LATINO EDUCATION, LATINO MOVEMENT Alicia P. Rodriguez School of Education
University of California at Berkeley
Latino populations are finally being included in the popular imaginary of what a U.S. American looks like, thanks largely to Latino writers, scholars, artists, and cultural critics who are examining the lives and experiences of Latinos in the context of a nation that has always had Latino residents and that is witnessing a marked increase in their numbers as we approach the next millennium. This is occurring in a period of extreme xenophobia, where the growing brown hordes are being blamed for many of the social problems plaguing the United States (for example, gangs, economic recession, poverty, violent crime, teenage pregnancy, and welfare abuse) and are paradoxically being told to become American or go back where you came from. Although the scope of the Latino emergence seems pervasive to some and narrow and inaccurate to others, the crisis of Latino representation is growing and threatening to further disempower Latinos economically and socially. For many Latinos, including myself, who have deplored the negative representations of Latinos and their role in the formation of mainstream culture, the apparent explosion of scholarly and artistic works created by Latinos is a welcomed and hopeful sign of legitimacy and acceptance.
Four books written by Latinos on the educational experie.nces of Latinos have been some of the latest contributions. The Other Struggle for Equal Schools: Mexican Americans during the Civil Rights Era; Transformations: Migration, Family Life, and Achievement Motivation Among Latino Adolescents; Over the Ivy Walls: The Educational Mobility of Low-Income Chicanos; and Where Something Catches: Work, Love, and Identity in Youth have expanded the public perception of Latinos as a problem (a minority in turmoil) to a complex group of people with agency who have struggled and continue to struggle for and with education despite the numerous obstacles set before them.2 The first three books concern Mexican Americans and Mexicans and the latter deals with Puerto Rican youth living in Puerto Rico. While it is well-known that Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans have
1. While I use Latino throughout this essay to refer to those people residing in the United States who come from or have ancestry in Latin America, the label implies more similarity between the specific Latino groups - Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Central American, and South American - than actually exists.
2. Ruben Donato, The Other Struggle for Equal Schools: Mexican Americans during the Civil Rights Era [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997); Carola Suarez-Orozco and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, Transformations: Migration, Family Life, and Achievement Motivation Among Latino Adolescents (Stanford Stanford University Press, 1995); Patricia Gandara, Over the Ivy Walls: The Educational Mobdzty of L O W - ~ R C O ~ ~ Chicanos (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995); and Victoria I. Munoz, Where Something Catches: Work, Love, and Identityin Youth [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995).
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very different experiences and histories in the context of the United States, which should caution us from referring to these two distinct groups as being equivalent, they do share experiences in contrast to other Latino groups. Both Puerto Rico and Mexico were (and are) colonized by the United States, and because they are close geographically they have highly mobile immigrant populations that maintain strong connections to their homeland through continual migrations back and forth. Due to political impediments and geographic distance, other Latino populations such as Guatemalans, Cubans, and Colombians have been less connected to their home- lands. Furthermore, Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans have the lowest educa- tional attainment and the highest levels of poverty of all Latinos.
The four books reviewed in this essay are all about transformations and departures from ethnic stereotypes. The authors provide us with lenses through which we can view the aspirations, struggles, dreams, and lives of Latinos in depth. In many ways, the books are about making Latinos human and visible, putting them on the cultural map of the United States, and making it clear that Latinos are a significant part of and participants in American culture and society. As Juan Flores and George Yudice put it, Latinos. ..do not aspire to enter an already-given America but to participate in the construction of a new hegemony dependent upon their cultural practices and discour~e.~ Given that the focuses of these four books are very different, from the history of Chicano political activism around school reform to the relation between work and identity among Puerto Rican youth, I will treat these books separately and discuss how they contribute to the ongoing inquiry into the participation of Latino youth in the educational system and the factors that contribute to their marginalization, achievement, and failure. A discussion of contemporary educational reforms that are adversely impacting the futures of Latino youth, such as Proposition 209 and 227 in California, will be brought into the discussion.
CULTURAL TRAITS, CULTURAL LIMITATIONS: STRUGGLING FOR EQUITY Much educational policy in the United States has been premised on the belief
that dfferent ethnic groups possess certain cultural traits and propensities that delimit their intellectual abilities and what their educational path should be. For example, the establishment of the first federally supported American Indian board- ing school in 1879, the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, was based on the belief that American Indians needed to be tamed and anglicized and taught the American values of economic ownership, individualism, patriotism, and hard work. Manual labor was considered the kind of work best suited for American Indians. The schools, deliberately located far away from the reservations of the children, stripped the young students of everythinghhan, including their language. Exclusive use and
3 . Juan Flores and George Yudice, Living Borders/Buscando America: Languages of Latino Self-formation, Social Text: ~eoxylCulturelIdeology 24 (19901: 73.
ALICIA P. RODRIGUEZ is Postdoctorate Fellow in the School of Education, University of California at Berkeley, 4501 Tolman Hall, Berkeley, CR 94720. Her primary areas of scholarship are sociology of education, multicultural education, social theory, and educational reform.
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teaching of the English language was an integral component of the civilizing mission of these schools. It was thought that the learning of English would lead to the absorption and practice of white values by Indian~.~ Echoing the interests of the federal government, Richard Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian School, wanted to immerse Indians in our civilization and when we get them under [hold] them there until they are thoroughly soaked.5
Similarly but perhaps less brutally, U.S. public schools have stripped Mexican immigrant youth of their ethnicity, pushed them to become American, and relegated most of them to vocational education. As Ruben Donato documents well in the first chapter of The Other Struggle for Equal Schools, Mexican American children before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision were educated in schools and classrooms separate from whites and given predominantly vocational education classes (such as classes on cooking, hygiene, and mechanics), art instruc- tion, Americanization classes, and English language instruction.6 Educational lead- ers believed that segregated schooling would benefit Mexican children by boosting their self -esteem and psychological well-being because they would not feel pressure to compete with white students and would also be protected from their taunts. The rationale for vocational and art education for Mexican Americans was based on the belief that Mexicans did not have the mental capacity for higher order thinking and that Mexicans were naturally artistic people, as exemplified in their colorful artwork and textiles and musical styles. Whites viewed the exponentially increasing dropout rate of Mexican American students and their eventual entry into the low-skilled, low wage job force as being the fault of the Mexicans, not the schools. Basing the intellectual inferiority of Mexicans on I.Q. test results, most psychometricians failed to raise questions of power, low wages, ethnic discrimination, and power differentials between Mexican and white communities.8
Donatos study raises questions about power to explain the patterns of educa- tional inequality for Mexican descendants in the United States. The book concen- trates on a small school &strict in Northern California, which he calls Brownfield, which challenged the power of the status quo and demanded that the school district attend to the educational needs and desires of its rapidly growing Mexican American population. Between 1964 and 1979, the Mexican American parents and community members who organized to push for educational reform recognized that they and their children were being marginalized, undereducated, and pushed out of school. School officials recognized this as aproblem but blamed the students: They claimed
4. Joel Spring, The Arnerjcan School 1642-1993 (New York McGraw Hill, 1994), 145 5. Ibid., 144. 6. For an example of how schools reproduced social class and racial inequalities and how school districts linked Americanization and homemaking for Mexican American girls, see, Pearl Idelia Ellis, Americaniza- tion Through Homemaking (Los Angeles: Wetzel Publishing, 1929). 7. Donato, The Other Struggle for Equal Schools, 14-15 8. Ibid., 26. 9. At the time in California, 50% of MexicanAmerican students droppedout of school hy tenth and eleventh grades and 40% of the students in mentally handicapped classes were Mexican American although they were only 14% of the student population. Ibid., 61.
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that it was the students' poor home environment, nutritional deficiency, low aspirations, and unpredictable residency that contributed to their school failure. The stereotype was that Mexican American parents were not interested in educating their children."lo Mexican American parents and activists, on the other hand, blamed negative teacher attitudes toward their children for the high dropout rates.
We are used to thinking of African Americans as being the only ethnic group that has actively protested against educational discrimination and inequity in the United States. But although the Brownfield case may seem unusual given the relative invisibility of Latinos, Latinos were demanding educational equity long before Brown." Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr. chronicles a case in 1928 in Atascosa County, Texas where Felipe Vela filed a complaint with the Charlotte Independent School District.12Vela wished to enroll his adopted child, who he claimed was not Mexican, into the white school rather than the Mexican school where she was assigned. The superintendent agreed with Vela on the basis that his daughter was intelligent and spoke English (and Spanish) well, yet he believed separate schools were still necessary. A couple of years later, LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens), a critical political and legal force for Latinos at the time, challenged segregation for the first time through the courts in Independent School District v. Salvatierra. In this case in Texas, "Mexican American parents alleged that their children were being denied the equal protection of law under the Constitution because a separate school was maintained for them by the Del Rio Independent School District. "I3 The parents were fundamentally opposed to separating Mexican American and white children. The court argued that segregation for educational reasons - in this case, it was believed that a separate school for Mexicans who had poor English language skills was justifiable and optimal - was not unconstitutional. LULAC lost their first case. However, LULAC was more successful in 1945 in Mkndez v. Westminster School District, when the Civil Court of Appeals of Orange County, California ruled that Mexican American segregation violated state law and the U.S. con~titution.'~Both San Miguel's andDonato's works do much to correct the historical record. Donato's book expands the black-white discourse of school desegregation to demonstrate that all Mexican Americans are not passive consumers of education and have fought (and continue to fight) for educational rights.
In 1976, following the mandate to institute bilingual education programs throughout California and in response to the 1974 Lau v. Nichols decision, the Assistant Superintendent of Brownfield, despite strong opposition from white
10. Ibid., 62. 11. See Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., "The Struggle against Separate and Unequal Schools: Middle Class Mexican Americans and the Desegregation Campaign in Texas, 1929-1957," History o f Education Quarterly 23 [ 1983): 343-59. 12. Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., "Roused from our Slumbers," in Latinos and Education: A Critical Reader, ed. Antonia Darder, Rodolfo D. Torres, and Henry Gutikrrez (New York: Routledge, 1997), 135-57. 13. Ibid., 146.
14. Kenneth J. Meier and JosephStewart, Jr., The Politics ofHispanic Education: U n Pasopalante y dpatras [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), 67.
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parents, implemented a Bilingual Education Master Plan that included incentives for teachers to learn Spanish and obtain certification in bilingual education and pro- posed the creation of one pilot bilingual-bicultural scho01.~ Efforts in the 1980s to further educational equity and desegregation were minimal, resulting in the deseg- regation of two elementary schools in the predominantly white and middle-class Atherton community in the south of the district. Finally, in the 1990s the battle between residents of Atherton and the predominantly Mexican and poor Brownfield community culminated in Atherton deconsolidating from the Brownfield school district and forming their own district. As elsewhere, segregated schooling for Mexican Americans living in Brownfield became the norm. The battle for equal educational opportunity in Brownfield has been re-played in other communities around the United States.
With the recent passage of Proposition 227 (the Unz-Matta initiative) in Califor- nia, California voters have decided that schools should return to the way things were before 1976.16 But now, rather than segregating M...