Viewpoints

Ruben Navarrette: Running the marathon of life

DALLAS – I have jobs in both old media and new media, and I’m in a quandary. Last year, I celebrated my 25th year in this business, and I’d like to do another 25. But – as with most journos on the job – I’m not sure what media will look like in the future.

So it was fitting that I should return to this city, where I lived for five years while writing for the Dallas Morning News, to speak to a gathering of young Latino professionals who likewise aren’t sure what their future holds.

I went at the invitation of the Los Angeles-based Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the nation’s largest organization supporting Hispanics in higher education. Founded in 1975, the HSF provides scholarships and support services to about 5,000 Hispanic students each year. The money comes from private donations and corporate contributions, and the organization has given away a total of more than $470 million since its inception.

I’m an alumnus of the scholarship program, and so is one of my college roommates – Fidel Vargas, who is now the president and CEO of the fund. Which explains how I found my way back to the organization, and now back to Dallas.

Recently, the HSF launched a series of events called LUNA (Latinos Uniting & Networking for Advancement). The organization rounds up HSF alumni in their 20s and 30s in a city – including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami and now Dallas, and next Chicago and New York – with the goal of giving them a spark.

I light up people for a living, and so I’ve been invited to speak at a couple of these events.

I came to the Dallas gathering with a question and a message.

The question was about a new movie that most of the attendees had heard about or seen. The Disney film “McFarland USA” tells the amazing true story of Jim White, a high school P.E. teacher turned cross-country coach in a small mostly Latino town in the rich farmland of Central California – like the one in which I grew up, an hour up the road. White’s team of runners knew more about picking crops than racing long distances. But in 1987, these novices – through grit, determination and hard work – defied expectations and won the state championship.

A good movie will make you smile, or make you cry. A great movie can make you do both at the same time. With this story, what’s not to love?

Sure enough, the Latinos I’ve heard from love this movie. And the adjective that is most often used to describe it is “inspirational.” This got me wondering. With all that Latinos have accomplished and achieved – in business, academia, politics, sports, entertainment – why do we still need to be inspired?

So I put that question to the young professionals at the LUNA event, and got some interesting answers.

Someone said that it’s because “Latinos don’t see themselves in a positive light” often enough on film. Another person said that inspiration preserves “the hope that our lives will improve.” Someone else told me that, when we’re inspired, it leads us closer to that thing we all secretly crave: “inner peace.” Another attendee said that we need to be inspired so we don’t forget where we come from and “the struggle of those who came before us.”

Yet, the one thing I heard most often that night was that inspiration is an antidote to complacency, and it’s something that becomes more necessary the longer people are in the United States. Immigrants don’t have to worry about becoming comfortable. They’re usually too busy just trying to survive. But for their children and grandchildren, many of whom will earn degrees and land jobs that yield soft hands, keeping a sense of purpose can be a challenge. Films like “McFarland USA,” I was told, remind people not to be content with where you’ve arrived but to always push ahead.

Which brings me to the message. You’re going to fail sometimes, I told my audience. Your career will have ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments. Take it in stride, but don’t take it too seriously. When you fall down, get up. But remember: Life isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.

That’s something a group of heroic athletes in Central California already know. They learned it on the trail while chasing the American dream.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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