On Friday, Save Ethnic Studies

On Friday, Save Ethnic Studies

When I say I’m Chicano, sometimes I have to explain.  Or people respond, “I didn’t know you were from California.”

I’m from 26th Street.

But I identify with the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.  Yup. There was one.  The United Farm Workers organized to improve working conditions in the fields.  Students walked out of a Los Angeles high school to protest culturally irrelevant teaching.  Around this time, my father worked on Texas farms; my mother arrived in DePue, Illinois.  The teacher sat her in the back of the classroom.  She didn’t know English.

Some things changed about a decade later.  In 1972, the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) was established by Southwest college students and grew into an organization “that directly confronts structures of inequality based on class, race, and gender privileges in U.S. society.”

Chicano remains a term of social, political, and cultural empowerment among Mexican Americans.  Still, not all Mexican Americans accept or use it.  Like politics and religion, this is a person decision.

During the next few days, however, you may see or hear the word more.  This week, NACCS holds its 40th anniversary conference at the Palmer House.  Four decades after its inception, the group still fights for scholarship and activism.  This couldn’t happen at a more necessary time.

NACCS started the National Campaign to Save Ethnic Studies as a response to the Arizona Governor’s signing of law HB 2281, which called for the eradication of the state’s ethnic-studies programs.  It resulted only in the banning of the high-school Mexican American Studies program and its textbook by the Tucson Unified School District.

This Friday, NACCS holds a Save Ethnic Studies fundraiser as a precursor to its Noche de Cultura.

At many CPS high schools, we continue our own fight.  While ethnic-studies programs fight for validation in Arizona high schools, British Literature remains the traditional 11th grade class in many Chicago high schools.

A few years ago at a CPS selective-enrollment high school, I was part of the movement to offer Latin American Literature as a core English option to juniors and seniors.  The first year, the class was an elective; almost 30 students chose the class.  The following years, it became a junior or senior English option.  Enough students enrolled for me to teach two sections each year.  All the students, not all of them Latino, chose Latin American Lit. over British or World Lit.  I aligned the class with College Readiness Standards, State Standards, and, yes, we wrote research papers.

This year, I’m part of the movement to offer Latin American Literature as a core English option at a neighborhood high school on the Southwest Side.

Critics say these courses are un-American, unnecessary, unrelated to our culture or college prep.  What I really think these skeptics mean is that these courses are unsettling: they will unsettle what European settlers established hundreds of years ago.

Students need to know valuable literature exists beyond conservative tradition.  And to fully succeed in life, students need to think, read, write, and evaluate ideologically or linguistically challenging texts and form their own ideas.  If they do this, then our education system will work.  Perhaps this is what’s most unsettling.

The risk of indoctrination exists with ethnic studies.  All teachers run this risk, however, even when we teach Shakespeare.  This is where we, as non-traditional teachers, need to accept responsibility and make sure we present multiple ideas–not force one on our students.

The NACCS conference begins Wednesday and the Save Ethnic Studies fundraiser is Friday.  For more information or to make a donation of $15 or more, visit www.naccs.org

To learn about the national campaign to save ethnic studies, visit http://www.saveethnicstudies.org

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  • I've always known my grandparents to be of the "Chicano" generation. They were parents of my parents in the 1960s. I would never think to personally identify as a Chicano myself. So, I find it interesting that you do.
    On another note, teaching a Latin American Lit class is one of my DREAMS! Kudos to you for pushing for that option and succeeding. Out of curiosity, what authors and/or books do you have students read in that class?

  • Thanks for responding, Noelia. I see my identity and my work closely tied to the educational goals of the Chicano movement: higher quality, more meaningful instruction; increased opportunities for post-secondary access and success; and recognition of non-traditional experiences in the classroom.

    Here's the challenge I faced with Latin American Lit: I could not just address Latin American experiences without connecting them to their impact on the U.S. So these are some of the texts that helped me do that:
    How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
    The Devil's Highway
    When I Was Puerto Rican

    We also spent some time reading myths from ancient civilizations. This led to some nice creative writing pieces.

    The 2nd and 3rd novels above lend themselves to thoughtful exploration of non-fiction, too. (Devil's Highway is non-fiction).

    Let me know if there are other texts you think would be useful.

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