Groups like Librotraficante and MAS Texas both have common goals: to bring Mexican-American culture to the greater part of the southwest United States. Many argue that Hispanic traditions make up the greater parts of these areas in ancestry, food, architecture, clothing, and language. For someone in opposition or perhaps not Hispanic, this can raise the question “Why is it important to bring ethnic studies to public schools?”
For an honest and simple question, a complicated answer is required. In the next couple articles, I’ll address this question from several perspectives. Today, I’d like to focus on the social aspect of why MAS needs to be implemented in schools (particularly in the southern US).
To better understand the socio-political context of the situation, I asked show host and co-founder Chris Cantu about his experience as a Hispanic American growing up in Mission, Texas.
“Looking back on the history classes I took in high school is a strange thing for me,” Cantu says. “I was sitting in classrooms literally five or ten miles from Mexico learning about what happened around two thousand miles to the north east. History and social studies were presented to me as a singular narrative that starts in New England and ends with Manifest Destiny.”
“Mexican American studies matters because it shows that there is much more to the American story that doesn’t begin with colonists in New England. My ancestors, and many others’, became Americans not after a war with the British, but a war with Mexico, and they had been there centuries before that.”
“Mexican American studies is important to me because over ten percent (and counting) of Americans have roots in Mexico. That works out to be around the population of Canada or Iraq, and in spite of that, there have only very recently been rumblings in the political world about Hispanic voters. I don’t recall hearing much about Mexicans in my history classes outside of them being the bad guys at the Alamo and some discussion about immigration, even though most of the cities, streets, and schools had Spanish names. Mexican-American Studies is about filling in that discrepancy.”
I agree with Chris. The reason why MAS groups exist is to educate the U.S. populace on a preexisting culture that is becoming increasingly integrated into Americana without much explanation of Hispanic roots, origins, and roles in American history.
I spoke to another host, Gyles Sonier, to find out how MAS programs actually help students. Sonier, like Cantu, is not a first generation Mexican-American, but sees the parallel between ethnic studies and empowerment of the culture group.
“If any student, regardless of ethnicity, sees someone achieving great things, it does two things,” says Sonier. “First, if someone outside the ethnic group is taking MAS, they still gain knowledge on the culture or the distinct historical, social, and political conditions surrounding the group. If a student is part of the group and sees someone like them who had success, it empowers that person to achieve their goals.”
Socially, MAS seek to preserve and expand Hispanic culture, to provide inspiration and example for those whose ancestors get little mention in public school textbooks. Particularly in states like Texas, Arizona, and Missouri, censorship and framing exists in textbooks. Often, major world events like the Civil Rights Movement or Mexican Revolution aren’t completely omitted, but receive less detail and attention than American events. A sentence or two isn’t enough to describe the strife undergone by various groups. Ethnic representation in the curriculum should be required, so that students have a wider cultural understanding and a more complete picture of history.