State Board of Education Plans Mexican-American History Course

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Tony Diaz
Tony Diaz

Last fall, hundreds of protesters gathered at the University of Texas at Austin after a student group announced it would stage a game of “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” around campus. The local Young Conservatives of Texas chapter was planning a human scavenger hunt, with targets wearing “illegal immigrant” buttons, but canceled the game after receiving criticism from across the country.

The same day, just a few blocks from campus, Houston author and activist Tony Diaz stood before the State Board of Education to offer a modest suggestion: The students who’d organized that “game” just might have benefited from a class that instilled a little cultural sensitivity. The game, he said, was “proof that we need Mexican-American studies in Texas.”

The timing was coincidental. Diaz, who is also director of intercultural initiatives at Lone Star College, had been planning his speech and rallying supporters well before the “catch an immigrant” fiasco blew up.

The State Board of Education was deciding what courses will be necessary for new graduation requirements the Legislature passed last session. Those changes have been controversial; there’s been strong resistance by Latino advocacy groups, among others, to eliminating courses like Algebra II—generally seen as important college preparation—from basic diploma requirements.

But Diaz saw a fresh opportunity in the turmoil. One provision of the law, he noted, adds a “community engagement” aspect to school district evaluations. Adding Mexican-American studies to graduation requirements, Diaz told the board, would go a long way now that more than half of Texas’ students are Hispanic.

But a few board members were skeptical. Diaz made public a conversation he’d had with Houston Republican Donna Bahorich before the meeting. Bahorich wondered, Diaz said, whether Mexican-American literature would be “as intellectually rigorous” as British literature.

“These courses don’t exist,” Georgetown Republican Tom Maynard told Diaz at the meeting, “but the school district has the capacity to create the course.” A handful of schools already offer them, in fact.

“I would beg you,” Diaz responded, “to hear our community say that it should be listed explicitly.”

His appeal was answered the next day, when Ruben Cortez, a new board member from Brownsville, submitted Mexican-American history to the state’s list of new social studies courses to develop. Before joining the board, Cortez had watched from afar as a hyper-political State Board of Education tried to scrub the history standards of figures like labor organizer Dolores Huerta. Cortez told the Observer he was amazed by the board’s response. “Nobody raised an objection to my request. I was kind of speechless, everybody just stayed quiet.”

Cortez sees the board’s acceptance of his proposal as a sign of greater cultural sensitivity, and he’s looking forward to the next potentially divisive step in the process: nominating experts to help design the course. That’s all still a ways off—Mexican-American history is now just one of many on the board’s “wish list” for the future—but the board should advance its plans for those new courses in its meeting later this month.

University of Texas history professor Emilio Zamora says this is the biggest advance in Mexican-American studies education in a decade. A 2003 law authored by state Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas) allowed community colleges to offer Mexican-American studies programs. Now Cortez and the rest of the board are poised to do the same thing for Texas’ public schools.

Along with its relevance to the millions of Hispanic students in Texas schools, Zamora says, a Mexican-American history course is a good way for students to develop a better understanding of broader themes in U.S. history and understand “that our national history includes multiple histories,” he says. “I think that’s an important justification that people don’t really talk about.”

  • Cruz Quintana Jr

    When they start with Huerta and probably Chavez, they have already started off on the wrong foot.

  • Stephen Cano

    I hope they contact Rick Najera. Rick has been blazing trails in Hollywood for decades. His story is a very meaningful story and a perfect metaphor to show the obstacles facing Mexican-American’s in Hollywood. His book is also very funny. https://www.facebook.com/AlmostWhite

  • Eduardo Gonzalez Ortega

    I sincerely hope they teach the REAL Mexican history and not the fantasies they actually teach to justify the grab of the Mexican territories

  • 1bimbo

    these kinds of courses belong in college. in public schools, mexican studies should be handled in the same context as african american studies, german studies, jewish studies, etc. i understand some of the richest history and notable contributions in the state of texas come from german settlements and asian immigration. if the latino advocates insist on special consideration with a dedicated course, perhaps they should consider an elective which includes all cultures and races.

    • Jed

      i think the point is we are already getting some of that (particularly german-texan) narrative in our standard curriculum. maybe what you are suggesting is that we make 7th grade texas history about more than just the perspective of smelly white guys from tennessee? i bet diaz would be happy with that, too.

      • 1bimbo

        maybe we need a race-baiting course, better yet let’s offer a post-secondary preparatory track on the virtues of political correctness. text chapter 1 – affirmative action: ‘why we need to stick it to whitey’; chapter 2 – victimhood: ‘because liberal progressives say you are’; chapter 3 – federal immersion: ‘why the government is your mammy, your nanny and your rich granny’; chapter 4 – rule of law: ‘the great white myth’

    • parkwood1920

      “Special consideration?” So Chicano kids and other students of color should wait until college to see their own histories reflected in the classroom? Their lives as Texans and Americans aren’t relevant to US history? Then why in the world should Mexican American kids bother going to school then? They’re already being told that their lives and their experiences as Americans don’t matter.

      • 1bimbo

        for children these ‘pride instilling’ cultural lessons are taught at home by families and in communities with festivals and other cultural events. the goal of public school is and always should be to teach children how to be prepared with skills to become a productive members of society. the schoolhouse is not a place for progressives to indoctrinate children with their view of ‘social justice’ and ‘self esteem building techniques’. by the way i do recall being taught the impact of mexicans in my texas history class in public junior high school as well as contributions by key americans – white and people of all colors – in my american history and government courses in high school. that was in west texas in the 70s and 80s and it still continues today as i have witnessed in my own children’s studies.

        • J Starling

          The assumption that a Mexican American History course must naturally be a “feel good course” or an exercize in instilling ethnic antagonism reveals the extent of prejudice this field faces. A Mexican American History course will reveal, among other things, the multiracial roots of the Mexican American people, including the diverse indigenous civilizations of North America, Spaniards – and other Europeans – Africans, and Asians – and throughout history, Mexican Americans have navigated a complex array of racial and ethnic identities. Mexican Americans have faced colonialism, the dispossession of farms and ranches, and have suffered poverty and segregation in many cases, and the Chicano Movement against this oppression is a core component of this history. Yet, wealthy Mexican exiles and middle-class Mexican Americans, such as the founders of LULAC, are also part of this history. Mexican Americans include radical, socialist, and anarchist activists, as well as veterans groups, chambers of commerce, Catholic, and mutual aid societies. The Mexican American history of Texas is very different from that of New Mexico or Arizona or California or the Midwest or the South…I could go on forever, but in short, it is a complex history. The central theme of Mexican American history is this complexity. Sadly, too many people, especially those who have not had any exposure to this history, view the field with very narrow and stereotypical views.

  • Juan Reynoso

    What all Texans and American students must learn, is that we all are Americans and very special people because we come from all corners of the world to make this country. we are not perfect but we can make our country the best place to live, work and be happy. Prosperity comes from Honesty, integrity, ethics and the will to work together and help each other to be the best we can be. Working together we can all benefit. Trust is the result of honesty, integrity and love, when we trust in each other we have freedom and peace.
    God bless America and all the people that made our country’s Constitution, the document that is the bible of these Unite states. Defend it, because nothing matter but our constitution for the preservation of our freedom and our God given rights; do not let any corrupt politician trash and void our constitution, Died for it if need be.

  • abi

    I think including Mexican-American history is a wonderful idea, but seriously under-estimates the maturity level of middle and high school students. I took a course in college and it was a serious eye-opener… Unfortunately the course book I used had a real victim mentality to it, and hearing that whites pitted poor whites, Hispanics and Blacks against each other racially to lower wages is probably more than minority students can handle without turning on their advantaged white peers.
    There was a lot of De Facto segregation at my school during lunch and during mixed electives in addition to the better teachers and advanced programs as well as extra curriculars being mostly utilized by the 25-30% white and 10% asian students. I have a feeling a Mexican American history course taught separately to the white and asian students who (were seriously judgmental of their less fortunate peers) and might treat it as a joke, and then taught in another class room to the African Americans, Hispanics and poor white kids who would most likely miss the point and use any new info as fact to loathe their more fortunate peers would just propagate inequality instead of educating and empowering those students who are still de facto cut off from most of the benefits of public education.
    Just my opinion, formed from my experiences in high school where I took advanced classes with the White and Asian kids but had friends who were poor or had single parent homes like me, needless to say all high schoolers are immature and unsympathetic. I think weaving all the histories together is better than singling out a group.

  • Rosemary Puraverdad martinez

    I certainly suggest the term Hispanic is dropped, we are Indigenous to this land and did not cross the ocean.
    Although the fact reminds that many of our Indigenous/Mexican blood is mixed with Spanish it is necessary to recognize that the union of that blood line was acquired through the rape and enslavement of the original people of this continent.
    Using the Hispanic or Latino label dilutes our different cultures, traditions, language and spiritual connections.
    Lets us start with the truthful history of the violent invasion in 1492.
    Soy Indigena Yoeme/Mexicana/Chicana

  • netmad

    So we do this and is it not fair that we have to include a Vietnamese-American class, a Chinese-American class, and Iranian American class, etc etc etc. Why don’t we just do what we have been doing and have an AMERICAN HISTORY CLASS and quit trying to appease special interest groups.

  • Jazmin Gannon
  • Jazmin Gannon

    The Spanish conducted a conquest in Texas before 1690 when this land was claimed as a Province of New Spain. Mexico declared Independence from European Spain in 1810. The Annexation of Texas into the USA was in 1845, so Texas was officially part of Mexico for 35 years and officially a Spanish territory for about 120 years. The indigenous populations that have lived here for thousands of years were colonized in culture and in language many times; they had to learn Spanish and then later adopt a whole new English language and culture without ever moving or migrating. We treat “Hispanic” people as though they are newcomers, when a huge percentage never moved here, they are native to this land and have been physically changed, primarily through rape and pillage, but still carry the genetics of peoples that have lived on this continent for tens of thousands of years. Racism is a HUGE issue in central Texas and we need to have these conversations with everyone, especially the youth.

    So some people migrated, some never did, assuming you know because of the color of their skin is racism and not sharing this history is cultural imperialism.