The Republican-controlled board heard appeal after appeal for Mexican American Studies coursework for high school students as an elective. It even approved the development of standards for a course of that name.
Board members have witnessed protesters outside its Austin chambers holding signs that refer to Mexican American Studies and MAS. It heard that acronym a lot as it considered and eventually rejected two textbooks, one for racist content. Both books used that acronym.
The term “Mexican American” is, after all, a preferred term for many Texans, along with other labels they’re free to choose for themselves. No one outside the group gets to decide what they should call themselves.
Mexican American Studies is also an established field of study recognized by institutions of higher learning. The academy has accepted the work of fellow scholars of MAS and how they’ve chosen to self-identify that scholarship: the books, research projects and classroom work.
Yet despite all of this — at a crucial moment — when the state board of education was set to vote, obviously reluctantly and for the first time, it made a sly, spiteful and separate decision to the Mexican American Studies class.
It renamed it, a people and a field of study.
The board could have taken a bow for the historic vote, especially for listening to research that shows MAS and other ethnic studies courses improve academic outcomes for all students, not just those who belong to the group.
But board members just couldn’t fully allow the win for longtime opponents. It had to mar their victory. It was deliberate, political and probably a result of backroom negotiations.
The course’s name was changed to “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent,” which identifies a group by a clumsy term it doesn’t use and renames a nationally recognized field of study. Public comment on the change will continue to be taken online and in person for several months.
It was a surprise move led by Republican David Bradley, who said the use of “Mexican American” would be divisive. He said he doesn’t “subscribe to hyphenated Americanism” and that he finds “hyphenated Americanism to be divisive.”
Bradley also described the academics and education activists who immediately opposed the name change in this way: “They just can't figure out how to say thank you.”
More than half of the state's 5.4 million school-aged children are Mexican American or of other Latino backgrounds. By 2050, that will grow to almost 70 percent.
“The time for cloaking bigotry … under the guise of 'patriotism' and 'Americanism' is over,” Perez-Diaz says. “My experience is as American as apple pie, because guess what, my ancestors were on this land well before it was conquered and named America.”
Bradley is also wrong about the use of Mexican-American. It’s not divisive. Many other groups use hyphenation to self-identify by embracing both their nationality and ethnicity at the same time. Others don’t get to decide those phrases. Using what they prefer is a sign of respect.
The State Board of Education didn’t extend that respect. It never has. It has responded only to protest, which they will receive. The public will have the summer to comment online and at public meetings and the board will take a final vote on establishing MAS standards in September.
The board’s underhanded move now raises concerns it will chip away at the integrity of the course.
Juan Tejeda, retired from leading Palo Alto College’s Mexican American Studies program, noted some people think he should not get hung up on the name, that what’s important is the course.
He returned the volley: If the name change wasn't important, why did the board propose it in the first place, “and why did it pass with all nine of the Anglo Republican board members voting in favor, along with the one lone-wolf ‘Latina’ Democrat Georgina Perez from El Paso?”
It was obviously important to lessen a long-sought victory, and it will be important to reverse this petty decision.
Elaine Ayala is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. Read more of her stories here. | firstname.lastname@example.org | @ElaineAyala