My name is Ruben Cortez, Jr., and I serve as secretary on the Texas State Board of Education. I proudly represent the Rio Grande Valley, the Coastal Bend and the Crossroads section of Texas.
More importantly, I represent every one of the over five million Texas children in our public schools – I am a proud Texan, I am a proud American, and I am proud of my Mexican American Heritage.
Two years ago, parents, educators, scholars and even students asked the State Board to add Mexican-American Studies to the state list of elective courses. I, with the support of a number of my Board colleagues, placed it on the State Board of Education agenda for discussion and action. We strongly supported this proposal and worked hard toward realizing this important measure.
Unfortunately, after some debate, our attempt to create a standalone course was defeated but through this process we managed to chart a path toward the future development of a Mexican American Studies textbook by persuading the State Board to request from publishers, instructional materials for ethnic studies courses.
The idea behind this was that the State Board approve state-adopted materials and that school districts maintain the power to decide and develop elective courses at their discretion.
As it turns out, remarkably, we were notified that just one publisher submitted a textbook for consideration this year entitled Mexican American Heritage from a company called Momentum Instruction. I quickly asked a group of scholars to work together to review the textbook and advise me about its quality and appropriateness for Texas classrooms. Some of you may already be aware of the more offensive stereotypes and false statements contained in the textbook.
Let me express some thoughts and analysis provoked by this unfortunate process. It is an utter shame that we as policy makers, educational professionals, and communities across this great State must now deal with this racially offensive and poor attempt at academic work – clearly intended to be a political Trojan Horse into our schools. This textbook is a complete disaster and should not even be considered a “textbook” but rather as a political manifesto aimed at distorting the perceptions of our most valuable resource – our children.
We are aware of some of the problems with the textbook recently reported in the media. The authors, who lack any expertise or knowledge in Mexican-American studies and apparently based on some unknown agenda, have packed the book with flagrant and offensive racial stereotypes.
The book goes so far as to describe Mexicans as lazy, alleges that the Mexican culture doesn’t value hard work and that Mexican immigrants only bring crime and drugs into this country. These are some of the most insulting stereotypes and myths you can imagine – and it’s completely unconscionable in 2016 when our State and Country have progressed so far and been witness to the many valuable contributions by Mexican Americans in our communities, our state, and our nation – a culture and community that is still American, regardless of our heritage.
The independent panel of experts and scholars that I asked to review this textbook documented hundreds – literally hundreds – of factual errors on page after page of this textbook.
It is unconscionable to imagine how Cynthia Dunbar and her supporting authors and staff thought that this book would be appropriate for use in any or our Texas public schools.
This textbook comes from the same woman who once described public education as a tool of perversion, tyrannical and unconstitutional. Now, suddenly she thinks she knows how to educate Latino students in this State. Clearly she has no intention of doing the right thing. Clearly the best interests of Texas children were not in mind when she created this textbook. This racially offensive textbook is a glimpse into her distorted reality of what the Hispanic culture represents to her. Her actions are morally reprehensible and we cannot allow it to enter into our public school systems.
Clearly her intention is to join the negative movement arising in the national conversation. She seems to find pleasure and purpose in demeaning anything or anyone who does not look like what they consider “American.” Frankly, this sounds like something remarkably aligned with what we hear from the Trump campaign these days.
As a father of four children in the Brownsville School District and husband to a lifelong educator, my family and I are proud of our Mexican Heritage – we are proud Americans. My family and I have dedicated our lives to the betterment of our communities – of our State and of our Nation. This book does not offer any sense of hope or pride to my children or to any child. This book offers just one thing – hate – hate towards Mexican Americans.
Let me be clear, my job in my elected capacity and my duty to this state, is to serve every single student regardless of heritage or last name – and one day I hope to see our children serve their fellow Americans without the stigma that this textbook places on our heritage. The State Board of Education simply cannot adopt any textbook that lies to our children and insults their heritage as Mexican Americans.
My final analysis of this textbook is that it is littered with too many factual errors, created by individuals with no subject matter expertise, dripping with racism and intolerance and created with motives nowhere close to academically serving Texas students. This book can’t be salvaged, and it should not be salvaged.
So, I am calling on my colleagues on the State Board to reject the adoption of this textbook. Moreover, the Board should immediately reopen the adoption process and ask publishers to submit textbooks for ethnic studies courses next year.
I do want to take a brief moment to address another unfortunate situation this event brings before us – the politicization of the adoption of this textbook by one of my State Board of Education colleagues. I was hoping that with a sensitive and blatantly disingenuous textbook we could all agreed that this book is unjust and academically incorrect; unfortunately, as he has done in the past, this Board Member has taken this issue to a level that serves no one – not a huge surprise as this is consistent with his record of ill-conceived votes and lack of academic understanding.
As you may have heard, one of these board members described the national condemnation of this book as fueled by “radical Hispanic activists” who just want “special treatment.”
No, sir, we are not “radical Hispanic activists.” We are professionals, families, community members, educators and parents who deserve and demand respect for our heritage. We deserve and demand decency and respect from our neighbors and elected officials regardless of where they are elected.
That board member owes Mexican-American families all across this state an apology for saying such insulting things. Frankly, it sounded less like the civilized and focused Board that we have been, and he sounds more like a playground bully.
There is nothing “radical” about wanting your children to learn how people just like them have contributed to this country’s rich history and culture. Mexican American and other Latino students now make up a little over 2,700,000 students enrolled in Texas public schools. It’s not special treatment to ask that they have the opportunity to learn about Mexican American history – our History – a history that has assisted and makes up part of the entire American History – a history that is integral to how this great state was settled and developed.
This academic topic has long received little attention in our public schools. In addition, research has shown that these classes can help improve academic performance not just for Mexican-American students, but for all students who take them.
Editor’s Note: The above commentary was based on a statement made at a news conference held at Dr. Americo Paredes Elementary School in Brownsville on September 6, 2016. The news conference was called by Ruben Cortez to unveil the findings of a panel of scholars and experts who looked into the factual accuracy of the Mexican American Heritage textbook. Cortez is pictured in the main image accompanying this commentary.