In the 1960s, thousands of Chicanos and Chicanas, or Mexican-Americans, fought tirelessly on the national and local level for equity in their underserved communities at the height of the Chicano movement.
The work of political activist Cesar Chavez resulted in higher wages and a preservation of dignity and rights for farmworkers who were disenfranchised by their employers. Dolores Huerta, among her many causes, is known for campaigning nation-wide to put more Chicanos in local and national leadership positions on school boards and in public office.
There are numerous other historical feats accomplished by Mexican-Americans, but the majority of them are missing from Texas textbooks and curriculum, leaving younger generations of Mexican-Americans in the dark about their heritage. More than one person echoed that thought on Saturday during the Summit on Implementing Mexican American Studies in Texas Schools, which took place at San Antonio College’s McAllister Auditorium.
More than 200 local and statewide educators, educational administrators, members of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), and elected officials gathered at the summit – which was organized by the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS)’s Tejas Foco Committee on Mexican American Studies Pre-K-12, along with various other educational and community groups – to collectively identify institutional barriers, determine priorities, and craft a plan of action to implement MAS in Texas public schools from Pre-K-12th grade.
Such an initiative has been a long-fought, unresolved battle dating back to the Chicano movement. There was a glimmer of hope in 2014 when the Texas State Board of Education approved the inclusion of ethnic studies in the “special topics in social studies” curriculum.
The approval prompted a request for proposals (RFP) for textbooks on the subject matter, and Mexican American Heritage, a MAS textbook which numerous scholars, educators, activists, and politicians have criticized for being racist and factually inaccurate, was submitted by Momentum Instruction, which reportedly has the support of right-wing activist and former state board member Cynthia Noland Dunbar.
“We will be fighting to deny this book until we are red in the face,” said Marisa Perez, District 3 state board of education member, referring to her and her fellow Democratic board members. “We understand that what we’re up against is an intentional changing of our history and we want to make sure that people know that we recognize it and that we’re not going to stand for it.”
The state board of education is expected to vote on the book’s approval sometime in the fall, said District 2 state board of education member Ruben Cortez.
Cortez and Perez will continue to lobby against the book to their board colleagues, the said. Without doing so, they anticipate the predominantly Republican school board to vote for the book’s approval. If it isn’t passed, Perez said, she plans to reach out to various Mexican-American communities in Texas to create more informed textbook submissions.
It was completely serendipitous that Saturday’s summit coincided with the hype of the controversial textbook, said Palo Alto College MAS instructor Juan Tejeda, but it acted as an important driver in the initiative.
“We knew we were going to have to propose some textbooks (after the RFP), but we didn’t do it. None of us did it,” Tejeda told the crowd at the start of the summit. “…The thing we learned about that and the thing we need to learn is that we cannot allow these (non-Chicano) people to co-opt our history, to write our history for us.
“We are the experts, we need to develop our textbooks and integrate our textbooks into the state’s schools.”
The disparity in cultural and historical representation between ethnic and non-ethnic groups is large nationwide. In Texas, Mexican-American and Latino students comprise 51.3% of the student population, and the group is expected to grow to 67% by 2050, according to the Hobby Center. As the group’s population grows, it will become increasingly important to incorporate Mexican-American and ethnic heritage studies into every student’s coursework, even non-ethnic students.
Saturday was a chance to collaborate and gather community and professional feedback about effective strategies to achieve a well-rounded interpretation of Mexican-American history in Texas schools.
After an hour-long orientation and background prep, attendees were invited to participate in working breakout sessions to create action plans about information and data collection, political and legislative strategies, media campaigns, community engagement initiatives, and Pre-K-5th grade, middle school, and high school curriculum development.
Each group designated a committee chair for their respective topics of discussion, identified and prioritized important issues concerning MAS in their communities. They also brainstormed solutions and established a timeline of short and long term actions to fulfill their goals.
The Rivard Report invited willing participants of Saturday’s breakout sessions to write about their findings.
Before breaking into groups, several participants shared their thoughts and suggestions concerning the current state of education in their communities with the entire crowd. Several mentioned incorporating MAS into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) courses. Some noted that MAS teaching and supplemental materials already exist, but educators often have difficulty finding them. Grouping those materials on a website or database would make it easier for educators to seamlessly implement MAS into their lessons, even without a specific textbook.
A large portion of the group discussion was about placing a harder focus on exposing Pre-K-12th grade students to MAS and other ethnic studies, since those students typically don’t explore such topics unless they pursue higher education.
Studies show that students who take MAS or other ethnic studies courses are more academically committed, score better on standardized tests, and achieve higher grades in their courses.
Taking such courses also are key to fostering cultural pride, Perez said.
“Our students need to understand that their families and culture has contributed so much to this country,” she said.
Moving forward, Tejeda and other members of Tejas Foco Committee on Mexican American Studies Pre-K-12 will periodically follow up with the committee chairs established on Saturday to make sure their plans are evolving. They’ll present their findings and developments at the annual statewide NACCS conference in February 2017.
“Obviously there are some priorities and issues like the textbook issues that we’re organizing around at a different level, a statewide level, and we have reviewers that are coordinating it,” Tejeda said. “We’re going to approach it on a media level, we’re going to approach it with the strategy of taking it and protesting it, and we’re going to attack the process because the process of selecting textbooks is flawed. It’s very political.”
It’s going to take a lot of time and dedication for the initiative to reach fruition, but Tejeda has faith that now is the right time to get the ball rolling. Now more than ever, he said, “we need to make (lawmakers) aware” of the importance of mandating Mexican American studies as a required part of the Texas public school curriculum.
“The majority of our students are Mexican-Americans and other Latinos in the state, if they want our state to succeed economically they need our state to succeed educationally,” Tejeda said. “We’re at the bottom of the states in the U.S. in terms of education, we need to change that and put some money into it and they need to implement programs that help our students succeed.”
Top image: The Summit on Implementing Mexican American Studies in Texas Schools was held at San Antonio College on June 18, 2016. Photo by Camille Garcia.