‘We’re Important, Too’: Why We Must Teach Mexican-American Studies

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Stephen Spillman for the Rivard Report

Juan Moreno Jr. and Alicia Moreno attend a rally supporting a resolution for Mexican American Studies in Texas Public Schools outside the William B. Travis State Office Building in downtown Austin.

I walked into my homeroom advisory classroom at KIPP Camino, a Westside San Antonio charter school where 97 percent of students are Hispanic, and overheard my seventh graders talking about a homework assignment in social studies.

“Ms. Saldaña, where are the brown leaders? Like the people who look like me," one student asked me.

As a teacher who identifies as Chicana, I advocate for Mexican-American Studies. My goal is to help my students understand the history of our ancestors.

Given my background and advocacy, I answered, “They are there. Maybe not on that certain assignment or the textbooks used across the state, but they’re there. We have always been involved with historical events across the nation.”

Surprised and upset, the student, along with a few other classmates, asked, “Why aren’t we included then? We’re important, too.”

As the bell rang for first period, my class of 30 students quieted down when they heard my response.

“How many historical Anglo-Americans can you name?” I asked. Within the first minute, students had named most of the founding fathers. The total number was 12 – all white males.

“How many historical African-Americans can you name?” I asked. The students made a list of five African-American leaders, including Barack Obama, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X.

“How many Mexican-Americans/Tejano/Tejanas can you name?” I continued. The students looked at each other, perplexed and disappointed. Then two students said, “Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.”

My students realized at that moment the lack of brown-skinned people – their people – within the curriculum in history. The discussion led to questions demonstrating concern about their history learned in schools. Some students expressed feeling cheated by their public school education all these years.

Mexican-American Studies has been a controversial topic for many years. Regardless of how we feel about the program being included in school curriculum, results show that students enrolled in the Mexican-American Studies elective excel in class. Our KIPP Camino students enrolled in the program have scored highest in the regional district benchmarks for reading and writing.

Through the elective, our Mexican-American Studies students have built onto their concepts of community by understanding the social struggles within San Antonio and across Texas; this understanding was evident as they testified in front of the School Board of Education on April 11 for the approval of Mexican-American Studies Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.

This knowledge of skills is a recommended outline given to teachers in the state of Texas to help students build higher-order thinking, analyzing, and debating in the subjects of reading, writing, and math. (The subjects of reading and writing include the subjects of science and social studies.)

Mexican-American Studies students want to see these curriculum standards change to include Mexican-American leaders.

Maria Yznaga wears an attached American and Mexican flag for the Official 21st Anniversary Cesar E. Chavez March For Justice.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Maria Yznaga wears an attached American and Mexican flag for the Official 21st Anniversary César E. Chávez March For Justice.

By giving students knowledge about the majority of the Latina/o population, we help them become aware of struggles that exist in the social and academic worlds. Students who identify as Mexican-American – and even those who don’t – understand the heritage and struggles of their ancestors, and are encouraged to effect change.

We encourage them to enrich their communities by becoming involved as productive community members who understand that often decisions are made based on the city's demographics according to income level, education, and political involvement.

Much of our understanding of historical contributions by Mexican-Americans comes through lessons we learn as adults. Our goal as educators is to teach our students about community and political involvement at a young age. When students identify and see themselves in history as contributors to this great nation, they want to do more so they continue to see themselves as change agents in their communities.

Mexican-American students and teachers who advocate for this study want it to be embedded in the academic curriculum so that others, too, will feel empowered to improve their communities. As leaders, we want our students to voice their concerns about who they are, especially in a city where the majority of the population is Mexican-American.

With demographics drastically changing, we must educate and diversify within our educational system. The more we do, the more San Antonio can build powerful scholars, advocates, and leaders who reflect our diverse community.

Jo Ann Trujillo contributed to this commentary. Trujillo is a seventh-grade English-language arts teacher and Mexican-American Studies teacher at KIPP Camino Academy. She earned a master’s degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio in the bicultural-bilingual program, and is a member of the social justice core team for her Church district, COPS/Metro Alliance, and Somos MAS.

10 thoughts on “‘We’re Important, Too’: Why We Must Teach Mexican-American Studies

  1. I think this is a great idea as an elective but shouldn’t be required. Let the students decide if they want to take this course. I grew up in Oklahoma and we had simuliar struggles with Natuve American history. So an elective course was created, as a Natuve American I took the course and truly enjoyed learning more about my own cultural background. Nice article.

  2. The course in Mexican American Studies that was tentatively approved by the Texas State Board of Education on April 13, 2018, but with a controversial decision to change the course name, is an elective for high school students. In this increasingly diverse and multicultural state and nation that we live in, I feel that courses in Native American, Mexican American, African American and other Ethnic Studies should be required. And we need to begin this type of learning and understanding and acceptance of other people and cultures in elementary school. #ApproveMAS

  3. Texas education standards are very low and shameful!!!

    Mx Amer studies should be mandatory and the textbooks should be corrected and the old ones burned.

    Run Paxton outta the country. Suing the US over DACA shows what a deplorable person he is. How is he still in office?????????? Oh yeah: the Repubs are in charge.

  4. If we start this trip down memory lane, we better re-install the confederate statute and give Robert E Lee high school back their name. We must also recognize slavery happened (not trying to state slavery was right) and not block it from history. IT IS HISTORY TOO!!! Mexicans have never been a part of San Antonio, the brown skins today in San Antonio are American Tejanos. Read your history and maybe you will realize Spaniards and Indians began SA. This is just another scheme to let immigrant mexicans, illegals and crossing over USA born mexican children, try to claim a stake of USA history.

    • Since you want to talk about history….let’s. This was Mexico long before it was EVER Texas. And here is a fun fact: the first “anglo Texans” who came here—including good ol boy Austin— called themselves MEXICAN AMERICANS because they wanted to align themselves and Texas with the federalistic government of Mexico. Now, clearly those white settlers colonizers were not MEXICAN American, or Mexican anything for that matter. But guess what, the MILLIONS of indigenous people, and Mexicans who called this land home for hundrends ans thousands of years, became MEXICAN-AMERICANS, Tejanos, and Chicanos/as/xs.
      You sound so ignorant and foolish to say that “Spainards and Indians” founded San Antonio. Those “Spanairds” are colonizers who raped, pillaged, killed, and stole this land. Those “Indians” you talk about, silly man, are the Native Americans and Mexicans that were here. This lesson is free, the next one will cost you. #SomosMAS #WeKnowOurHistory

    • San Antonio history is Mexico’s history. This land was Mexico. Indigenous tribes inhabited it..Olmecs, Zapotecs., Aztecs and in San Antonio ( before it was named SA) the Coahiltecans. Then in the 1500s, Hernan Cortez colonized Mexico and called it Nuevo Espana or New Spain for 300 yesrs. And now we had the Mestizo through intermarriage. Then in 1821 Mexico declared its independence from Spain and became Mexico again. Texas was Mexico with Spaniards, Mexicans, an indigeneneous and Mestizos. TEXAS then was a twin state called COAHUILA y TEJAS. Then the Alamo and Battle of San Jacinto happened and many Mexicans fought for independence too. i e. Juan Seguin. And everyone else knows the rest of the story. It is sad that students and people in Texas dont know any of the past. In high school and college, i knew more about Greek history than Mexican history. And Mexico and Texas are in my continent. Everyone should enroll in Mex Am studies.. no one knows our history. ‘No puedes tappa el sol con un dedo’

  5. I too belirve MAS should be required. This gives the other side of the Anglo’s version of what history was like. The receiving end always has a different version.

    • the “Anglo’s” version. So there is a white people version of a story? You can tell a story from a perspective of everyone in the race? Thanks for speaking for me!

      I’m sorry I’m white could you please tell me what my version is?

      Do you think all white people are Anglos? Weird word. Derives from the Latin word, Anglia, meaning England. It’s like all white people here have been lumped into a term which does not accurately describe their origin whatsoever, considering before English/Scottish/Welsh white settlers you had French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German. From my perspective, since I do have ancestry from Anglia, it’s a completely racist term. Or are 200 million Brazilians also Hispanic just because they and Mexicans both share ancestry from the Iberian peninsula?

      Love it when POC tell me there is an Anglo version of anything. I’m gonna walk around saying this is the black perspective and the Hispanic perspective or Latino perspective. Do all Latinos think alike and see every story in history just alike?

      Want to know what I do support? Mandatory Spanish. Mandatory advanced English grammar. If we are ever going to get along in this city we could start by learning each others language. I’m fluent in Spanish. Took me 6 years. You know what learning another language requires? Listening. Opening up. Being vulnerable. Over coming fear. Being uncomfortable.

      Hay que meterse pa aprender. I moved to Latin America by myself and lived in the jungle for months to do so. I saved for a year working hourly to do this. No one else supported this education I gave myself. Worked for free on a cattle and coffee farm. No church. No mission work. Just open mind and a hard days work for food. That’s what we need to be exchanging. Not our past woes over and over again and demanding that we cram that hatred down each other’s throats so we feel like we’ve been heard.

      We place remembering the pain or injustices of the past as a priority as a form of representation over maybe just the beautiful cultural exchange of language.

      • I will keep it short since you flooded us with your ignorant rant. Its called eurocentricism and it is a thing. Other synonyms include: white washing history, settler thinking, colonizer view points, and the list goes one and on.

  6. Since I am Not a Texas native, I was Not aware of the rampant discrimination that Hispanics/Latinos/Mexicans/Mexican-Americans faced from the time Texas became a state.
    It took dozens of interviews with Native Hispanic Texans, and countless hours of research, resulting in published articles for me to Learn that the people who once lived under the rule of Spain a.e. Mexico, had been discriminated severely by newly arrived Anglo/European settlers.
    The story of Discrimination and Lynchings of Black folks is well known, but You must to your own Interviewing of Hispanics and do Research to Learn about what was done to the Hispanic population in Texas! So I’d say that Mexican Studies a.e. Mexican-American Studies is not something Anglo Texans want to see offered in Texas schools. The “Truth” hurts…..

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