AUSTIN, Texas – If you’ve seen the recently released “Cesar Chavez” in the movies, you heard the iconic phrase, “We’ve seen the future and the future is ours.” Cesar Chavez might as well have been talking about today’s Texas Latinos.
As Gary Scharrer, a former reporter for the El Paso Times and San Antonio Express-News, wrote in a recent opinion post: “The state lost 184,486 ‘white’ children between 2000 and 2010 – while gaining 931,012 Hispanic children over that decade, according to the U.S. Census. Stated another way, in 2000, Texas Anglo kids outnumbered Hispanic children by 120,382; Flash forward to 2010 and Hispanic children outnumbered white kids by 995,116.”
How do we reach those children and teach those children?
One way, aside from making sure we invest as strongly in students as we do in our road and water infrastructure, is through making sure that the students see themselves in our present and in our future.
Cesar Chavez is an icon for his leadership in asserting our dignity and identity in his fight for labor rights, and the just-released, eponymous movie about his life further cements his place in Chicano and American history. But how many Texans know about the Chicano movement, historic Tejano leaders like Juan Seguin, Hector P. Garcia, and Gustavo (Gus) Garcia, who argued the seminal Supreme Court case providing 14th Amendment protections to Mexican Americans in the U.S., or even Latino authors like Sandra Cisneros or that the richest person in the world is Mexican businessman Carlos Slim? Our guess is not enough.
Less well-known, at least in Texas, is Ruben Salazar, a ground-breaking Chicano journalist who was killed by a tear gas projectile fired by a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy while covering an anti-Vietnam march.
Salazar, a native of Chihuahua who grew up in El Paso, where he worked his first newspaper job, was one of the first Latinos to join the reporting staff when he came to the Los Angeles Times in 1959. At the time of his death he was the only Latino to have a regular column in a major American newspaper. He was also working as the news director for KMEX, which began as a small Spanish-only television station in Los Angeles and now is considered one of the leading Southern California news outlets.
A PBS documentary about his life, “Man in the Middle,” premieres April 29 on PBS, with a special screening in El Paso April 9.
What Salazar did in his realm was much the same as what Chavez did in his — both represented the emergence of a generation that fought for full participation in American life. In so doing, they embraced their identity as Chicanos, taking pride in who they were and building their achievements on that foundation.
This is a key concept and one of the important lessons we can draw from their lives.
Young men and women are more likely to pursue opportunity when they see themselves not only in their leaders, but also in society as a whole.
For students in Texas, the lessons of the Tejano leaders and the Chicano movement has been lacking for many years. Quoting from a 2011 report from the National Education Association: “As students of color proceed through the school system, research finds that the overwhelming dominance of Euro-American perspectives leads many such students to disengage from academic learning. … There is considerable research evidence that well-designed and well-taught ethnic studies curricula have positive academic and social outcomes for students.”
Next week, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will debate statewide standards for Mexican-American Studies curriculum. This would create a model that school districts can use in their lesson plans to can help inspire the next generation of Texans – a step that some districts are taking on their own, such as the El Paso and Ysleta school districts. Again, multiple studies in education indicate how much of a difference it makes when children see themselves in the lessons they’re learning.
To be clear, this is not a substitute for culturally relevant curriculum for core courses such as social studies, but for schools across Texas that wisely choose to offer an enrichment course on Mexican American studies, the SBOE should develop standards developed by respected experts.
We’ve made huge strides in the years since Chavez and Salazar and other leaders forged a new path forward. It’s time to take another step toward preparing our children to become leaders in the New Texas.
Jose Rodriguez is Texas state Senator for District 29 in El Paso and chairman of the Senate Hispanic Caucus. Sylvia R. García is Texas State Senator for District 6 in Houston and vice-chair of the Senate Hispanic Caucus.