Augustin Lopez wanted to be an architect, but for now he's a
He's the oldest of six children of Mexican immigrants and says that after he graduated from high school, his mother asked him to start earning money to help the family. So the 21-year-old drives other laborers to work sites and helps them with tasks such as building fish ponds or trimming trees.
Asked about future plans, the quiet young man with a mustache and goatee drew a blank.
"I have no idea," he said, and shook his head. "I have no idea what I want to do in my life."
Lopez's parents have legal immigration status and he is a U.S. citizen born in Texas.
President Barack Obama drew widespread attention this month when he announced that his administration would allow many young people living in this country without legal permission to apply for work permits.
The policy will likely change thousands of lives. But it may overshadow the fact that people born here are U.S. citizens, and citizens make up more than 90 percent of Hispanics under 18, according to the Population Reference Bureau, an institute that analyzes Census data.
Lopez's situation illustrates the obstacles that stop many young Hispanics from immigrant families from completing college, even if they are citizens.
Money is an issue for many students, and some have shaky academic preparation.
The college application and financial aid process can intimidate even educated adults who speak English, and many children of immigrants lack family members who completed college themselves and can provide guidance.
An increasing number of organizations in Memphis and around the nation see low college attainment among Hispanics as a challenge for the future economic and social health of America.
Hispanics already represent nearly one in four people under 18 in the United States, but only about 21 percent of Hispanics nationwide hold at least an associate's degree, compared to 30 percent of African-Americans and 44 percent of whites, according to Excelencia in Education, a national group that aims to improve outcomes.
Over the next several years Memphis will be the site of a major intervention to boost college completion rates among the region's new Hispanic minority.
The effort is backed by a big coalition of groups, including the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton has taken a strong interest in the project and was one of the key organizers of an April conference on the topic that Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell also attended.
It's easy to find successful children of Mexican immigrants, such as Irene Hernandez, this year's valedictorian at Immaculate Conception High School. She's headed to elite Brown University.
But it's also easy to find others like Lopez who haven't gone to college, but wanted to.
View from the truck
When he feels restless, Lopez gets into his dark-green Ford pickup and drives in big circles around the Binghamton neighborhood where he lives in a house with his parents and five younger siblings.
He says his family members are often out working or socializing, leaving the house empty.
He doesn't like to be there alone, so he gets in the truck. A girl he knows joked that he drives around so often that he's the
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