By Sophia Botello
La versión en español está disponible al final de este documento.
Recently I attended the 3rd Annual Statewide Summit on Implementing Mexican American Studies for Texas Schools. The summit was organized by the National Association of Chicana & Chicano Studies (NACCS) and the Tejas Foco Committee on Mexican American Studies (MAS). The goals of the summit were to “identify institutional barriers, establish priorities, and develop a plan of action for the implementation of MAS in Texas schools for Pre-K – 12th grade and for increasing the access to MAS courses and content within the community.” This was my first time to attend the summit, and I was in awe of the educators and activists that I had the privilege to speak to and learn from.
I work in higher education; so why did I attend a summit for Pre-K – 12th grade? I attended this summit because, for one, I identify as a Mexican American, a Chicana, a Tejana, and a Texan. These multiple facets of my identity have been formed by historical, political, and social events that occurred over the last 200 years. The narrative of my identity is a unique one that, sadly, tends to fall into the margins of U.S. history, and, although the narrative of my identity is unique to me, it is also a collective narrative shared by many others like me. I also attended the summit to see how my college students could benefit from the implementation of MAS.
I know, first-hand, the importance of ethnic and cultural studies. The first time I studied Mexican American life and culture in an academic context was in an upper-level multi-cultural literature course in my undergraduate program. To learn about my history and culture was extremely validating – the only other time I had studied anything that had to do with Mexican history was in my eighth grade Texas history class. And the teacher went into a discussion about how “bad and evil” Mexicans were at the Battle of the Alamo. (I remember how I wanted to disappear from this class because the embarrassment was just too much.) At that young and impressionable point in my life, I didn’t know I had a cultural history. However, that changed in my college literature course, when the professor put the work we were reading in context, framing the work in a factual and historical way that opened my world completely. I began to wonder why it took so long for me to learn anything about my culture.
In graduate school, my graduate research project centered around Chicana writer, Bárbara Renaud González’ work, Golondrina, why did you leave me? Through this literary work, I delved into Mexican American history and culture. It was such a rewarding and moving experience to research the complexities of the Mexican American. Currently, I teach Survey of Chican@ Literature II at Baptist University of the Américas, and I am constantly amazed at how many students of all cultural backgrounds tell me that this class transformed their lives in a positive way. Again, I thought: why do students have to wait until college to learn about the complex experience of Mexican American history and culture?
At the summit, I learned that one reason for the development of MAS is the rapid change of the demographics in the U.S. Over the last five years, educators, activists, community members, parents, and students have pushed forth the development of MAS in Texas. It is predicted that by the year 2050, Latinos and Latinas will become a “minority majority,” a term that Héctor Tobar utilizes in his National Geographic article, “How Latinos Are Shaping America’s Future.” Based on data produced by the Pew Research Center, Tobar highlights that approximately 63% of Latinos identify with origins from Mexico. This percentage includes native-born U.S. citizens, foreign-born U.S. citizens, and non-U.S. citizens. There are 36,203,000 people in the U.S. who identify as Mexican Americans; the demographic is changing, and savvy educators know that the U.S. education system must change to reflect the diversity of this changing student demographic. This starts by implementing courses such as MAS.
Another reason for the development of MAS is that educators want their students to succeed academically and socially. Research shows that programs such as MAS have positive effects, and from a sociological standpoint, when students see themselves reflected in the curriculum, they are more likely to be engaged and to think critically about the diverse world around them. Studies about these types of programs in Arizona and California have concluded that students who take these courses excel academically with improved GPAs and higher graduation rates. And isn’t this what we want for all our students? For them to be engaged in their studies and question the world around them?
In addition, at the summit I was empowered as I met some important leaders and role models among the Mexican American community. I heard Dr. Carmen Tafolla, President of the Texas Institute of Letters and the first Chicana to head a Mexican American Studies Center in the nation, give the invocation for the summit; I met one of my activist heroes, Tony Diaz, co-founder and leader of the Librotraficante Movement, who is part of my Chican@ course curriculum; I had lunch with Angela Valenzuela, who works in both the Educational Policy and Planning Program within the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin and who holds a courtesy appointment in the Cultural Studies in Education Program within the Department of Curriculum & Instruction; and I took a picture with the keynote speaker, Dr. Cinti Robert Rodriguez, an associate professor at the University of Arizona Department of MAS.
I was in MAS heaven, to say the least.
I have written about the importance of cultural studies before because it is a subject that is close to my heart. The summit is attempting to develop a structured approach to MAS, and I believe it will happen. And I truly believe Texas, along with Arizona and California, will be an agent for educational reform in the nation, a change that is long overdue. Additionally, Texas will lead the way for other cultural courses of study such as Asian American Studies, African American Studies, and Native American Studies.
Yes, the Mexican American civil rights movement continues. I am glad that at BUA we have the opportunity to educate and empower Mexican American students by teaching them about their history and culture as we prepare them to serve more holistically in their communities and beyond.
Sophia Botello is Instructor of English and Director of the Writing Center at Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio, Texas.
La versión en español está disponible aquí.