar setbacks. When she was a young girl growing up in Mexico, her parents immigrated to the United States. “I stayed with my grandmother for a few years until my parents could bring me to the states,” she said. “I have faced the same struggles that many of these immigrants are facing. I know what it is like to make the transition into a new culture. I have been in a classroom in which I didn’t understand the language that was being spoken, and back then we didn’t have ELD. Throughout those experiences, I began to understand what my parents went through. They never visited my school or talked to my counselor, so it was my responsibility to be a good student, to search for a brighter future and attend college.”
One of Mercado’s main goals for “El Cafecito” is to familiarize Latino immigrant parents with their rights. “Many of these parents come to the United States with fear. I wish this was an environment where they would have the confidence to say: ‘This is my school.’ Mountain View is a place in which their children will be exposed to everything that they need for the future. I truly believe that, here, there are unlimited possibilities. My goal is that these parents will be up to date with what is happening at school in order to open more doors for their students’ success.”
“El Cafecito” helps strengthen the MVHS community through the involvement of Latino families, and it provides a great opportunity for immigrant parents to learn about the different culture and education system in the United States. Mercado advises immigrant parents not to be afraid. “Here you can find help, protection, and friendship wherever—be it with the principal, your child’s counselor, the administrators or teachers. I have worked in education for 25 years, and in my opinion, MVHS is the place to be,” she said.
*ELD: an English class specifically for English Language Learners.