Children Still Struggle to Read in the Neighborhood Where the Latino-Rights Movement Began

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Decades after civil-rights leader Cesar Chavez began fighting for farmworkers here in Mayfair, Latino immigrants still struggle to achieve the American Dream.

Cesar Chavez Elementary School is among the lowest-performing schools in California. In 2012, one of every three children there could not read by the third grade. It's the only elementary school in the working-class neighborhood of Mayfair, where Mexican farmworkers settled long before the Silicon Valley tech boom. Today, the community is home to landscapers, restaurant workers, and house-cleaners.

Parents are starting to see early-childhood literacy as the way to break the cycle of poverty in their neighborhood. Somos Mayfair, a nonprofit community organization, has trained about two dozen residents to be neighborhood "promotores," knocking on doors and encouraging parents to fill in where the public school system doesn't. This month, those parents organized the neighborhood's first reading circles—one at a local park and another in someone's driveway. The campaign is called En Nuestras Manos (In Our Hands).

Most children in Mayfair speak English as a second language and don't have access to a library, so it's important to make sure they don't start kindergarten behind everyone else, says Camille Llanes-Fontanilla, executive director of Somos Mayfair.

"We are trying to create an alternative space that our current public education system is not addressing," she says. "Which is why we call this En Nuestras Manos, because it's in our hands as a community."

National Journal recently visited Silicon Valley to see how immigration and technology have transformed the San Jose area. In the coming weeks, Next America will publish a series of stories about the people who are finding their place in America's wealthiest region.