Wanted to share this testimony given by one of our preeminent Mexican American scholars, Professor Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, before the State Board Adoption Hearings in Austin, Texas, September 11, 2002. -Angela
Professor Felipe de Ortego y Gasca
Professor Emeritus, Retired Tenured Faculty, Texas State University System
Currently, Visiting Scholar and Lecturer in English, Texas A&M University–Kingsville
The philosopher Santayana posited that those who cannot learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them. This is surely an admonition for our times, particularly as a caution for white Americans whose children read only about the history of whites in the United States in white textbooks that tacitly promulgate white supremacy. For if that is all they read, then they risk repeating the history that has been occulted in the history and literature textbooks of our public schools, the history of the others whose histories have been excluded from the historical record.
For too long, unfortunately, history has been anthropomorphized as an entity that writes itself, sui generis. Concentrating on the velleities, little thought is given to the realities that produce history–someone writes the record. It is not an invisible hand that documents events and activities. Public history as studied in our public schools is shaped by historians with intellectual and ideological proclivities, not to mention agendas which are often hidden. The upshot is that what appears in the historical record is often regarded as gospel and ergo indisputable.
I am appalled by the historical record in the American history textbooks which I have reviewed for this presentation and which are being considered for state adoption and use in Texas public schools, for nowhere in these texts is the story of American Hispanics, particularly Mexican Americans, fully told. Instead their story is alluded to at best in a foreword here or a footnote there. Most often the story of American Hispanics is little more than an apostrophe. And the story as told in the history textbooks is proffered as gospel and indisputable.
But history alone is not guilty of sins of omission. American literature is equally guilty of excluding the contributions of American Hispanics to the American experience. Part of the problem, I think, stems from lack of respect. White America does not respect American Hispanics, particularly Mexican Americans. We are regarded as poachers in our own land where we have become strangers. Appeals to include our story in the textbooks studied by our children are sloughed off with derision and with taunts to go back to Mexico if we want to read our history, failing to come to grips with the fact that our history is of the United States not Mexico, and that Mexican Americans, like Palestinians, are in a land that was once part of their patrimony.
In a landmark essay on race, "Stranger in the Village," James Baldwin foresaw the unequivocal disparity of racial perceptions. He wrote, the problem between blacks and whites is that the black man knows who the white man is but the white man does not know who the black man is. Today Mexican Americans know who the Anglo is but Anglos don’t know who the Mexican Americans are. That’s why textbooks need our story.
In 1906, W. E. B. Dubois, founder of the NAACP and author of The Souls of Black Folk, prophesied that the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the color line. And it was. Equally prophetic, unless we do something now to halt the vicious cycle, the problem of the 21st century will be the story line–what constitutes American history? American history requires a paradigm that squares with the nation’s millennial expectations. Adopting these textbooks as they are does not contribute to those expectations. In fact, adopting these history textbooks as they are now will only allay the inevitable and foment needless confrontation in the future. The specters of demographic imperatives beseech us to act now rather than later. Help us to tell our story in the annals of American history. Some first steps would be to place more Mexican Americans on the editorial boards responsible for those textbooks. The next step is to walk the walk.
At 76, Dr. Ortego is retired professor emeritus, Texas State University System. Dr. Ortego was a founding member in 1968 of the National Council of Teachers of English Task Force on Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English and was editor of Searching for America (NCTE, 1973).
Dr. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of English Language and Literature
Texas State Univeristy System--Sul Ross
[English, Linguistics, Journalism, Information Studies, Bilingual Education, Chicano Studies]
Dean Emeritus, Hispanic Leadership Institute, Arizona State University
Chair Emeritus, The Hispanic Foundation, Washington, DC
Visiting Scholar and Lecturer in English and Bilingual Studies
Texas A&M University--Kingsville
Phone: 361-522-8256 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Home: 1317 E. FM 1717, Kingsville, Texas 78363
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