Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Mexican Fight for Ethnic Studies in Texas: The Biography of a Cause by Emilio Zamora, Ph.D.

Friends, Happy to share both my introductory remarks and Dr. Emilio Zamora's luncheon lecture titled,  "The Mexican Fight for Ethnic Studies in Texas: The Biography of a Cause" as this year's recipient of the "NACCS Scholar Award" at the annual meeting of the National Association for Chicanaand Chicano Studies on March 24, 2017.

The award is the top award for the organization and goes to those who best exemplify both stellar scholarship and activism—core values of the organization.  So proud of Emilio for all that he has done and for all that he continues to do for a better, more just world.  Heck, that's why I married him! 



National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies
Awards Luncheon
March 24, 2017

            I’m Angela Valenzuela, Dr. Zamora’s significant other.

Emilio, Angela, and Dr. June Pedraza, Irvine, CA
            Emilio embodies everything you would want to see in a NACCS Scholar.  He has been a prolific award-winning scholar with three single-author books, three co-edited anthologies, a co-author of a high school history textbook and another on the way, the editor and translator of a WWI diary, and an E-book with the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA).

            Emilio has received seven best-book awards, having received all the possible book awards in Texas in Mexican American and Texas history.
 Emilio just received La Estrella de Tejas NACCS Tejas Foco Lifetime Achievement Award.  He is deeply involved in the Austin Community—organizations and politics.  Emilio is the chief content person for the co-constructed curriculum used in the Austin AISD-sponsored Academia Cuauhtli, a partnership-based, cultural and language revitalization project that administers a Saturday academy at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (ESB-MACC) in Austin, Texas.  He is also a co-founder and member of the Raza Roundtable, the only community Latino forum in Austin, and a member of Austin’s Hispanic-Latino Quality of Life Advisory Commission (he tried to get off it, but his colleagues begged him not to) and the Mayor’s Committee on Institutional Racism.  He has also served three terms on the Board of the ESB-MACC.

            Emilio is currently a Professor of history at the University of Texas and holds the George W. Littlefield Professorship in American history.  He is a member of the Board of the TSHA and is serving as the second Vice-President of the organization (in line to become the President of TSHA in two years).  Emilio is a lifetime Fellow in TSHA and a lifetime member of the Texas Institute of Letters.

            Emilio has been a member of NACCS since its formation and is currently active with the K-12 Committee of the Tejas NACCS Foco.  He has also been active in policies and politics associated with the Texas Legislature and the Texas State Board of Education.

            Emilio is also a person of great faith and of great love of his children, grandson, and most especially his really amazing, life-long partner…ME!

            I’ll borrow from Martha Cotera who unfortunately could not be with us and who sends her regards to all; she says that ours is a love that has survived marriage.

            In all seriousness, I admire Emilio greatly for his love of community and for modeling precisely how one moves effortlessly and seamlessly as a scholar from theory to action and back.  That is, his advocacy is not that of a parachutist or lone wolf that presents itself in an episodic, calculating way.  Rather it is substantive with a deep, ongoing level of engagement as a trusted, beloved member of our community. 

            I often think of his way of living as epitomizing Reverend Martin Luther King’s notion of the Beloved Community.  This is a slow and patient process premised on deep, life-long relationships that enable effective action, big and small, in a way that fosters community development, presence, and voice through the affirming ethos of spiritual uplift that naturally results and evolves.  The proverbial call in Mexican American Studies for “community engaged scholarship” is hardly an abstraction in Dr. Zamora’s case, but rather a way of life. 

            Please join me in welcoming this year’s recipient of the NACCS Scholar Award!


The Mexican Fight for Ethnic Studies in Texas:
The Biography of a Cause
Emilio Zamora, Ph.D.

             Thank you Angela.  I also wish to thank everyone who made possible the award that the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies is giving me today.  I am honored and humbled because of what you think about my work.
In the short time that I have, I wish to talk about a recent and extraordinary victory that we won in Texas.  The victory was the successful statewide effort by the K-12 Committee of the NACCS Tejas Foco that convinced the Texas State Board of Education to reject a technically flawed and culturally offensive textbook to teach Mexican American Studies in our majority-minority public school system.  The victory was not limited to the rejection of the racist text and the symbolic value that it carries as an act of recovering, defending and affirming our knowledge.

We also demonstrated our ability to come together in the thousands and to affirm our ability and desire to promote social justice.  We understand that the attempt to get a racist text adopted by the State Board may have sought to elicit such a response to gauge the ability of intellectuals to connect with our communities.  It really doesn’t matter that the opposition is watching us.  What matters is that the strength in our organization and organizing fortifies us and prepares us for future fights.  

I’ll start by saying that victories in our business of creating knowledge and promoting a better world do no often receive enough attention.  We should acknowledge the victories when they occur even if we only use the occasion to credit persons and organizations who contributed and to lift up dejected spirits.  I want to talk about our victory for an added reason.  I believe that NACCS is granting me the Scholar Award in large part because I participated in the Reject the Text campaign that produced the victory for us. 

I also want to recognize that the effort involved thousands of people and that the victory—occurring as it did, soon after the announcement of the election of President Donald Trump—served as an important reminder that we can win and that we can rise up and above the significant challenges that we often face.

I also want reiterate our special responsibility as socially committed persons who work and study at colleges and universities, a responsibility that is noted in our foundational Plan de Santa Barbara and that people like our esteemed Professors Rodolfo Acuña and Juan Gómez-Quiñones that have for so long reminded us.  We must remain bound to our communities, knowing that we can break through the academic strictures of language, method and conceptualizations when working with and on behalf of communities in struggle for dignity and equal rights.
            Before I talk about this victory, however, I should note some the challenges that we face in Texas, including:

·      The malicious anti-immigrant rhetoric, the unmerciful deportation raids and detention centers;
·      An antiquated school finance system;
·      Voucher proposals intending to weaken our public school system;
·      Successful legislative initiatives to limit minority voting;
·      Grinding poverty and persistent inequality;
·      Embarrassingly poor Democratic Party leadership; and
·      A form of Republican—mostly White—rule that takes as much pleasure in espousing conservative views as in preempting and disrupting our cause for dignity and equal rights.

We also enjoy good and promising fortunes in Texas:
·      We continue to grow demographically and our voter turn-out rates are increasing;
·      Our political representation has improved;
·      Mexican Americans have made significant inroads in the numbers of principals and superintendents in Texas school districts;
·      Increasing numbers of Latinas/os are graduating from high schools, colleges and universities;
·      The number of Mexican organizations and their collaborative ties have grown; and
·      The NACCS Tejas Foco (Chapter) has assumed a major statewide leadership role in the area of educational reform.
            In the last three years, the K-12 Committee of the Texas NACCS Foco has been involved in:

·      The establishment of at least three new Chicana/o Studies programs in Texas colleges and universities;
·      The adoption of Ethnic Studies in the curriculum in well over twenty-four school districts;
·      The approval by the Austin ISD of a pathway project in Ethnic Studies from the fifth grade to university studies;
·      Two statewide Mexican American Studies summits and three annual conferences; and
·      A legislative bill on Ethnic Studies.

I now turn to our special recent victory that speaks to one of NACCS’s singular concerns, the mis-education and under-education of our public school youth. 

Our effort involved numerous organizations, the most of important of which was our NACCS Tejas Foco and its K-12 Committee.  The allies included MALDEF, the Texas Freedom Network, the Mexican American School Board Association, the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, LULAC, the American G.I. Forum and many more.  At the heart of the cause were faculty, staff and students from Texas colleges and universities—like the community colleges of San Antonio, UTSA, UT-RGV, South Texas College, Austin Community College, UT Austin, the University of Houston (central and downtown), community colleges in Houston and the many other colleges and universities from throughout the state.  Popular support also involved tens of thousands of signatures in an electronic petition, hundreds of participants in our rallies and press conferences, many letters of support from groups such as the leading Mexican American school superintendents from throughout the state, about 15 Mexican American legislators who spoke in our rallies and in the State Board hearings and approximately two-hundred students, faculty, teachers, parents and others who testified in our favor during two all-day hearings.

The story began last summer when we heard that Momentum Books had proposed to the Texas State Board of Education a textbook for adoption to teach Mexican American Studies in the state’s public schools.  We suspected a problem when we discovered that the owner of the publishing house was Ms. Cynthia Dunbar, a former conservative member of the State Board, an Assistant Law Professor at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, a recent Trump delegate to the Republican Party Convention, and a co-chair of Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.  The selection of the book’s authors, Jaime Riddle and Valarie Angle, also raised concerns.

Riddle posted a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Duke University and a master’s in education from Regent University.  Riddle’s reported claim to fame was her selection as Amazon’s Top 1000 reviewers in 2013.  Riddle is known to have stated that she has focused on “exposing subtle anti-Western themes in popular children’s literature,” that have a “particular emphasis on socialist, anti-modern, and anti-American motifs” and “revisionist history.”

            Angle has a B.A. in early childhood education from the University of Central Florida, Master’s in leadership studies from Hollins University and claims to be an education specialist.  She has taught and served as an instructional coach, infant toddler development specialist, principal at a Christian academy and a wellness advocate.  Like Riddle, Angle does not claim training and experience in Mexican-American studies.

            Upon reading portions of an electronic copy of the book that the State Board had posted, we discovered that it was unabashedly and tauntingly racist in its depiction of our communities, and it was full of errors of facts, interpretation and omission.  By the time that the K-12 Committee had met during its state education summit in San Antonio, we had decided that NACCS should review the book and recommend its rejection by the State Board.  This was a daunting task given the highly involved process of thoroughly reviewing a book and the expected difficulty of convincing a highly conservative State Board to reject it. 

            We had been busy working within our K-12 committee to build a statewide campaign to develop Mexican American curriculum, sponsor professional development workshops for teachers and building partnerships with local school districts.  Many of us dreaded a repeat of early defeats when the State Board held its periodic hearings on reforming the standard curriculum and disregarded our critiques of the mis-representation and under-representation of Mexicans, Indigenous persons, Blacks and women.  A group of us scholars in the NACCS Foco K-12 committee, nevertheless, accepted the challenge of demonstrating that the proposed text was fraught with historical errors and racist interpretations of Mexicans in history and contemporary society.

            Our group came together as an advisory committee to Mr. Ruben Cortez, one of three Mexican American members of the State Board who also constituted the lone progressive bloc in a board of fifteen elected members.  Expecting yet another dismissal of our concerns, our advisory committee conducted an initial review of the text.  We found hundreds of factual, omission and interpretation errors.  Three members of the review team—Chris Carmona, Trinidad Gonzales and myself—presented the findings during an October hearing. The other members of the committee included Juan Carmona, Rogelio Saenz, Guadalupe San Miguel, Angela Valenzuela, and Aimee Villarreal.

In accordance with established book adoption procedure, the publisher responded to our findings with a refusal to accept our findings and even offered new text with their own proposed revisions.  I electronically convened a second group of thirty-six scholars who found well over four-hundred new and uncorrected errors in the second round of reviews.  Carmona, Gonzalez and I presented the second set of findings during the Board’s November public hearing.  Our review team reported 407 errors in a spreadsheet of 931 rows (see below for a copy of our second report to the State Board of Education).

The most egregious errors were claims that Mexicans were lazy and that we represent a political and cultural threat in U.S. history especially during the early years of our current social movement.  An error that strained logic was that Communists in Latin America have caused natural disasters, attributing supernatural powers to a failed cause in Mexican American history.  The most absurd and recurring statements were that the publisher was not bound to say anything about Mexican Americans and that we—the authorities on record—were mistaken in every instance that we pointed out a factual, interpretation or omission error.

The authors never appeared during the hearings to defend our critique as is typical in textbook adoption hearings, suggesting that they had not written the text, but that a ghost team of writers that were more familiar with Latin American and U.S. history prepared the disjointed narrative.  The fact that the text only devoted approximately one-third of the text to Mexican Americans underscored this possibility.  The Board eventually voted unanimously—15 to 0—to reject the text.  This was unprecedented and extraordinary in large part because the majority of the conservative members of the State board exercised their responsibility to youth as an ongoing principle in the deliberations alongside with the smaller liberal group of three Mexican American members.

In hindsight, the victory was predictable.  The numerous factual errors in the text and Dunbar’s obstinate behavior made it almost impossible for the State Board to approve the text.  The claims in the text that Mexicans were political and cultural threats to U.S. society, that they were prone to being lazy, and subject to radical thought from a distant past in Mexico history made its adoption unacceptable.  Added to this were our claims that a vote for the text was an approval of the racist characterizations in the text, as well as its wholesale dismissal of the vast literature on Mexican Americans produced since the early 1970s and a blatant disregard for the voice of the expert reviewers.  In other words, we placed our University-granting authority on the line, we were the experts, they were not—and the State Board listened to our claim.

Also, our claims carried the moral weight of the large number of persons and organizations that supported our cause.  It also helped that the Texas Freedom Network and MALDEF assisted the K-12 Committee to coordinate the effort and bring the necessary publicity to the Reject the Text campaign.  Altogether, the campaign masterfully organized the support of leading community organizations and promoted the fight as a cause.  It also struck a popular chord of deep concern regarding the negative representation of our communities in the public schools and a righteous sense of unity that accorded Mexican American scholars great respect as the guardians of historical knowledge and moral witnesses to truth.

Thank you for your attention.  It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of the “Reject the Text” campaign, and to now report to you on our extraordinary victory in Texas.  We continue the fight for Ethnic Studies, curriculum and social justice pedagogy at state, local and district levels and celebrate our invigorating movement of which NACCS has been a part in otherwise bleak and challenging times.             

Muchas Gracias.

November 15, 2016

Mr. Rubén Cortez, Member
Texas State Board of Education
Austin, Texas

Dear Mr. Cortez,

            We have reviewed The Mexican American Heritage a second time and conclude that the proposed textbook is fraught with errors, and continue to find it unacceptable for use in our public schools.  Our first review found a significant number of errors in the textbook that led us to conclude that the authors had not met the minimum professional standards to justify its use in our Texas schools (See attached document submitted to Mr. Rubén Cortez: Ad Hoc Committee Report on Proposed Social Studies Special Topic Textbook, Mexican American Heritage, September 6, 2016).  Our second review assesses the responses by the publisher to our first findings of errors. 

            The authors prepared a “second edition” of the proposed textbook, but we were unable to review it because neither the authors, publisher, nor the Texas Education Agency notified us that someone had posted an electronic copy this month.  We have conducted a cursory examination of the “second edition” and found that the authors have included revisions in response to our initial review as well as new additions to the text.  Our preliminary early assessment is that the “second edition” also contains numerous new and continuing errors.

            Our second review is based on two sets of responses by the authors to the initial findings of errors that we reported to the State Board of Education on September 6, 2016.  The authors submitted their responses in two spread sheets.  We have amended them with two new columns on the far right to allow for our error assessments and comments (these will be made available to the Board members in electronic form).  The first spread sheet includes 716 rows of responses from the authors; we found 319 errors.  The second spread sheet includes 215 responses from the authors; we found 96 errors.  Their responses totaled 931 and our findings of errors reached 407 (a 48% error rate).

            Twenty-six junior and senior scholars specializing or focusing on Mexican American Studies reviewed the responses (See names and institutional affiliation below).  They represent various fields, including Anthropology, Civil Rights, Education, Law, Mexican American Studies, Music, Political Philosophy, Political Science, Politics, Religion, Research Methods, Rhetoric, Sociology, Texas History (Spanish Borderlands, Mexican, Independent and Modern periods), U.S. History (Education, Immigration, Mexican American, Mexico, Labor, Women), and Women and Gender Studies.  Four of the scholars were graduate students (1 in American Studies and four in History).  They assisted me in planning, coordinating, assessing and reporting the review work.

            Our assessment did not count errors if the authors accepted our findings and to one extent or another agreed to revise the text according to our suggestions.  We also discounted errors if the authors made a convincing argument in favor of keeping the text as it appears in the book.  Moreover, we instructed our reviewers not to assign an error when the authors refused to give added focus on the Mexican American experience and failed to provide relevance explanations when they introduced histories that in our estimation were distant from the focus of the book.  Nor did we note an error the many times that the authors claimed that they were not obliged to expand or otherwise revise the portions of the text dealing with the Mexican American experience.  Although it was difficult to overlook the many times that the authors responded to our findings of error with hard-headed, condescending and ridiculing responses, we overlooked unprofessional behavior as well.

            We mostly instructed our reviewers to identify factual errors.  We also asked them to report factual errors if they believed that omission of important historical experiences or incomplete or questionable interpretations also involved the exclusion of facts that were critical for a clear and fair understanding of the subject at hand.  I reviewed the entire 931 rows and applied a strict and impartial review standard to give credibility to our assessment and integrity to the review process.

            Aside from the errors noted above, the reviewers discovered other irregularities during the second review, including the following:

1.     The authors did not respond to a substantial number of errors reported to the board by Independent Historian Martha Cotera (Austin, Texas), and University Professors James E. Crisp (North Carolina State University), Jesus Francisco de la Teja (Texas State University), John McKiernan Gonzalez (Texas State Universities), Emilio Zamora (University of Texas at Austin), and Andrés Tijerina (Austin Community College);
2.     The authors also failed to respond to a section in the Cortez document that pointed to errors at the end-of-chapter activity questions and in the captions to images throughout the book;
3.     They disregarded our original finding of an obvious failure to consult current scholarship in Mexican American, Mexican, Latin American and U.S. history, and used less reliable and dated sources like online records, encyclopedia entries and articles from popular venues;
4.     They continued to devote a relatively small portion of the narrative to Mexican Americans (and the corresponding factual evidence) and an inordinate number of pages to world, U.S., and Latin American history that had little if any apparent relation to Mexican Americans;
5.     We had also asked that the authors give more coherence and focus by intermittently providing relevance statements to justify the significant amount of attention that they gave world, U.S., and Latin American history, but they essentially declined our suggestion;
6.     The lack of attention to Mexican American history can be demonstrated in two ways: the authors don’t use the term “Mexican-Americans” until page 146 (Chapter 5); and many organizations, events and historical figures are absent and the Mexican or Mexican American who do appear in the rest of the book do not usually speak;
7.     The authors continued to disregard much of the vast scholarship on Mexican Americans and its corresponding factual evidence that would have given them new information and perspective;
8.     The authors often challenged our findings of errors by stating that they were not obligated to address the historical and contemporary experience of Mexican Americans on the grounds that they were required to prepare a social studies resource and that the Texas State Board of Education never mandated a textbook on Mexican Americans;
9.     The authors also disputed the conventional standard of peer review by claiming that they are not "required" to provide any particular content beyond what is already in the text;
10.  The authors consistently challenged our findings of errors, but would often add revisions that essentially admitted parts of the errors, leading us to speculate whether anyone could trust that they would ever heed the assessments by professional scholars specializing on Mexican American history and related fields;
11.  They often failed to identify the source of the proposed change in both spread sheets;
12.  The first spread sheet often attributed the “suggested” corrections to the publisher without explanations;
13.  The first spread sheet at times attributed the “suggested” corrections to a "Public," but failed to explain who this public is, what concerns they raised and how their suggested correction responds to the public;
14.  In several cases, we had to do extensive cross-checking to determine that their reference to an unidentified “public” that turned out to be the Cortez document of September 6;
15.  The extensive cross-checking challenge also involved instances in the second spread sheet when the publisher and the authors did not offer vital information like their response to our findings of error, and referred us to the second spread sheet for their responses, often without the necessary guidance to locate the corresponding information;
16.  The authors also made it very difficult for us by noting page numbers in the spread sheets that did not correspond to the corresponding pages in the textbook;
17.  The authors occasionally refer to an “early edition” of the textbook when noting that they had already responded to us in the first spread sheet, suggesting that they may have been responding to our findings with the use of a draft of the textbook that was not made available to us;
18.  The publisher submitted a new draft of the textbook in electronic form to the Texas Education Agency in November 2016, too late for us to review for continuing errors;
19.  There was no public notice that the Texas Education Agency or anyone else in an official capacity would allow the publisher to submit an “early edition” so late in the review process and in possible violation of established protocol and procedural understandings among members of the public;
20.  The large number of errors in the text strongly suggests that the authors did not have the necessary skills to prepare the textbook, especially the narrative on the history of Mexican Americans; and
21.  The continuing errors, especially in Mexican American history, strongly suggest that the authors—and whomsoever assisted them in formulating their responses—failed in their second chance to guarantee a high-quality textbook.

            We thank you and the Board for the opportunity to review the proposed textbook.  On previous occasions, we have noted that the textbook had to rise to the level of professional standards that guarantee its readers a scholarly based narrative of the highest quality.  These standards also call for the kind of peer review process that the State Board of Education requires.  Our public school youth deserve no less.  They must be able to understand and explain the complex individual and group experiences of the past to prepare them for our modern and even more complex and intellectually challenging world of today.  We must also provide them with a text that models the kind of behavior that we wish to see in our young adults, including a fair, respectful, and impartial examination and understanding of peoples and communities in our past and present.  In our considered opinion as scholars specializing in multiple fields, we find that the textbook before you does not meet these basic responsibilities and expectations.
            I also wish to thank the senior and junior scholars (listed below) who took the time in their busy schedules to assist in reviewing the responses by the Momentum publisher and authors.  As we stated in our earlier report, we are not just scholars that abide by professional standards in our fields.  We are also parents and educators who thank you for your service and who take seriously our responsibility to provide youth the best instructional material possible.

Emilio Zamora, Professor
Department of History
University of Texas at Austin, and
Lead Reviewer for the “Second Ad Hoc Committee Report on the Proposed
Social Studies Special Topic Textbook: Mexican American Heritage, For Mr. Ruben Cortez”

Dr. Carlos Blanton, History, Texas A&M University, College Station
Dr. Roberto Calderón, History, University of North Texas
Dr. Yolanda Chavez-Leyva, History, University of Texas at El Paso
Dr. Christopher Carmona, Social Studies, Donna High School
Martha Cotera, Independent Scholar, Austin, Texas
Dr. James E. Crisp, History, North Carolina State University
Dr. Jesus Francisco de la Teja, History, Texas State University
Dr. John McKiernan Gonzalez, History, Texas State University
Dr. Maritza de la Trinidad, Mexican American Studies, University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley
Dr. Trinidad Gonzales, Mexican American Studies, South Texas College
Dr. Sonia Hernández, History, Texas A&M University, College Station
Dr. Emile Lester, Political Science and International Affairs, University of Mary Washington 
Dr. José María Herrera, Education, University of Texas at El Paso
Dr. Valerie Martínez, History, University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Laura Muñoz, History, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi
Dr. Raul Ramos, History, University of Houston
Dr. Virginia Marie Raymond, J.D.
Dr. Guadalupe San Miguel, History, University of Houston
Juan Tejeda, Music, Palo Alto College, San Antonio
Dr. Andres Tijerina, History, Austin Community College
Dr. Angela Valenzuela, Higher Education, College of Education, University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Emilio Zamora, History, University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Jesus Jesse Zapata, History, Texas Southern University

Graduate Students Assisting Dr. Emilio Zamora
Lizeth Elizondo, History, University of Texas at Atustin

Alejandra Garza, History, University of Texas at Austin

María E. Hammack, History, University of Texas at Austin
Jaime Puente, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, University of Texas at Austin

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