This story by San Antonio educator, writer, and activist, Léo Treviño, is about the exercise of political power and how it makes a difference. Just like the highly contested struggle against the racist textbook by Jaime Riddle and Valarie Angle currently underway, this story is also about the San Antonio Mexican American community exerting its political power.
Note: While I was originally concerned about this report using the Mexican flag on its cover as a way to possibly send a mixed message and stoke nativist fears, I grew less concerned when I looked up the Rivard Report that published this out of San Antonio. Whereas nativist and some colonized Mexican Americans themselves could still scream about this, the intention appears otherwise. Good. Now I can move on.
There is much to learn from this story about Mexican American Studies (MAS) that recently came under fire in the Alamo Community College District (ACCD) that you can read more about here. This struggle for MAS simultaneously underscores community struggles for inclusion in the curriculum, as well as the larger politics of education that are required in order for political minorities—beyond the imperative for curricular inclusion that demographic growth would seem to imply—to achieve substantial voice and presence in the college-level, curriculum.
As with any group and as captured in this piece, the Mexican American experience is so vast that it expands far beyond its traditional boundaries of Mexican American history and literature. Yet, even this expansion of the curriculum requires an exertion of power with respect to the wishes and preferences of a community for whom one would think in 2016, such matters would not even be an issue.
To draw from Paolo Freire, in the best of worlds, we educate not to domesticate, but to liberate. My own motivation for going to college was precisely this, to liberate myself and all of my instruction contributed—and continues to contribute to this. Liberation is a process, not an end state. We, myself included, are always embarked on de-colonizing our minds that in fact so much of the educational system through its curriculum and instruction, provides. Sociology professor at Binghamton University, Aníbal Quijano from Peru, in fact addresses this with the concept of the "coloniality of power" (PDF en español; PDF in English).
I'll resist going on a tangent here, but one of the reasons from the very beginning in the early 1990s when the neoliberal, charter school movement got off the ground that I never saw this as either our community's or as God's redemptive, long-awaited solution to all our problems in education, precisely because it largely left our culturally chauvinist curriculum untouched, while continuing to objectify our communities as objects to whom to administer curriculum, as opposed to communities with whom, in solidarity with its long and continuing history of struggle to forge common cause in and with our civil rights organizations, nonprofits, and community-based institutions. Never mind their insatiable consumption of public, taxpayer dollars for private ends that "education management organizations [EMOs]" today represent as a whole...
To continue. I further presume this liberatory disposition to be true of most"ethnic studies scholars" like myself that are differentially located throughout our colleges and universities again, depending on their own respective histories of struggle for inclusion as follows: African American Studies, Jewish American, Native American and Indigenous Studies, Puerto Rican/Boricua Studies, Asian-American, Women and Gender Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, and so on.
The historical accounts, theoretical frameworks, core concepts, and guiding research questions that they provide help move us to challenge beyond the system of instruction that is currently wedded at the K12 level to a prescriptive and scripted curricula such as that appearing in Common Core or in existing state standards that either ignore or are largely dismissive of the scholarship, knowledge, and frameworks emanating from these fields. And even when there is cognizance for at least some teachers and some administrators that are able to link up Common Core and state standards to ethnic studies content, this knowledge may be siloed to "the multicultural education" side of the school, rather than positioned centrally in terms of how school is done, period.
We are domesticated when we think that existing curricular offerings as coming from God or the invisible hand of the market. As someone in policy who has studied the history of the inextricably intertwined aspects of curriculum and the historical politics of education, nothing could be further from the truth.
Kudos to our friends in San Antonio for moving the needle with respect to the intellectually-inspiring knowledge base and pedagogy that portends a bright future of liberated, as opposed to domesticated, individuals and communities armed with a critically conscious mindset bent on transforming systems and institutions for the betterment of society, domestic tranquility, and humanity as a whole.
Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Just last year, the Alamo Community College District (ACCD) came under fire when its board of trustees under Chancellor Bruce Leslie voted to remove majors from students’ academic records.
More recently, faculty, students, and supporters of San Antonio College (SAC) had ample reason to celebrate when the school’s new Mexican-American Studies Center opened its doors on the near-downtown campus.
Visitors entering the Chance Academic Center needed only follow the scent of burning sage through bland white hallways to a room where Linda Ximenes was blessing the future space of the MAS Program as well as attendees of the event.
Papel picado hung from the ceilings and lent color and authenticity to the purpose of the event. Bookshelves filled with books authored by writers of all ethnicities celebrated the essence of the Mexican-American experience solidifying the space as a center for academic excellence.
After the blessing, attendees enjoyed an excerpt of a play penned by MAS program faculty member Mariano “Mono” Aguilar titled Adelita, which opens at the Josephine Theatre on Nov. 3, as well as a local group performing Son Jarocho, a regional folk music fusion of Spanish, indigenous, and African cultures that originated in the state of Veracruz in the Gulf Coast region of Mexico.
MAS Center and Program Coordinator Lisa Ramos wrote her dissertation for her Ph.D. in history on Mexican-American Civil Rights lawsuits and how the racial categorization of Mexican Americans as white affected identity politics and relationships.
“There were no real obstacles but we did have to follow procedural guidelines which takes time but once we submitted, approval followed,” Ramos said of her longtime vision coming into fruition in May.
She credited the smooth process to existing MAS programs and degrees that are offered at other ACCD campuses such as Northwest Vista, Palo Alto, and St. Phillip’s colleges. “We just followed the models from those campuses and developed the curriculum and program from there,” she explained.
Aguilar explained that a designated MAS office had not previously existed on campus. “We were all on different parts of the campus in our respective departments but getting approval for the program gave us the ability to request this space.”
He added that the only MAS courses that were offered prior to the center’s creation were Mexican-American history and Mexican-American literature. “We’re hoping to add more in the upcoming semesters,” Ramos added by laying out the order of things. “We’d received approval for the program in May, for this space in June, and the first classes began this fall semester in August.”
According to Ramos, planning and organizing for this endeavor began more than a year ago. “We’ve been working on the budget, finding people who can teach the courses, and figuring out how to get exposure (for) the course(s) through the school.”
Ramos also gave credit to Tammy Perez, who works in the Spanish department, for getting the course titles and numbers into the SAC catalog so they’re searchable. “That for us was the biggest success because when people are looking for the courses they want to take, we’re now an option.”
As for advertising the event and bringing attention to the center, “Mono (Aguilar) planned all the Hispanic Heritage Month events and incorporated this event into the planning,” Ramos explained.
SAC students seeking to expand their cultural base or gain insight into the Mexican-American experience in the Spring 2017 semester can look in the SAC catalog for Mexican-American History, Mexican-American Literature, and Mexican-American Politics. “We’ll be adding Mexican-American Fine Arts Appreciation in the Fall 2017 semester so hopefully that will bring in more interest than we already have.”
Ramos and her colleagues hope that that interest will extend beyond students who asked questions at the grand opening event or are already enrolled in MAS classes.
According to the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, Latinos make up 54.82% of San Antonio’s population, 59.4% of Bexar County’s, and the percentage of bilingual people in the Greater San Antonio Area is 34.21%.
These numbers speak to the fact that the community centered around Mexican-American Studies is thriving and growing. Students who decide to take MAS classes will be able transfer earned credits to a four-year institution such as the University of Texas at San Antonio, where the Mexican-American Studies program and degree has been in place for more than two decades.
Programs like these set a precedent for a more thoroughly developed social consciousness toward Mexican-American studies and for people who are critically engaged in their future. SAC’s MAS courses offer narratives not traditionally found outside of higher education, inspire learning beyond commonly held truths and values, and prove that the Mexican-American experience not only complements existing history, but is an integral part of it.