Mexican-Americans call on Texas panel to change course name

1:30 p.m. update: About 40 Mexican-American activists and scholars have signed up to speak to the State Board of Education to ask members to change the name of a new Mexican-American studies course.

Instead of “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent,” they want the course to be called “Mexican-American Studies.”

About 10 people have spoken so far including Douglas Torres-Edwards, the Houston school district staff member who wrote the Mexican-American studies course that the statewide course is based off of. He said the board appeared to have proposed the course name as a way to ensure Mexican-American studies wouldn’t promote un-American values. He said instead of changing the name from Mexican-American studies, curriculum standards for the course should be written to ensure that American values are taught to students.

“When we change the name…it’s going to be received as an indignity…because it implies that somehow being Mexican American is a threat to the notion of being American. We are all Americans here. An ethnic identity should not be a test of what it means to be American,” Torres-Edwards said.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said the name of the course does not reflect the established scholarly field of Mexican-American studies.

“The word Mexican is hidden at the very end of the title of the course. If the course is centered around Mexican-American history and culture then it ought to be very prominent in the name,” Alvarado said.

Board member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, said he has proposed an amendment to change the name of the course back to Mexican-American studies as was originally intended. The board is slated to take a preliminary vote on Wednesday.

Cortez said during a rally earlier Tuesday that fellow board member David Bradley’s proposal of the controversial course name was discrimination, calling him one of the most “mean-spirited” board members.

Bradley had proposed the name in April, saying he didn’t want the name Mexican-American studies to promote divisiveness.

At least three Republican board members must align with the Democrats to change the name to Mexican-American studies.

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Earlier: Several activists and scholars are expected to testify before the State Board of Education on Tuesday to ask the panel to change the name of a new statewide Mexican-American studies course.

The panel in April voted to have the Texas Education Agency start writing curriculum standards for a high school social studies course called Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent. Although supporters applauded the development of the course, they decried the name, saying it did not accurately represent the Mexican-American identity and is a departure from an established area of study.

“Mexican American has been the most popular English-language self-referent since the early 1900s and the typical way to refer to Mexican-origin persons in the US. It affirms an American identity and national allegiance at the same time that it claims a Mexican ancestry. The term is no different from others, such as African Americans, Italian Americans, and Native Americans,” according to a recent statement from a Texas committee of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies.

Democrats on the board, most of whom identify as Mexican-American, opposed the name change but voted in favor of developing the curriculum standards for the course.

The name was proposed by one of the most conservative members of the board, David Bradley of Beaumont, who had said naming the course Mexican-American studies would create divisiveness.

“I don’t subscribe to hyphenated Americanism,” Bradley had said.

The board on Wednesday is expected to make a tentative decision and a final vote on Friday on any changes to the curriculum standards as well as the name of the course. The board must take another round of votes in September to finalize the course.

If the board approves the curriculum standards, high schools can start offering the class in the 2019-20 school year. At that point, Texas will be the second state to have implemented a Mexican-American studies course in the country, according to scholars. Arizona has been offering one since the 1990s.

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