By Mardeen Ahmad
Appreciating Our Differences
Assistant Professor Dr. Josh Franco was born in 1985 in Mexico. Franco moved to the states shortly following the 1985 Mexico City earthquake when he was just three months old.
When he began attending school in Bellflower, CA, Franco says he had some awkward experiences with teachers who couldn’t pronounce his name correctly.
Named Josue at birth, Franco faced many challenges at a young age. The mispronunciation of names is often one of the first predicaments many first-generation Americans face with their identities.
“People would make fun of me because my true name is Josue not Josh,” he said. In school, teachers would call out “Jo-soo” when taking attendance; some even misgendering him. By the second grade, Franco had had enough and walked up to his teacher and let her know that she can just call him “Josh.”
Growing up, Franco says he always felt Mexican but eventually evolved into a Mexican-American to develop his identity and find attachment. Having been born in Mexico and raised in the U.S., Franco says he never really felt “a part of” either culture. He explained that when Team Mexico and Team USA are paired in a soccer match he is unsure for which team he should be rooting.
During the time that his family settled in California, it was customary for many Mexican immigrant families to lose their language. As a result, Franco does not speak Spanish but that doesn’t make him feel any less close to his Mexican heritage.
“Those differences within us can be used to tear us apart, but my hope is that we see that we are the ones who have to keep it together and strengthen it,” said Franco.
The Innocence of Growing Up in A Diverse Town
“I grew up in a bubble of what the world is supposed to look like once you get past these systemic racial-ethnic differences,” said Franco.
According to Franco, Bellflower was so diverse that racial and ethnic conflicts weren’t an issue. Following a conversation with a Cuyamaca colleague, he explored the race and ethnicity data for California cities. The data was presented by different colored dots which represented households of different ethnicities. When he zoomed into his hometown of Bellflower, he described it as a “skittles bag” with all the different colored dots overlapping. In comparison, in San Diego the dots are much more partitioned.
The lack of one dominant ethnic group in Bellflower shaped the way that Franco now sees and interacts with people.
“There is an inherent desire to want to belong. Luckily for me, because of how I let my identity kind of flow over time, I always found attachment in people. It didn’t have to be Mexican-American men, it could be anybody really because I was looking at their essence, their core, their values, or principles,” said Dr. Franco
“That’s not to say that we should ignore all the things that make us different,” he clarified. “We should recognize that the things that do make us different are what make us stronger as a community.”
Doing His Part
One of the many issues plaguing disenfranchised communities in our society is the lack of accessible education. Franco was confronted with this issue when he was attending Cerritos Community College.
During his time at Cerritos, it was announced that California Community Colleges would be raising tuition from $18 per unit to $46 per unit. The following semester when the higher tuition was implemented, Franco noticed significantly fewer students on campus.
“I feel that education should be free. I have felt that since I was young. I feel that opportunity should be available to everybody,” said Franco. He believes that most students have the capacity to do both the extraordinary and the ordinary, it’s just a matter of opportunity.
Franco explained the way he creates opportunity is by eliminating barriers wherever he can. That’s why most of the classes that Franco teaches have no-cost textbooks. “If I can’t find a textbook that’s free then I’ll write one,” said Franco.
His passion for accessible education is what lead him to co-authoring an Open Education Resources that is completely free to students. “Now that it’s free, now it’s just up to faculty at different colleges across the state and arguable across the country to say, ‘let’s offer this class,’” said Dr. Franco.