|Mexican American Studies advocates outside of the William B. Travis Building, Austin, Texas, April 11, 2018|
Today was an interesting day. Many of us gathered at the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) and testified, calling for a course on Mexican American Studies. I am happy to share my testimony to the SBOE below.
The short of it is that we won—together with other under-represented groups that fall under the "Ethnic Studies" umbrella, namely, African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Native American Studies, and Latino Studies. This opening of the curriculum to the historically under-served members of our communities who are not reflected in our state curriculum was the absolute best part of today.
In all honesty, however, when it came to "Mexican American Studies"—which is what all of us present were unanimously calling for—it's hard to shirk the sense of a loss of dignity with the SBOE's decision to paternalistically name us in their own image.
In an amendment that followed the testimony of more than 50 students, teachers and advocates from throughout the state of Texas, the SBOE chose to name the course, "Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent."
You can't make this stuff up. This terminology is a throwback to the 1950s.
I have a faint, yet crystal-clear memory in the early 1960s when my Mother told me that I was an "American of Mexican descent." Then the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement occurred when as a middle schooler, I became a Chicana, brown and proud! And my mother never used this terminology again. Thanks to the Movement, this expression evaporated into the atmosphere.
To grasp the gravity of this naming, it would be akin to naming African American Studies, "Negro Studies." And we know just how much anger and outrage this would incite.
The testimonios, everybody's testimonios, with their sense of urgency, were impactful. What is so ironic is that so much of what was said today was about values, rights, and responsibilities. All were so off-the charts, eloquent and brilliant, adults included! :-)
The children and youth present who spoke—and all spoke—were powerful! This exemplifies the very voice that all of our children need to have.
And my husband and partner, Emilio Zamora, spoke correctly and eloquently about Reverend Martin Luther King's dream of the beloved community that we, ourselves, through our work in the classroom and in the community, attempt to live. We have so much, as Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Chicanas, Xicanxs in all our complexity, smarts, and beauty to offer this country. Why do they revile us so? I get it. And then I don't get it.
Some among us commented afterwards today that, "Gee, we should have gone for "Chicana [Studies] " or "Chicano [Studies]." After all, most of us are members of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Foco. "Mexican American" sounded a tad conservative, but sensible in this context. Sour grapes, I guess.
The truth of the matter is that "Mexican American Studies" is a totality. Here, I am borrowing from my colleague, Dr. Anthony Brown at the University of Texas at Austin who spoke recently on how African American Studies is a totality. He is right. Asian American Studies, Native American Studies, and Women and Gender Studies, too.
Mexican American Studies is a substantive, frequently cutting-edge field of study that is at least 40 years old with its own associations, journals, theoretical frameworks, epistemologies, departments, centers, initiatives, local and state networks, and so on.
To my ears, the name the board gave us doesn't sound so stilted or anachronistic in Spanish, "Soy de descendencia Mexicana." In English, however, it sounds plain backwards—with echoes of the oppressive 1950s and early 1960s. It reminds me of my elementary years of schooling when I felt ashamed to be "Mexican" or "Mexican American" because "Mexican" was a dirty word.
Sadly, a high school student from San Antonio today advocated for a standards-aligned course on Mexican American Studies, saying that it's time for the word, "Mexican," to no longer be a negative, dirty word, on the one hand, and expressed, on the other, how her MAS course was the antidote to that. It is tragic to think of how far we have yet to go when one hears testimonies like these from our youth.
To a person, what should have been an amazing, happy day after the decision "for Ethnic Studies in the state of Texas" was rendered, became a procession of bodies exiting the chamber in a somber manner.
Not only did their naming us robs us of any true sense of accomplishment, it also spoke volumes about what the SBOE thinks of Texas' Mexican American community, including the children and college students assembled there.
Such is the stuff of majority-minority relations.
We'll get over it. After all, no good deed goes unpunished.
This is not a closed chapter. We'll remain involved and continue to advocate for a name of our choosing, for "Mexican American Studies." In time, we will celebrate the true victory that the culmination of our many years of service, scholarship, research, and advocacy that today gloriously represents. Sí se puede! Yes we can!