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Latina Sisters Aimed High, Defying Low Expectations

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When Linda Hernandez was growing up in Lincoln, Neb., in the 1960s, her family was one of the few Latino families in town. And that sometimes made school life difficult, she says.

"We had to sit in the back of the class and stay after school and clean the erasers when the other kids didn't have to do that," says Linda, now 60. "But both my parents laid down the law and said, 'You had to go to school.' "

Linda and her older sister, Marta, did well academically. But the school's expectations were low. The school counselor told them not to worry about taking the SAT or ACT tests "because we were Hispanic women, [and] all we would do is have babies," Linda told StoryCorps in Albuquerque, N.M.

"So we went home and we told our parents, and my mother went in the back room and cried," Linda says. "And then that's when my brother said, 'Uh-uhn, it ain't happening.' We were very lucky that he was over 6 feet tall. So he walked us down to school and told our high school counselors, 'My sisters will take the test.' "

But then the sisters encountered another obstacle. "In order to take the test, you had to have a No. 2 pencil," Linda says. "My sister and I, we had to walk the alleys to find pop bottles — because that's when you could still turn them in and get money for them — so that we could have money to buy the pencils to go take the test."

They bought the pencils, took the test and "both scored really high," Linda says. Marta received a four-year scholarship to the University of Nebraska, was accepted into medical school and became an OB-GYN. Linda, who works for the U.S. Postal Service as a labor relations specialist, eventually earned a degree in business management.

Linda says she knew her mother took pride in her children's academic work. She would always post their grades on the refrigerator while they were growing up, Linda says, "and if we got straight A's, they were on the refrigerator until the next time we got a report card."

But Linda didn't realize just how much her mother treasured those report cards until she passed away 10 years ago.

"When she knew that she was ill, she had gone and started making photo albums of us kids," Linda says. "I expected to see family photos that we had of us, but I didn't expect to see the report cards in there. And I didn't expect to see the little graduation announcement from when we graduated from high school. Those were in our photo albums, too.

"One thing that made her feel really good was that all her kids went to school," Linda says. "She was very proud of that."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon.

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