BROWNSVILLE, RGV – South Texas Congressmen Joaquin Castro and Filemon Vela have joined the debate over a controversial new textbook for Texas public schools, titled Mexican-American Heritage.

Castro and Vela say they support the stance of State Board of Education members Marisa Perez-Diaz and Ruben Cortez. Perez-Diaz and Cortez have been leading the fight to block the textbook from being approved for use in Texas high schools. They deem the textbook to be deceitful and hateful towards Mexican-Americans as well as academically insulting.

Trinidad Gonzales
Trinidad Gonzales

“The textbooks our kids read have a profound impact on their understanding of the world – their accuracy is of paramount importance. Texas has a special responsibility to ensure the books in our schools are factually correct. Given our state’s large size, textbook companies often print material Texas approves for students across the nation,” Castro and Vela said, in a joint statement.

“Despite the fact that Hispanics account for almost 40 percent of Texas’ population, they are nearly invisible in the current teaching of Texas and U.S. history in our state’s schools. To think that our State Board of Education might now accept a book that reinforces untrue, negative stereotypes of Hispanics – specifically Mexican Americans – is appalling. We stand with State Board of Education Members Marisa Perez and Ruben Cortez, and call on the entire State Board of Education to follow their lead, do what’s right, and block this textbook from ever appearing in a classroom.”

Castro, from San Antonio, represents the 20th Congressional District of Texas. Vela, from Brownsville, represents the 34th Congressional District of Texas. Perez’s district stretches from San Antonio all the way south to Starr County and western Hidalgo County. Cortez’s district is anchored in the Rio Grande Valley and includes Cameron County and the eastern half of Hidalgo County.

The State Board of Education held a public hearing on Mexican-American Heritage in Austin on Tuesday. Hundreds of Texans protested the book outside the SBOE’s building. Inside, dozens of academics challenged the veracity of the textbook.

Previously, SBOE board member Cortez asked a group of scholars to dissect the textbook. They found it to be “riddled with factual errors.” One of the scholars, Trinidad Gonzales, a history professor at South Texas College, told the Rio Grande Guardian:

“The proposed textbook represents a regression through the inclusion of racist materials that was rejected by the time of the 1970s and 1980s. The previous politics concerning minority contributions within social studies was simply to keep it silent. In other words, to not include it. Now we have gone to the politics of outright accepting racist material, which is regression.”

Asked if he was shocked by this turn of events, Gonzales said: “It is shocking because the current politics was simply in the closet. Apparently, you do not have to be in the closet any more in order to be a racist. You can now include it in textbooks. That is a departure.”

Cortez agreed with this analysis. “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,” Cortez said.

To coincide with the public hearing, SBOE member Perez penned an open letter to her colleagues. Here it is in full:

September 13, 2016

Good morning colleagues, friends.

This week as we begin discussion on Proclamation 2017, which includes the text “Mexican American Heritage,” we will hear testimony from dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals on the topic. Based on current conversations taking place in the public sphere, this is expected to trigger passionate pleas for quality in our instructional materials from individuals who are studied in and have dedicated their lives to Mexican American Studies, in addition to the number of individuals who simply want what is best for all of our students. We may also hear some hateful and unfounded commentary, as has been shared in social media and news outlets. Independent of this, I ask you to please consider what is right for our children across the state.

Over the last four years, I have had the honor of serving on the Texas State Board of Education, alongside each of you. We have had our debates and many times have not agreed on particular issues. However, we have managed to work together and come to decisions that, in most cases, have served to benefit the 5.3 million Texas children in our schools. As only 15 individuals in the entire state who have been elected to represent every single child in the Texas public education system, we have an enormous and utterly important charge: to ensure that our decisions serve the best interest of EVERY CHILD, regardless of color or creed; to set a high standard for EVERY child in order to foster their intellectual growth and development; and to recognize the implications that our decisions will have on the future of our state, country and world.

I am the daughter and granddaughter of migrant workers. My story is the Mexican American story, but rest assured – I am every bit as American as you. I am your equal. I have worked as hard for my place at this table as any of you, and have worked as hard as my ancestors had to in order to contribute to the success of the US. As such, I deserve to have my story told with respect, dignity and in a just manner. I ask you all as professional colleagues, but more so as fellow public servants and friends, that as we move into our public testimony tomorrow, you arrive with open ears, open eyes and an open heart. I also implore you to acknowledge that the call for instructional materials on not just Mexican American Studies, but also African American, Native American and Women’s Studies, was not done as an attack on “The American Way,” but as a request for deserved acknowledgement of the strife and contribution that different populations of AMERICANS have experienced which have, in fact, enriched “The American Way.”

I ask that when you consider your decision on this issue, you remember that WE are responsible for ALL children, WE are responsible for education with integrity and WE must do what is right. This book is NOT right. This book is disgraceful, misrepresentative and negligent.
Let us show the public that we are on the side of true and responsible instruction.  Let us send the message, as a cohesive and positive force for public education, that we hear the voices of the thousands of Texans we represent and we will not stand for such academically insulting rhetoric and materials.

Thank you.

Marisa B. Perez-Diaz, Member
Texas Board of Education