Mexican-American Studies Summit Takes on ‘Racist’ Textbook

*It was only text submitted for approval for Texas Mexican-American studies, written by a one-time leader of the Texas conservative education movement.  Mexican-American leaders in Texas call it a racist book. VL

Texas_ObserverBy Patrick Michaels, Texas Observer (3 minute read)

If you’ve read about Mexican-American studies in Texas the last month, it’s probably because of the textbook. You know the one: Mexican American Heritage, published by a one-time leader in Texas’ conservative education movement. It was the only book on the subject submitted for state approval, and since the Observer first reported on the controversial tome in May it has drawn intense ire from Mexican-American history scholars. Houston activist Tony Diaz succinctly described it as “a racist textbook.”

The lack of options has frustrated Mexican-American studies advocates who spent months lobbying state officials to issue a call for textbooks. Meanwhile, Republican State Board of Education member David Bradley has found the textbook controversy — the book describes “many” Mexican-American migrants as “poor, undereducated, or illegal” — entertaining. “It’s really kind of amusing,” he told theAustin American-Statesman. “The left-leaning, radical Hispanic activists, having pounded the table for special treatment, get approval for a special course that nobody else wanted. Now they don’t like their special textbook?”

But the State Board of Education’s influence only goes so far. Teachers are under no obligation to use any book the SBOE approves, and as Mexican-American studies courses spread across Texas, educators have been writing and sharing new course materials and lesson plans of their own.

In San Antonio on Saturday, advocates and scholars of Mexican-American studies will gather to share what they’ve learned about teaching the subject in Texas schools. The first statewide summit on Mexican-American studies will run all day at San Antonio College. Hosted by the Texas chapter of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, the event will focus on the local and statewide work necessary take to give more Texas students a chance to study Mexican-American history.

“It’s exciting. It couldn’t have come at a better moment,” says San Antonio College professor Lisa Ramos, citing both the SBOE textbook submission and Donald Trump’s assertion that a judge hearing a lawsuit against Trump University is biased because of his Mexican heritage and membership in the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association. “This just gives us momentum, and it doesn’t dissuade us,” Ramos says. “If anything, it’s fired us up.”

Seeing the textbook submitted for state approval, Ramos says, was an eye-opener. “The onus is partly on us. We should’ve put something together and we didn’t,” she says. “We’ve learned our lesson: If we don’t do it in a timely fashion, other people who do not have experience in this field are going to do so, because for whatever reason there are people who feel threatened by ethnic studies courses. … We’ve got to make sure that Mexican-American studies isn’t coopted or sabotaged.”

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Ramos says the group began planning Saturday’s event in February, well before the textbook surfaced, when it was already clear that teachers and principals weren’t getting the support they need to launch new Mexican-American studies courses. “These courses tend to be seen as extra, as unnecessary, rather than vital and central,” she says.

She says 400 people have registered for the summit so far, and although online registration has closed, anyone interested can sign in (for free) on Saturday in person, or follow the summit on Twitter with the hashtag #MASTXSummit2016.

This article was originally published in The Texas Observer.

Staff writer Patrick Michels covers school reform and crime for the Observer.

[Photo courtesy of Momentum Instruction]

Suggested reading

Arturo Rosales
Arturo Rosales
Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement is the most comprehensive account of the arduous struggle by Mexican Americans to secure and protect their civil rights. It is also a companion volume to the critically acclaimed, four-part documentary series of the same title. This volume is a testament to the Mexican American community’s hard-fought battle for social and legal equality as well as political and cultural identity.
Since the United States-Mexico War in 1846-1848, Mexican Americans have striven to achieve full rights as citizens. From peaceful resistance and violent demonstrations, when their rights were ignored or abused, to the establishment of support organizations to carry on the struggle and the formation of labor unions to provide a united voice, the movement grew in strength and numbers. However, it was during the 1960s and 1970s that the campaign exploded into a nationwide groundswell of Mexican Americans laying claim, once and for all, to their civil rights and asserting their cultural heritage. They took a name that had been used disparagingly against them for years—Chicano—and fashioned it into a battle cry, a term of pride, affirmation and struggle.
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