La Cura Cultura: Ethnic Studies as a force for change within the Mexican-American communityby Golda Velez on Aug. 10, 2011, under Community, Ethnic Studies, Politics & Government
“Mexican-Americans are going to prison at a higher rate than to higher education.”
No, that’s not Sheriff Arapio or Russell Pearce talking. That’s Cholla High teacher Lorenzo Lopez, facing hard facts head-on in an explanation of why the Mexican American Studies program at TUSD is important to Tucson’s kids.
“It is the responsibility of all of us to find the most effective educational models available.” Lopez and his fellow teachers, as well as many former students and parents, believe strongly that the Mexican American Studies program is providing something that many students are missing. Connection, caring, a sense of one’s place in history, a sense of responsibility to the community – Lopez describes it as a ‘cultural cure’ for apathy and frustration. Does it work? According to numbers gathered through the program, 70% of its alumni have enrolled in post-secondary education vs the national average of 24% for Mexican American college enrollment.
Becky Harvey, whose daughter went through the Mexican American Studies program at Tucson High School, spoke passionately about its importance for their family. “Ms Federico was her saving grace in high school. She was feeling physically and emotionally damaged (due to a major health issue). Ms Federico had her do her family tree, do interviews. All of a sudden, she could see herself in history. She came to believe education was her obligation. She would say, ‘They made me feel its my obligation to help my community’”
Obligation and responsibility. Isn’t that something we want our teenagers to grasp?
Maria Federico Brummer, TUSD teacher since 1998, describes her committment to the program: “I taught at Hohokam middle school, which had a 40% turnover rate, for seven years. I was committed to staying with those kids, and only this program could pull me away.” Brummer was a history major at the UofA with a minor in sociology; she explains the history of the Mexican American Studies program as part of the civil rights movement, something that parents and teachers were fighting for back in the 1960′s. The program finally got impetus as part of the Fisher-Mendoza desegregation lawsuit in 1978, and after a strong grassroots effort by parents, students, community members and teachers the program was finally established in 1998.
What about the accusations of un-American and racist language? Perhaps most telling were the reactions of Lopez and Brummer to a heckler who showed up at the Save Ethnic Studies meeting on July 22. The heckler interrupted repeatedly, at times at length: “I’m Italian and I don’t need Italian studies.” “God doesn’t tell you about that? (whether you are white or another race)” “Are you teaching students to reject capitalism? What are you doing to promote capitalism?”
I was impressed by the patient and respectful tone both Brummer and Lopez used in response to these interjections. Brummer repeatedly explained that all the classes meet or exceed state standards and cover all state mandated areas, including discussion of capitalism, but explained that she wasn’t familiar with a part of the state standard requiring promotion of capitalism. Lopez responded that “We don’t promote anything – we teach all sides of history…We promote academic rigor, academic achievement, and equitable educational opportunities.”
“We teach young people skills for original research, in collaboration with the University of Arizona. They have an impact – however they decide – in government. They complete a research project and present it to school board members or other decision makers”
Students who study the civil rights movement as something vital and alive, students who are taught that they can have an impact in their government may also sometimes take part in activism that is uncomfortable to adults trying to run the schools – such as the students who took over the TUSD board meeting on April 26, 2011. Listening to the teachers explain their classes, and viewing the video of the students, a coherent picture begins to emerge of a passionate community taking on issues head-on: dropout rates, apathetic students, or opposition from the powers that be. Whether you like or dislike the idea of public schools teaching ethnic studies, think they already are teaching Western European ethnic studies, or are indifferent, don’t expect this community to give up and go quietly.
Golda Velez also writes at bTucson.com. See related article Ethnic Studies Audit actually positive, Huppenthal apparently misrepresented it
I’ve set to moderated comments on this and other articles. There seem to be a crowd of haters who use the Tucson Citizen as a soapbox, and I have no desire to play into that. One comment accused that ‘This article is just another “tool” article of the MAS Program’ – I have nothing to do with the MAS program, I am a local citizen with an interest in teachers, schools and cultural issues. In particular, I am interested in how leaders in the Mexican-American culture address problems in their own community and are helping others grow and change.
Thoughtful, constructive comments welcome whether you agree or disagree, as long as they are free of name-calling and racism. Otherwise, find another place to write. We all have freedom of speech, but that includes freedom not to promote hateful speech and I’m not going to display it here.