“Let All of Them Take Heed”
Mexican Americans and the Campaign for Educational
By Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr.
[With my comments in brackets]
The political battles of
the Mexican American (MA) activists have not received much historical
attention. We know little about MA’s
educational aspirations over the last 150 years or their efforts to develop
indigenous formal institutions in
Some have looked at what American schools have done to MAs or not done, but that creates a “victim-oppressor” view. MAs have not been passive nor have they willingly succumbed to English-only assimilationists policies.
This study takes MAs to be
active agents in history. It looks at
The struggle had two components. One focused on public schools and the other on the MA community itself.
1910 was the beginning of
the biggest immigration into
The Second section is post WW II Chapter Five will look at the first serious phase of the struggle. Chapter Six will look at LULAC’s creation of their own approach for educating MAs.
The final section will look at the expansion of the campaign. Especially the implementation of the ESEA of 1965 and the Bilingual Education act of 1967. Chapter Seven will focus on the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). Chapter Eight looks at bilingual education.
In 1984 a new private research group, the Hispanic Policy Development Project issues a report. It said that most Hispanics come from poverty and are in five states. Their schools are inferior and highly segregated, they are extremely overage for their grade levels in high school and were disproportionately enrolled in remedial English classes. There are few staff that care about them or their problems.
[I will likely make fewer
comments later on. It is highly
unrealistic to think that people entering another culture from a background of
poverty will have equivalent scores with the native population. Were I to move from a background of wealth
and try high school in France (not speaking French) it would be predictable
that I would not do as well as native French and my comrades would be disproportionately
enrolled in remedial French classes.
Furthermore, if they would, I would be grateful to
I wonder how it is documented that few people care about them. I taught in one of these areas for eight years. I cared about my students. Much of our staff was Hispanic. Did they not care? Unsupported historical claims of racial hostility are in the first paragraph of this book. Perhaps they are supported later on. But to say that in 1990 when this was printed is a bit of a stretch.]
The Hispanics have distinct needs, he says, but do not want to be treated differently (second paragraph).
“The continuing quest of educational equality provides a crushing blow to the myth of MA indifference towards education.”
[Elites arguing for education is not what I would call a “crushing” proof of the general culture’s attitudes. Again, sloppy basis for facts are being touted as solid assertions of truth].
There is a deep historical
respect for education [which has not been manifest in
Many organizations started to advocate for MA education in the 20s and 30s. They also challenged discrimination and assimilation.
Mexican immigrants and MA’s
both contributed, but especially MAs.
Their members were born or raised in the
“Unlike Mexican immigrants
(MI) residing north of the border, MAs pledged their allegiance to the
Richard Garcia has suggested that the kids had dual identities. Families “encouraged their children to be proud of their cultural heritage but to learn American customs and especially the English language.” This forged a new identity.
Members of this MA community created two types of organizations. LULAC was the largest and started in 1929. It sought to a) upgrade the cultural and intellectual development of MAs, b) protect Mexican individuals and their cultural heritage and c) incorporate the population into the mainstream of American institutional life.
They encountered two problems. Public schools were not readily accessible to MAs. And secondly, the attitudes the MA community had towards education [didn’t he crush this myth a few pages back?]. “LULAC members believed that MAs were not fully convinced of the need to obtain increased educational opportunities from the public schools.”
Neither the schools or the MAs were committed to education.
PART ONE: 1910 – 1940
Chapter One :::::::::::::::::::::From Dominating to Dominated
By 1820 fewer than 2,500
non native-Indian persons lived in
When, in 1821,
The switch to Anglo rulers
did create a change. From 1836 to 45 few
Anglos went into
Anglos dominated state politics. At the county level Mexicans held sway in numerous areas [these are the results you’d expect from democracy, given the population]. Mexicans even held the Mayor of San Antonio after the revolution.
Mexicans who ran away or
went back to
Within three decades of
1848 war Mexicans had systematically been reduced a subordinate position. Part of this was due to there being literacy
and citizenship requirements for voting.
By 1880 the Anglos owned most of the land in
Pg. 6 Charts show that Mexicans held the lowest job positions. Government jobs were “not made available to Tejanos, but were instead limited to Anglo immigrants.” Even citizen Mexicans [an oxymoron] were pad less for the same job.
There were attempts to make all public business happen in English. In 1841 it was decreed that laws would not be printed in Spanish. Only three years later, however, a charter was given for a German language university.
Spanish use in the courts were limited in 1856. Also in 1856 a law was passed mandating the speaking of English in public schools (two years after the first public school funding was passed). It simply required the teaching of English. Later it was made to be the primary language of instruction.
There was a lot of
violence against Mexicans, but this subsided as Porforio
Diaz suppressed bandits in
In the last half of the 19th, though, Tejanos still played an important role in county and city politics. [Doesn’t sound like total disenfranchisement to me.] In several cases they took tight control over county elections and job opportunities [isn’t he complaining against unfair practices?]. Some were union delegates, became professionals.
Parents sought education from religious authorities, public schools and public institutions. Mostly the rich got religious education.
Incarnate word in
In border areas private schools were created to a) uphold Mexican “spirit” and ideas and ideas. B) teach Mexican history and national traditions to this end and c) arouse race pride. [Italics mine. Are we talking about racists Americans here or foreigners who claim no loyalty, but rights and the right to complain?]
Colegio Altamira had 100 students and was maintained until 1930.
Public school was difficult due to poverty and a lack of political influence. Public officials were obligated to provide educational opportunities for all children in said districts, but failed to extend these rights to the Texas Mexicans. [I wish he would clarify. If these folks were truly Mexicans I find it hard to believe that officials were obligated to give citizens of another country education].
Some local schools were
provided, but they were inferior. A
handful of Tejano children enrolled in the first public school established in
This school opened with
twenty-nine students in 1887. The local
school board subsidized it. By the turn
of the century it had about 500 students.
It had the highest enrollment of any school in
Public schools in
P. 12 In San Antonio there were schools for Tejanos that some Anglos attended and the teachers took it upon themselves to learn Spanish.
Rancho schools were also found in rural areas. But they were terrible and of lower quality. Teaching was generally done in Spanish.
We see here that Tejanos did want education and that they got it and sometimes excelled and became teachers and principals.
The New Economic Order, Mexican Immigration, and Public Education
In 1904 that changed. Many Mexicans sold their land and the railroads penetrated the South of Texas. Huge irrigation projects were started. As agriculture boomed, cheap Mexican labor became more important.
Immigration was aided by how miserable Diaz made it in 1900. The Mexican revolution of 1910 sent more North.
In the beginning of the 20th
Mexican laborers started going past the border areas. By 1920 Mexican immigration had passed
Another change was that they started to settle permanently.
P. 17 In 1890 the number
of Mexicans residing in
Some were upper class. But most didn’t speak English, knew next to nothing of the customs and traditions of the community, were not Methodists and their children did not attend school. Not only were they foreign in outlook, “they had no intention of becoming Americans.” They were also the most ignorant and poor of folk. They were hard workers and willing to live in deplorable conditions, however.
This created big education problems. Were they to be taught? What were they to be taught? Over crowding, overageness in the grades, irregular attendance, late enrollment and early withdrawal were problems.
State officials considered
these local problems. They were first
just trying to create a public school system.
In 1854 the first law creating a public school system was passed in
P. 20 Several reports were made. H. T. Manuel made a report in 1928. He noted that the inability of these kids to speak English was state wide (90% in first grade). They also could not read Spanish. He also found the number of these children were increasing faster than Anglos or blacks. In six years they went from being 12.8 % of the white scholastic population (between the ages of six and seventeen) to 15.6% (1922 to 1928). He also found these kids were not strictly in rural areas and came from impoverished backgrounds.
not being proficient in Spanish or English was important because 85% had
been born in the
A fourth finding by Manuel was that the Tejano children were not provided with equal educational opportunities due to racial prejudice. The State did not provide schools for them. This was due to “a policy of antagonism.”
P. 24 In a survey in one area Mexicans were 54% of the scholastics and yet 70% did not go to school. 22% of whites didn’t go.
Statewide 40% of the Tejano, but only 9 % of the whites were given no educational facilities or services in 1927 – 28 school year. What they were provided was a shorter year and less resources and a curriculum that did not reflect their heritage.
Finally, Manuel’s reports showed that Tejano children did not do well in school. Low attendance, high retardation and “push-out” rates. Few made it past the fourth grade. Secondary attendance was less than 4%. Anglo attendance was 60%.
Both social and hereditary reasons were postulated. The racial ones started to gain prominence over the socioeconomic in the coming years.
The differences showed Anglo dominance in decision making. But the time when they could be ignored was being ended by surging population.
Chapter Two :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Cross – Purposes
P. 32 In 1923 Webb Blanton was the state superintendent of public instruction. He said, “A State may, with safety, admit as residents only those capable of being assimilated – those who can adopt its standards of living, its language, and its ideals of citizenship and of government.” She said that if they wished to live as one with us you are welcome. “But if you wish to preserve, in our state, the language and the customs of another land, you have no right to do this.” The choices she set out were to learn English and American customs or, “you must go back to the country which you prize so highly and rear your children there.”
This reflected the two wars and continuing dislike and distrust between Anglos and the “Texas Mexican population.” [His new term]. His reading is that this was a form of denigrating Mexican culture and the Spanish language.
Blanton’s attitude was also shaped by the national Americanization movement. The movement was friendly until WW I when it went from being voluntary to forced. Americans were expected to give up their foreign language and cultural behavior. Patriotic legislation was passed in 1918. [There was a Texan component, but I’m having a hard time determining if the author is referring to national legislation also]. There was a bill making English the exclusive medium of instruction in the public schools.
Unlike earlier such bills, this one applied to principals, superintendents, board members, and all other public school personnel. Secondly, the state legislature made it a criminal offense to teach in a language other than English.
The Governor, Hobby, created a special session of the state legislature that recommended English also be extended to non-public schools, but it failed to pass. The Texas State Teachers Association and PTA backed such ideas. They said you should respect our flag and language. Blanton continued working on the “foreign” problem. [His quotes not mine]. She advocated state standards that the private schools would have to conform to.
P. 36-37. In 1922 a law passed but said that non-public schools that had a focus on good citizenship were exempted from making English the only medium requirement. Texas Mexicans did not complain because, a) they generally did not attend school (public or private). Secondly, those who did attend were strongly supportive of Americanization and such English language laws in particular.
The continued influx of Texas Mexicans into public school made this implementation difficult. This caused an amendment exempting elementary grades near the border with a population over 5000 in 1925.
Also in 1925 there was a call for the state to get more involved in this process. Every township doing what it wanted was not working. But through out the 1930s and 40s these pleas were not heard.
Local folk could not ignore those that had enrolled. They tried various strategies for teaching English, reading, hygiene, and desirable social habits to these children. Most agreed that the best way to teach English was to use the English-only method.
The State Department of Education (SDE) issued curricular guides for teaching English to non-speaker elementary kids in 1924. It said that English was to be emphasized at the expense of other subject matter. The whole first year should be given over to English instruction. It pointed out that if they didn’t get this in first grade, it would be difficult to provide it in second grade.
The objective, naming approach and the dramatic action verb methods were recommended. It was best if these were used concerning objects in their every day world. Community words were later to be used. The ear, then the tongue then the eye were the order to be emphasized as per the suggestions of their language acquisition theories. IQ tests were also to be used.
Another one was issued in 1930 to teach “foreign” children. These were based on the techniques used to teach English speaking kids. They included a drive to popularize English so that it would be used on the playground. This program was to be verbal and aimed at teaching 300 – 500 words to the kids by the end of the first year.
The author complains that Spanish and teaching of Spanish was not given importance.
P. 46 For older Mexican students non-academic programs. Some presumed that they excelled in sport, music and art. The teachers were optimistic about these potentials. Vocational education was also suggested. But so many dropped out early that these programs were not much implemented.
Personal hygiene was taught because the Mexican children marry at an early age, said one instructor.
“While teachers were finding ways of Americanizing Mexican children, local school officials were developing new administrative techniques for providing separate and inferior educational opportunities for them.”
One technique was in the non-enforcement of compulsory school attendance laws. Several studies done in the 1920s show the attitudes behind the lack of enforcement.
P. 48-49 One part of the law was that it was only operative within 2
and ½ miles of the school house. This
makes many geographically exempt. A
second problem was that the punishment was a fine and the poor Mexican parents
did not have the money to pay it. They
didn’t have jail space for those who wouldn’t comply and the families of those
who were put in jail for this would have become dependent on public charity and
debilitated local agriculture, caused people to flee to
Another problem would have
been the impact their presence would have had on the other children.
Some thought it would make them dissatisfied with working. Others thought they wouldn’t benefit because they are intellectually inferior.
Some school officials said educating them would be a financial burden and interfere with the regular course of instruction.
One said the Mexicans like school but not enough to sacrifice work for it.
Apportionment and the Distribution of School Funds
P. 53 During the 1920s and 1930s most of the funds for schools were state and local. They were disbursed by local or county boards of trustees. The apportionment of state funds was based on the number of children between six and seventeen reported by the census. Many districts counted the population of the Mexicans, but then did not distribute the money to them via education.
The more Mexicans didn’t
attend the more money they had per white student.
Only enough money was
given to the Mexicans to satisfy them and meet the minimum requirements of the
Most were sent to different buildings. School officials kept them apart to comply with the wishes of the general population. Local autonomy facilitated segregation. These were the policies supported by the majority.
When there were a lot of Mexicans the reasons given were a) that association was undesirable to the Anglo population and b) it was to the advantage of the Mexicans to be separate. Cleanliness was a big deal. Lice and odors. Others said that not speaking English and irregular attendance made it hard for them to be a part of the regular program. Separate facilities helped them get more appropriate instruction.
From 1920 – 1942, when immigration was big, segregation flourished.
In 1930 it was estimated
that over 40 districts created separate schools for Mexicans. By 1942,
Some of it was De Jure discrimination (if that is the one where it is just a function of the population that one race is not represented).
This segregation was particularly strong in early grades. But in the higher grades, Mexicans were discouraged from attending the “American” schools. Another grade was added for those who were advanced or they were told they’d have to go to a farther away school if they wanted to continue their education.
Transportation was provided for Anglos, but not Mexicans.
If, somehow, they made it to an American school in a higher grade, the locals would make it very uncomfortable. The idea was that the Mexicans were just here to work.
He says exclusion and assimilation were at cross-purposes. They did not want folks to get together at a social level, but wanted them to at a cultural level. This discouraged Mexicans from trying to get an education.
Chapter Three ::::::::::::::::::::::: Roused from Our Slumbers
p. 64 In the 1920s several studies found that rural Mexicans were indifferent to education or else unaware of its advantages. 75% were rural. Paul Taylor said this was due to poverty, discrimination and a lack of school facilities. Historically, he noted, Mexican laborer’s heritage includes very little schooling or none.
He interviewed a Mexican who said they had large families and needed them to work. This is good for the parent but not the kids. Often the parents cannot read or write. An old vaquero said Mexicans don’t like school cause they like to sing and dance.
A select few, Taylor found were beginning to express an intense interest. The change was most apparent among workers in small towns (clerks and small merchants). They started complaining. They blamed the teachers because after four or five years, the kids cannot get out of the second grade reader.
The teachers don’t do enough and it is hard to send your kids five or six miles in the winter.
There was also some
evidence of people trying to set up their own schools. These were small and focused on maintaining
Spanish and Mexican culture. People
described these to
These changes in attitude were due, in no small part, to LULAC (again the League of United Latin American Citizens).
LULAC and Attitudes toward Public Education
LULAC was a response to the economic deprivation felt by the well-to-do from 1900 to 1930. Texas Mexicans were said to be disloyal and blamed for juvenile delinquency, illiteracy, and crime. Unwanted except as a source of cheap labor, Texas Mexicans were discouraged or prohibited from participating in politics, denied their civil rights, and discriminated against in all spheres of life.
Violence against Mexicans was also increasing. Lynchings, “no lots sold to Mexicans” and “No Mexicans allowed” signs were to be seen.
P. 68 As early as 1910 there was an (unsuccessful) conference to organize a group to advocate rights. It was not until 1929 that LULAC, the first, was formed.
All the individuals in
LULAC were born in the
Ben Garza, LULAC’s first president general, for example. He was the head of a household of eight after his father died. He worked his way up to sending his brothers to college and owning a building (he made the last payment right before he died).
He went to
It was also distinguished
by its commitment to having Mexicans integrate into the political and social
institutions of American life. Their
constitution said one of the central aims was to “develop within the members of
our race, the best, purest, and more perfect type of true and loyal citizen of
Half of all the Mexicans
P. 70 They de-emphasized dependence
They were not calling for total assimilation as has been suggested by some authors. Their constitution declared one of their aims was “to assume complete responsibility for the education of our children as to their rights and duties and the language and customs of this country; the latter insofar as they may be good customs.”
They did not wish to “abominate” their Latin heritage. They had respectful reverence for their racial origin.
P. 72 LULAC was also
different from the previous mutual help groups in that they limited their
They were about education and stopping persecution and were going to use legal means. They did not use violence which may disturb the peace of “our country.”
They wanted to gain access and go among their own people and disseminate faith in public education. Both officials and their own people were to blame.
They identified language and attitudes as the main cultural barriers. 90 percent of the problem was that MAs did not talk English at home. It was so important to advancement that they made it the official language of the organization.
They noted that if you speak English you will think American. They promoted American behavior, cultural values, and communication patterns. Education would lead to professions and respect.
LULAC and the Campaign for Educational Equality
They focused on challenging segregation in schools. Many thought that if they sent their kids to schools with whites, they’d learn to speak English better. [They do not mention the effect they think it’d have on the education of whites].
Some were for segregation, but by the 1920s many opposed it.
They noted that German students who did not speak English were not segregated.
Garza accepted that perhaps segregation would be required until English was learned and cleanliness was appreciated, but not based on race.
The first challenge to segregation happened the year before LULAC was founded.
The plaintiff had adopted the kid and said that he was not Mexican and shouldn’t be put in the Mexican school.
Both sides agreed that the board of trustees didn’t have the right to discriminate based on race alone. They also agreed that the child had been assigned to this school because the adoptive parents were Mexicans. Language would be a sufficient reason, they also agreed.
Little Amada Vela, it was found, did speak English. The child was let in. This just applied, however, to one child. Two years later LULAC did a class action lawsuit on a similar basis. It is the first lawsuit regarding the placement of MAs.
P. 79 They were suing, not concerning the quality of facilities, but the act of segregating itself. The court found that in this case, since it just concerned the extension of segregated buildings after a bond measure was passed, did not force segregation. They also found the separation based on language ability was not arbitrary or unconstitutional.
The school said the placement was due to late enrollment and sporadic attendance. Efficiency is hampered if people just drop in sometimes. Secondly, the language problem. Finally the court found no intent to discriminate.
So segregation on practical grounds yes, on national origin, no.
LULAC, low on funds and frustrated, decided to switch from legal tactics to getting to know principals, sups and teachers. In one case they opened a school that was shut on the promise of delivering students. 90 came. The school was opened. They also sent letters to state legislatures. They also spoke at conferences. In one about getting rid of Mexican stereotypes in history textbooks. They established a scholarship fund. LULAC organized PTAs. They wanted parents to encounter the Anglo world.
They documented that in
In 1934, as a result, the Liga de Defensa Escolar was founded. It was composed of thirty-seven social , civic, commercial and religious organizations to present a united front. They worked for fourteen years to little effect.
PART TWO: 1940 – 1965
Chapter Four ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: On the Home Front
P. .91 MAs seemed to have political clout for the first time during WW II. During the war there was a need to cooperate with Latin American countries. To this end the Feds formed the Office of Inter-American Affairs in 1940. The office had an informational and economic mission.
Public schools were to
play their part in the information aspect by disseminating information about
Latin American countries’ cultural attributes.
The treatment of MAs in the
In 1943 the zoot suit riots didn’t help the Good Neighbor Policy. In
resentful. [Their record of not allowing
us to buy houses or immigrate is not gone into.
information about these incidents throughout
We made two proclamations and set up a Texas Good Neighbor committee. [Again, the irony. We are fighting a war and they want us to apologize for giving them employment. They were not being Great Neighbors].
Good Neighbor Policy Committees and Mexican American Appointments
The State Dept of Ed (SDE) sought advice from Mexican officials, MAs were hired too. Mexican officials wanted us to, among other things, change our textbooks. George I. Sanchez, professor of education at the U of Texas, was perhaps the most outspoken person on these committees. He was an ex-president of LULAC.
Inter-American Educational Policy: Neighborliness Begins at Home
P. 96 In 1942 -43 Sanchez
started studies of
Part one of these surveys
recognized the fact that the Spanish speakers were an important part of the
school population. It also called for an
end to segregation. The second big focus
was on curricular reform and teacher training.
They wanted us to teach of the Latin American cultures and in
Spanish. He wanted us to teach about the contributions
P. 100 14 teacher training
workshops were convened. Conferences were
held to see what could be done to improve the health and economic conditions of
MAs. [Did they see this as helpful to
the war effort?]. They promoted plays
and curriculum that helped us understand life in
The final statement said
there were differences between Anglos and Spanish speaking people were
different in respect to language, cultural attributes and socioeconomic status,
all individuals are alike. And the
heritage of every child in
Redefining the “Mexican Problem” in the Schools
P. 103 In 1943
The old view of the Mexican problem was that their failure was due to inherently lower intelligent or cultural attributes as reasons for non-achievement.
The old best way for resolving the Mexican problem was to provide segregated schools for them where they would be taught English and American customs.
The new definition noted the differences in MAs according to their socioeconomic circumstances. Sanchez also wanted us to realize how diverse the culture of various types of Mexicans were.
They also noted that
Spanish speakers were widespread, though heavily concentrated along the
The conference results wanted to note that children are all children, though the MAs had a complication in Language. Educators pointed out that many children did not have sufficient opportunities to learn English due to time limits in instruction and limited opportunities to mix with English speakers.
P. 106 Conference participants did not consider language central, however. Health, citizenship, and vocational adjustment were big goals.
They suggested that Spanish be used in the teaching of English. Teaching English speakers Spanish was the main outcome of this. This was done so we could understand them and minimize homefront hostility during the war. Beginning in 1941 people started asking if we were teaching English speakers Spanish, why not teach Spanish speakers Spanish? That is “if we really feel that there is something in Spanish and Mexican culture worthy of Americans’ knowing”
Ester Brown of El Paso said this was necessary as often MAs were ridiculed because they could speak neither Spanish nor English well. Teaching Spanish would make them feel useful and important. “From appreciation of what he and his family can contribute o the school through Spanish, he comes to take pride and interest in his schoolwork.” In recognizing their culture and language MAs could be made to be more valuable members of society.
They also wanted to adopt child and community centered education curriculum. They wanted vocational education.
Chapter Five :::::::::::::::::::::::::: Compelled to Litigate
P. 113 During WW II women and minorities got more urbanized. Legal and illegal immigration increased. But as societies’ wealth increased MAs stayed second class citizens.
It has been estimated that between 375,000 and 500,000 MAs served during WW II. They were the most decorated ethnic group in WW II. In the army, for the first time, many were given a first taste of first-class citizen life. But at home that status was not recognized. Many places still would not serve Mexicans, veterans or not.
P. 116 “Although of Mexican descent, these veterans came to understand that they were American citizens and, as citizens, they were entitled to full protection under the law.”
The American G.I. Forum was organized in 1948 by Hector P. Garcia. It was, originally, a veteran’s organization. They became an MA rights organization that focused on education.
The Campaign against School Segregation, 1946 - 1957
The effort to end
segregation started in 1945 under LULAC’s supervision. They protested a segregated, dilapidated
This was the first time a federal court had said such a thing. Second, it undercut the idea that Spanish speakers learn English faster in segregated schools. Next, the essence of equal protection was held to be equal facilities and teachers. This case was encouraging to MAs in other states.
In 1947 the attorney
P. 120 There was, however, no mechanism to enforce this decision and no guidelines for implementation were provided to local school districts. When discrimination was brought to the attention of the SDE, they did nothing.
George Sanchez found 8 of
10 randomly chosen
This was in no way conducive to their Americanization, better health, social habits, language development or school attendance.
p. 122 The Mendez case did not define segregation or the basis upon which it was illegal. It also did not address whether or not state officials had any responsibility for monitoring such situations.
In 1948 LULAC filed a suit for Minerva Delgado and twenty other parents against several school districts and officials. The American G.I. Forum also helped. During this case Hector Garcia and George Sanchez became good friends.
The court said the practice was arbitrary, discriminatory and illegal. The court said this had to stop by September 1949.
It clarified Melendez in that it said no segregation could happen without a stated policy.
It also said that separate facilities had to be on the same campus and only in the 1st grade for educationally justified reasons. It held state officials responsible too. On the day of the ruling the state superintendent of public instruction issued regulations regarding the illegality of segregation.
P. 126 The letter said that segregation practices applied to members of the Negro race, but not members of any other race.
Though a legal and moral boost, school districts did not comply. In 1949 the American G.I. Forum did a study that found of 14 districts, six had made no efforts or did not promise to end segregation, the rest used other evasive tactics.
P. 129 LULAC and the
American G.I. Forum petitioned officials to enforce compliance. This had some effect.
To counter this the State legislature transferred the elected Sup of Public Instruction’s powers to the newly created and appointed office of commissioner of education. Declared an emergency, the switch took place immediately.
It is unclear why MAs did not mount a significant challenge to this type of maneuvering, but it stopped desegregation for several years. Accreditation was given back immediately.
LULAC and the American G.I. Forum asked for redress. The State Board of Ed said that this was illegal, but left it to local communities to handle grievances. They could return to the Commissioner of Ed only after local officials had been given an opportunity to address the practices. Complicated procedures were set up by locals to make the grievance process impassable. It had time limits but required a study paid for by the complaining party. The decision had to come after a “reasonable time.” Then appeals would have to go to the county and etc and etc.
Between 1950 and 1957 many cases were pursued through the process and all but one were dismissed before the courts had made a final decision.
They won the federal Driscoll case in 1957, but it had no effect. No further litigation was pursued until the political and economic circumstances changed in the late 1960s.
Chapter Six ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Beginning with the Beginner
P. 139 During the 1950s MA organizations became concerned with issues other than education. For example the American G.I. Forum vigorously opposed the entry of wetbacks into the state and opposed the 1951 congressional renewal of the Braceero Contract Agreement.
LULAC stayed with education. It promoted Little Schools of the 400, an English instructional program for MA preschool children. The attempt to teach English was not new. What was was the fact that MAs themselves were at the forefront of it.
Origins of the Little Schools of the 400
The Little Schools of the 400 were the brainchild of Felix Tijerina, the president of LULAC from 1956 to 1960. He was focused on reducing the high drop out rate for MAs.
State officials told him that lacking English was the reason so many dropped out in the first grade. 70 percent would not be promoted after the first grade. Having to repeat other grades too, they would fall, stumble and then drop out.
Felix had dropped out at the age of nine to help in the cotton fields, but taught himself English and opened a chain of Mexican food restaurants. He said learning English was the key to his success.
The schools were to teach 400 English words, hence the name.
Originally conceived as a radio program, Tijerina launched the program using a public high school classroom and a 17 year old teacher he personally paid. The program was designed by Elizabeth Burrus, who had taught MAs for 20 years. She believed in learning by doing. Teachers were to teach in both languages. Success required teachers who had cultural understanding and parental or family rewards.
P. 145 Getting enrollment
was hard. Many parents were just not
interested. Others needed the 5 and 6
year old baby sitters, others were ashamed that their
kids didn’t have adequate shoes or clothing.
The first class was
Spanish was used sparingly. Only one of the original 60 that attended had to repeat the first grade (80% was the norm).
P. 146 -147 Still several LULAC members were skeptical. Tijerina had to launch a campaign to convince LULAC. But they made a fund. It cost $8.75 a child. This could save the state millions in that it would reduce grade repetition. And it could raise the average grade level of the MA population from to 7.6 years of schooling.
State Sponsorship of the Little Schools of the 400, 1958 - 1959
In 1959 H.B. 51 was passed funding for a program based on the Little Schools of the 400. There were several reasons for its passage. Only 1 of 12 MAs were getting to 12th grade. Many kids reentered and cost the state money. Another reason for passage was that its implementation was voluntary. Finally it deflected criticism of the politicians involved.
Operational Policies of the Preschool Instructional Act, 1959 - 1960
Tijerina was one of three MAs on the six person commission to implement the program. Evaluation of the program was to be delivered in 1961.
The Texas Education Agency wrote up who could teach and attend and that any school with 15 willing to attend could apply for the money. The state would pay 90% of costs and the local district the rest.
Promoting and Publicizing the Instruction Program
No funds were provided for promoting and publicizing the program. Tijerina said, the program is here, now is the time for MAs to show that we care and make the program a success. If folks don’t show, all the efforts creating the program will have been wasted.
P. 152 They got Spanish
newspapers to donate space, radio stations too.
Even a station in
One field organizer who sent daily reports conveys it taking many days to find the superintendent of a local school district. When he found the Sup, he said that they already had that kind of program, but would apply for the state funds. Some districts didn’t want the program, most did.
Gulf Oil donated the use of a plane and $15,000 dollars for a publicity tour of states with 200,000 circulars and 2,500 posters. On the same day tv and 38 radio stations ran advertisements.
It was a success. In 1960 when the doors opened 15,805 students showed.
To attend you needed vaccination proof and birth certificates.
In 1962 the state did their evaluation and found it was a success. 95% instead of 51% of kids passed first grade reading after having taken the course.
Only 7 % of the kids who took the program were retained in first grade. This was in contrast to the 52% otherwise.
Despite its success, the program diminished in significance as a result of federal programs like Title I and Head Start. They had to work hard to show that their program was different and didn’t duplicate efforts.
Manuel criticized the program for not including the learning of Spanish. George Sanchez was also a big critic. He felt they got more out of repeating first grade.
P. 159 By 1966 the lack of district participation and student enrollment was discouraging. The peak year had been 1964 when 1,427 districts participated.
They recommended it e extended to a year for migrant kids and started earlier, but this was ignored.
PART THREE: 1965 – 1981
Chapter Seven :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: A Sustained Legal Attack
P. 164 Restlessness created by the growing black civil rights movement, the federal government’s war on poverty, and the anti war sentiment fueled restlessness and moral outrage and made folks discontent with middle class organizations like LULAC and the American G.I. Forum.
People were at first
hopeful, but Kennedy, for example only appointed a conservative, non-democrat
as the first MA federal judge in history in
After LBJ became president MAs were very hopeful for federal leadership and assistance. He did not give important posts in drawing up the War on Poverty guidelines to MAs. Most of the attention was focused on black needs, not the special needs of MAs.
LBJs conference on civil rights included no MAs.
One radical group claimed there were 6 million MAs in 1966. They demanded federal jobs and representation. In May LBJ privately met with 5 leaders. LBJ didn’t put them in the Civil Rights commission, but agreed to a conference just for them and to appoint a MA to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
They didn’t get their own conference and were unhappy with the hearings alternative and that radical leaders weren’t invited.
Instead group leaders
decided to walk out and have an alternative conference. They called the group La Raza Unida, in the barrios of
Those that stayed in the conference heard that the MAs were poorly served by government programs but proud of their cultural and linguistic heritage. They wanted to get the same benefits from the feds that the blacks were getting. They wanted more programs.
P. 168 – 169 Those who went to the Raza conference heard the same, but more radical stuff too. They affirmed the “magnificence of La Raza.” The newer groups favored confrontation even though it sometimes led to violence.
Student activists sponsored walk outs for MA studies programs.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) was started and became a key supporter of the new student activists.
Founding of MALDEF
The founding of MALDEF is
usually attributed to Pete Tijerina, a MA lawyer from
P. 170 – 171 LULAC had won
the right for MAs to be on
Unlike LULAC and the American G.I. Forum that did lawsuits as a last resort, MALDEF used the courts as the primary instrument to effect changes.
Education Litigation: The Early Years
Early on it did not choose its cases with the understanding that they needed to strategically go for cases that would effect the largest number of folks. By 1970 they started to get strategic.
In 1968 it filed suits in the areas of police brutality, voting rights, discrimination in employment, and civil liberties. In education it filed suits against discriminatory practices in testing, student placement, and finance. It also did so on behalf of bilingual education advocates.
The Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) pursued black desegregation after Title IV of the Civil Rights Act mandated them to. They, in turn, designated the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to enforce these provisions.
Even when OCR’s reviews found discrimination in student and faculty assignments, facilities and tracking they took no action.
MALDEF threatened action and got school districts to create plans for rectification in many cases.
Cisneros and the Changing Complexion of the Desegregation Struggle
P. 177 In 1970 MALDEF
started being more strategic and hired new leadership. Cisneros v.
The “other white” strategy sought to have MAs declared as part of the white race. Federal and state documents before 1954 mandated separation of blacks and whites, but did not stipulate that members of the same race could be segregated. MAs thus tried to prove they were white.
P. 178 In order to get the benefit of the Brown decision they had to get legal status as a separate and distinct minority. That is, “a group classified as having unalterable congenital traits, political impotence, and the attachment of a stigma of inferiority.”
In the Cisneros case MALDEF asked the court to say that MAs could be considered a distinct minority. Judge Cox said that on the basis of their physical characteristics, Spanish language, Catholic religion, distinct culture and Spanish surnames, MAs were a distinct minority.
However this was just decided at the federal district court level. Getting higher court level acceptance was the focus until 1973.
In Ross, Cisneros was put
aside. Ross said that
The Supreme Court finally
settled the issue in 1973s Keyes v. School District Number One,
Desegregation and the Push for Bilingual/Bicultural Education
P. 181 MALDEF started to argue that not even integrated schools created equal opportunity because Anglo, English-speaking, middle-class orientated schools deprived MAs of an equal chance to succeed in schools. Their inability to identify with the values left them at a grave disadvantage. Only a complete revision of the curriculum could rectify this.
The Supreme Courts 1971 Swann case had given support to this view. In this case the Supremes said that neighborhood school plans which resulted in continued school desegregation had to be overcome no matter how much inconvenience and extra transportation was needed. Swann’s opinion’s final paragraph said that compliance would only be complete when “racial discrimination through official action is eliminated from the [school] system.” Alan Exelrod, a MALDEF attorney, said this meant bilingual/bicultural education as a remedy the inherent discrimination in Anglo-oriented curriculum.
P. 183 This rationale was accepted by courts that oversaw Keyes implementation.
The Supreme Court also did Lau v. Nichols at this time.
The 10th Circuit Court overruled the court supervising the Keyes implementation. This hurt as the Supremes would not here the same case twice.
MALDEF mourned that the court didn’t understand that bilingual/bicultural education was not meant to preserve ethnic or linguistic separateness, but accelerate the integration into an English speaking educational system.
Rulings were divided. Some said MAs needed to be dispersed for desegregation and others required concentration for bilingual education purposes. MALDEF wanted both simultaneously.
By the late 70s, desegregation slowed to a near halt. MAs started to share the disillusionment of breaking up MA schools and busing kids to Anglo schools that the rest of the country did. They started wanting, not desegregation, but bilingual programs.
Chapter Eight :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: We Cannot Afford to Rest
P. 192 Myriads of demands were made by MAs and met. With the passage of the 1967 bilingual Education Act, MAs began increasingly to support one special type of ed program over all others - bilingual education.
Why? It was thought to be pedagogically sound. It was thought to educate and motivate MAs. It gives him pride in his culture.
Second it gave them a way to wedge in the inclusion of their cultural heritage.
Lastly, it made schools respond to their cultural background and very special education needs.
To be successful bilingual needed to include restructuring of the whole approach to curriculum.
Developing Bilingual Education Policy, 1969 - 1975
After 1967 MA pressured for bilingual ed a lot. MALDEF and Texas Representatives, Bernal and Truan were at the lead.
First they passed a bill which made bilingual ed an option. It did not pay for it or demand it, it simply repealed the 1918 prohibition against it.
They got guidelines approved which said that teaching in dominant and second language should help the child develop a positive identity with their cultural heritage.
Truan got a bill passed which mandated first through sixth grade bilingual education when more than twenty per class had Limited English Speaking Ability (LESA). When he tried to get Kindergarten added for the 1975-76 school year, the total hours got reduced instead. For 1976-77 it got reduced to Kindergarten through third. Fourth and fifth became an option, but no money was to be spent on bilingual ed in grades 6 – 12.
MA Responses to the Reduction of Bilingual Education
This setback came during a time of general setbacks. Unequal funding suits had run their course by 1973. La Raza was fizzling. In 1975 the Tenth Circuit said bilingual ed was no substitute for desegregation.
Legislative and legal challenges were launched. To get into bilingual programs a child had to score below 40 and to get out, above 40. State officials brought it down to 23.
P. 199 The review of Title VII programs given in 1977 by the US Office of Ed was critical and this armed critics.
It found that less than 30 percent of the participating children were actually limited in their English speaking ability and 86 % of the projects tended to keep children in bilingual education programs long after they were ready to move into English ones.
It also found the programs were spending $376 dollars more per student than regular programs and having no “consistent significant” impact in English Arts or mathematics.
Months later Noel Epstein asked whether the federal government should promote different languages and cultures through bilingual education. Ethnic identity was the job of families and private schools and such.
Critics also noted that there was no federal requirement to teach bilingual or bicultural education.
The newly formed Texas Association for Bilingual Education still thought they could get a first through eighth grade bill passed, but then a huge ruling in a lawsuit filed by MALDEF in 1981 happened.
P. 201 The judge said
there was widespread discrimination in
The judge then laid out specifics of the plan that had to happen. It required bilingual education for those who were of Limited English Proficiency (LEP). The TEA would have to recruit and train bilingual teachers according to a timeline. And the LEPs would have to be identified and allowed to stay in these special programs for as long as necessary. Failure to comply would result in sanctions and loss of accreditation.
Gov. Clements condemned the decision.
Taking the Lead: Introduction and Defeat of S.B. 477
MALDEF decided to introduce legislation that would assure that there was compliance with the court order and order bilingual education from K – 12th.
It also sought to make the definition of LEP those who could not speak, read and write English fluently It had no limit in time and was required whenever 2 students needed it. It required on-site inspections ever three years and would cost $23 million.
The lone opponent said it would cause divisiveness in society.
In the Senate Education Committee they worried that it would increase illegal immigration. They through it would also add to segregation k – 12.
It was sent to subcommittee (the graveyard for bills).
Task Force on Bilingual Education
The governor called for a task force on Bilingual Ed before the court ordered plan submission deadline. They wanted to show good faith while they appealed the decision by implementing improvements in their current bilingual program.
The task force’s main disagreements were over what grade to extend the program until. They said, finally, there should be bilingual in the elementary grades and a special language program in the secondary grades.
Politics of the Enactment of S.B. 477
Truan said you may not like bilingual ed, but it is better you do it yourself than to have the court do it to you. Conservatives didn’t buy this. The bill was to cost $30 million.
It passed with the moneys reduced and the stipulation that local district could try different programs on those that failed to transfer out after four years. Truan told Senators if they did not remove these provisions, he’d withdraw the bill and they’d have to do what the court said.
The house tried to put the four year limit before transferring to intensive English courses, but TRUAN said no. [Is Truan not for learning English? What is his real agenda?] He got the qualifications taken off. Kids were safe to be in bilingual programs through their entire k – 12 careers. Their success was even more remarkable since opposition was at an all time high. The courts work better than democracy.
Chapter Nine ::::::::::::::::::::::: Conclusion
This book covers 70 years of battles. They were aimed at getting government action and educating the MA community about the import of education. In the heat of the battle they expended little energy on promoting an intellectual tradition or developing the virtue of self-education among the MAs. The emphasis has been political instead.
From 1910 to 1940 the emphasis was on equality and desegregation in elementary schools.
From 1940 to 1965 the WW II generation created the Little Schools of the 400. They went to and got support from the state. They also worked on getting their language and culture into the curriculum.
During the final period 1965 – 1981 the battle became more professional and until the mid-1970s it focused on desegregation. After 1975 it switched to a quest for bilingual ed.
This was to reverse the English only language policies and encourage cultural pride [no assimilation wanted].
The Campaign for Educational Equality: An Assessment
The no Spanish rule, racist remarks by school personnel, rigid cultural dress codes and outright exclusion of MAs cultural heritage were eliminated. They also fought discrimination and segregation on national origin.
The curriculum had to officially recognize a non-English language and culture. MA history and culture classes were created. The special needs and “negative aspects of assimilation” were recognized.
All discrimination was not, however, eliminated. In the 1980s MAs were still placed in inferior and segregated schools and remedial programs. They were also denied access to special education programs like English, mathematics and computers.
“Further, the curriculum in most schools continues to be assimilationists in theory and fact.” This has resulted in continuing poor performance by MAs.
MAs have made three fundamental errors n their attempts to get what they want. 1) they focused on changing policy rather than changing policy makers. 2) they focused on administrative policies too much 3) they failed to identify the root problem: resistance by local officials. But the real problem was the continuing impotence of the MA community.
As a result MAs have been unsuccessful in getting rid of dual instruction systems and segregation. They have failed to modify the assimilationist character of the curriculum. Pressure for assimilation may reverse some of the bilingual gains. But, as this study has shown, they will continue to fight for their rightful place in society.