If pony-tailed Rito Martinez strolls down Oak Park Avenue, chances are you won’t notice him. After all, he’s quiet, well-dressed, often seen holding hands with his wife or son while walking their dog.

Another reason you might not notice him is because Rito Martinez is Latino. Many Oak Parkers, in their apparent smugness, view locals just in white and black terms, most often through the lens of the former, since that is the village’s and the country’s dominant ideology. I’m reminded of how local Latinos are “symbolically annihilated” in many settings – from how they’re inaccurately reported on with innuendo instead of fact – or more likely how they’re not included at all, made invisible by the media (which is how cultural researchers define “symbolic annihilation”). Because of media “frames” and “schemas,” cultural researchers might agree that few would notice Rito Martinez, and even fewer would assume he holds several degrees and is a leader in many discourse communities.

When I see Rito Martinez strolling down the street, I think of how at two recent community meetings tied to the high school superintendent’s race-neutral plan to close the achievement gap between white students and students of color, white leaders – and black ones, too – scarcely mentioned Hispanics in their discussions or in these pages. I read one newspaper piece paraphrasing a former school board member who apparently thinks the best way to close the gap is to encourage parents of color (I believe he mentioned blacks) to go to upper-crust daycare centers like good white folks go to instead of the alleged lower-class ones here where kids of color, he claims, look mindlessly for hours at TV all day.

When I see Rito Martinez strolling down Oak Park Avenue, I’ll praise him because rather than push to fund bogus schemes – ooops – I mean $100,000 studies to inquire into daycare centers’ influence on academic performance, he invests energy into more fruitful educational initiatives. Rito, the beloved son of Mexican undocumented workers, is a former Morton East High School social studies teacher-turned-Little Village high school principal. He recently made the news convincing area college presidents to fund $500,000 in scholarships for his undocumented seniors, who were highly qualified for admission but, according to federal guidelines, unable to apply for any federal monies. He was featured on WTTW-TV’s Chicago Tonight in a segment that got college presidents involved in the initiative to bridge the funding gap for over-achieving, undocumented students. Rito has been in the news lately because a gang member in Little Village killed one of his honor roll seniors in an apparent mistaken identity shooting that occurs in many neighborhoods.

The next time I see Rito Martinez strolling down Oak Park Avenue, I’ll congratulate him for making a difference and making visible a group of citizens deemed invisible by a rather self-indulgent, privileged dominant society here and in the larger community. We may laugh about the “study” inquiring into the pre-schools that good white folks send their kids to as opposed to the more working-class local facilities people of color are alleged to send their kids to, and how privileged white males are ones likely to be paid for such a waste of money (though it’s a great topic for these pages). We may muse on the colonial assumptions implicit in such a study. We may even snicker about how no new monies are budgeted in the new plan to close the old achievement gap, and wonder whether any of the old monies will go to close the gap between Hispanics and whites in the high school. We might comment on a self-described “Black-Mexican” OPRF student, who in my new documentary, The Achievement Gap From A Student’s Perspective (with Yves Hughes, Jr.), decried the lack of Hispanics and blacks in her honors classes, a not-so-subtle suggestion of apartheid-policies at “Ground Zero of the Grade Gap.”

As Rito Martinez walks his dog and the pooch leaves a pungent prize amid raised eyebrows, we may ponder why it seems many Oak Parkers prioritize dogs more than Latino, Asian or African-American kids. Maybe we’ll propose a $100,000 study on it.

To see our documentary, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35P7FCMOePs

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