Dozens of scholars and activists called Tuesday on the State Board of Education to change the name of a new statewide Mexican-American studies course to include the term “Mexican-American.”
The Republican-led board voted in April to start developing the curriculum for a high school social studies elective course called “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.” Mexican-American activists applauded the development of the course, but they decried the name, saying it did not accurately represent Mexican-American identity and does not reflect an established area of study.
The proposed name is “going to be received as an indignity … because it implies that somehow being Mexican-American is a threat to the notion of being American. An ethnic identity should not be a test of what it means to be American,” Houston school district educator Douglas Torres-Edwards told the board. Torres-Edwards wrote that district’s Mexican-American studies curriculum on which the statewide course will be based.
Board member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, said he has proposed changing the name of the course to “Mexican-American Studies.” The board is slated to take a preliminary vote Wednesday on the course name and curriculum.
Cortez said during a rally before Tuesday’s board meeting that the name approved by the board in April was discriminatory, calling board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, who proposed the name, “mean-spirited.”
Bradley, who was absent Tuesday, had said at the April meeting that he didn’t want the name “Mexican-American Studies” to promote divisiveness.
Board member Barbara Cargill, R-Conroe, echoed Bradley’s concerns.
“From some of our constituents, we’re hearing concerns … that not calling them Americans is going to be divisive for our students. The whole purpose of coming up with a different name was to address those concerns. There was no intent to take away identity, cause anger or demean anyone,” Cargill told the American-Statesman.
Torres-Edwards offered to help write into the curriculum that American values would be upheld in the course.
Cargill said those extra steps “would go a long way,” but she wasn’t ready to support naming the course “Mexican-American Studies.”
Board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, told the Statesman he wanted to ensure that a course would be available to all Hispanic students, not just Mexican-Americans but that he was leaning toward calling the course “Mexican-American Studies.”
Board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, said she was still undecided about the course name.
“The fact that people have an emotional attachment to the name, it means a lot, and 83 percent of Latinos in the state identify as Mexican-Americans so I’m feeling more and more comfortable about it,” Hardy said.
At least three Republicans and all five Democrats on the 15-member board would have to join forces for the name “Mexican-American Studies” to have a chance at passing.
If the board approves the curriculum for the course this week, the board must take a final vote in September. The earliest the course could be offered is in the 2019-20 school year.