Education

Mexican-American studies will be taught in Texas schools. Why there's a fight over its name

Mexican American studies or ethnic studies: Board’s choice is a slight to some

Protestors gather in Marine Park speaking out against the State Board of Education's decision to change the name of Mexican-American studies to a more generic name of "Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent".
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Protestors gather in Marine Park speaking out against the State Board of Education's decision to change the name of Mexican-American studies to a more generic name of "Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent".

What's in a name?

A community's culture and history, argue Mexican-American experts in Texas who are protesting the name change of a recently approved high school elective course on Mexican-American studies.

In April, the Texas State Board of Education voted to approve the elective course in Mexican-American studies, but called it "Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent," instead of Mexican-American studies. The name change prompted Mexican-American experts and activists to push back.

This fight is headed to Austin on June 12 when the board is slated to meet again. Protesters want the state board to change the course name back to Mexican-American studies.

“This course was named for a community rather than in partnership with the community and understanding why that community identifies that way,” said Erika Beltran of Fort Worth, who sits on the State Board of Education. She represents District 13.

On Wednesday, Beltran was among several dozen people who joined the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Foco for a statewide protest against the name change.

Press conferences/protest events were held at 1:30 p.m. in Fort Worth and several other Texas cities, including Austin, San Antonio, San Juan, Houston and El Paso. The Fort Worth event took place at Marine Park north of downtown.

Roberto Calderon, a history professor at the University of North Texas in Denton, said the issue is important because the original name reflected an area of study by educators, historians and sociologists. Educators were also proud that this course was finally on its way to students.

"This is the first time in Texas and U.S. history that a state board of education approves a (Mexican-American studies) course, and the first time in Texas history that they approved an ethnic studies course of any kind," Calderon said, reading from a prepared statement.

But when the name was changed, it was an affront to the Mexican American community, protesters said.

David Bradley, a Republican from Beaumont who proposed the name change, told reporters after the name change vote: “I find hyphenated Americanism to be divisive."

Jacinto "Cinto" Ramos, a trustee on the Fort Worth school board, was among speakers at the Fort Worth event.

"Words have power," he said. "Titles have a lot of relevance."

The course is slated to be offered to Texas students starting in the 2019-2020 school year. In Fort Worth schools, students at North Side High School can participate in a locally offered course on Latina and Latino studies. About 60 students participated this year, said principal Antonio Martinez.

Ramos said the new state course builds on efforts to educate students through the lens of racial equity. Earlier this year, the school board created a school holiday to honor César Chávez and Dolores Huerta.

"This is not an anti-white conversation," Ramos said, explaining that the goal is to help all students understand how their histories are relevant in the world.

Latin Express 40th Anniversary & Salute to Cesar Chavez Event benefits FWISD music students on Thursday, March 31, 2016 at Casa Mañana. (Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner)



This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1
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