A “Promising Problem” Indeed: New Methods and Interpretations in Chicana/o Educational History

Endorsed by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS) and the Western History Association

Friday, April 3, 2020, 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Education; Latino/a; Theory and Methodology

Abstract

This proposed paper session examines the ways in which new methods and interpretations in Chicana/o educational history reflect changes in the larger sphere of Chicano studies. Carlos K. Blanton’s 2016 A Promising Problem: The New Chicana/o History outlines the dominant themes that characterize the field’s current scholarship, arguing for an acknowledgement of a proliferation of identities, the decentering of place, reflections on the meaning of the field, and a social justice connection between past and present. Traditional Chicano studies scholarship relied on a “universal, male, proletarian” hero—based solely within United States borders—who never interacted with other activists outside of his own racial community. While recent scholarship breaks away from this paradigm, so too does Chicana/o educational history, where these same innovations are flourishing. Scholars on this panel draw from innovative methodologies to confront questions about educational equality and inequality in the United States, pushing their analysis beyond traditional narratives of male-centered activism, school segregation, and us-versus-them discussions of resistance and oppression.

Laura Muñoz’s paper reconstructs a cohort of Mexican American women teachers in the pre-WWII era. Recovering these women’s identities, as well as their professional trajectories, reveals the ways in which educational institutions provided Mexican American women not only with a path to socioeconomic upward mobility, but also a space where they could accommodate and resist the cultural and linguistic oppression dominant in U.S. society of that era. Philis Barragán Goetz’s paper contends that escuelitas—ethnic Mexican community schools—greatly influenced the Mexican American civil rights campaign for educational equality. Uncovering the escuelita influence behind the Mexican American Generation’s push for school integration creates a new framework for interpreting the diverse, intersectional, and oppositional identities of these early civil rights activists, as well as highlighting how educational history is a central part of Mexican American history. David G. García’s paper unpacks the interdisciplinary methodology of his pioneering work, Strategies of Segregation. García’s innovative approach enabled him to establish a connection between residential and school segregation as two processes that developed simultaneously in Oxnard, CA. Examining the ways in which these two forms of discrimination fed off each other throughout the twentieth century exposes how ethnic minorities worked together across racial lines to overcome them in the civil rights era. Victoria-María MacDonald’s paper destabilizes the notion that Chicana/o education history is a field solely rooted in social history. Embarking on a historiographic turn in her study of the Chicano Movement, she examines the origins of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and its subsequent relationship with Chicano activists, elucidating the interaction between the state, grassroots activism, and Mexican American academic opportunity. As a whole, these four papers manifest the new methods and interpretations in Chicana/o educational history that epitomize the innovative and dynamic nature of Chicano studies. Additionally, they help lay a foundation for understanding the contemporary political debates surrounding the relevance of ethnic studies across the nation. For Chicana/o educational history, much of the rhetoric regarding equality and inequality of the past is very much the same today.

Papers Presented

Top-Down Chicano/a History?: The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Mexican American Advocacy Groups, and Education in the 1960s

As the first wave of Chicano/a Ph.D. historians began publishing their works in the 1970s and 1980s, contemporary historiography emphasized “bottom up” revisionist social history at the regional, state, and local levels. Less studied, however, is how Anglo and Mexican American politicians and staff in the halls of power in Washington D.C. influenced educational reform sensitive to the needs and rights of Mexican Americans. This paper explores the development of the Mexican American agenda of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights  (USCRC) during the early 1960s, a period of rapidly shifting societal change. Established permanently in the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the commission was charged, among other responsibilities, with holding hearings and conferences, receiving complaints from citizens and producing reports for the use of Congress and the president in the creation of federal policies. Lack of knowledge of southwestern and Mexican American culture and history among USCRC northeastern-educated Anglo staff directors and Washington DC office employees, contributed to the initial perpetuation of stereotypes, flawed histories, and inadequate research agendas. USCRC staff at first responded reluctantly not only to top down demands from the White House, but also to charges of neglect and discrimination from Chicano advocacy group leaders. The hiring of Mexican-descent staff members led to more robust and useful proposals. Utilizing recently released unpublished correspondence and other materials at the National Archives, this paper identifies how federal stakeholders initially identified and framed Mexican Americans, received push back and protest from advocacy groups, and altered its agenda with the incorporation of Mexican American perspectives and staff.

Presented By
Victoria-Maria MacDonald, University of Maryland, College Park

Recovering Mexican American Narratives despite Omissions and Distortions in the Official Archives: A Methodological Reflection

This presentation reflects on the transdisciplinary history methodology applied in my recently published book Strategies of Segregation, which examines the racially separate and unequal schooling experiences of Mexican Americans spanning a 70-year period in Oxnard, California. I will overview the organic process of utilizing regional and national archives, including school board meeting minutes, residential property deeds, newspaper articles, and research publications from the time-period.

I will also discuss my work conducting and analyzing over sixty oral history interviews of Mexican American and black residents in Oxnard. These perspectives had been all but omitted in the publicly available primary sources. For this study, oral accounts and personal collections were integral to revealing four strategies of segregation deployed concurrently over four decades: 1) establishing a racial hierarchy, 2) building a permanent link between residential and school segregation, 3) utilizing a school-within-a-school model of racial separation, and 4) omitting a rationale for segregation. These strategies complicate previous narratives, which tend to focus “exclusively either on schools or housing,” in black and white, urban and suburban communities.

Furthermore, I will talk about enacting what Natalia Molina describes a relational approach to studying race. This framing bolstered my analysis of the common cause forged among neighbors in Oxnard paving the way for one of the nation’s first desegregation cases filed jointly by Mexican American and black plaintiffs (Soria v. Oxnard School Board of Trustees, 1974). This paper considers the interventions and contributions of a transdisciplinary history methodology in recovering Chicana/o educational history.

Presented By
David G. Garcia, University of California, Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and Information Studies

Escuelitas and the Mexican American Generation’s Campaign for Educational Integration

Since the 1980s, scholars have explored the implications for the ideological underpinnings of the Mexican American generation, debating the legacy of their controversial strategies. A key element missing from these historiographical discussions is the ways the Mexican American Generation’s educational history informed their campaign for integration. Though many of these Mexican American activists were products of the Texas public school system, several of them, during early childhood, attended escuelitas—a generic term for ethnic Mexican community schools, that literally translates to “little schools.” The escuelitas’ Spanish-language, Mexican-centric curriculum provided these future activists with the tools they needed to advocate effectively on behalf of la Raza, but their very activism hastened the escuelitas’ demise. Escuelitas continued to be influential, however, long after their numbers diminished. From the 1930s to the 1950s, several activists sought to integrate the escuelita curriculum into the public school system in the hope that altering public memory would affect public sentiment about the state of race relations in their own era. A more conservative group of Mexican Americans drew from another aspect of the escuelitas—the model itself. These activists were less concerned with revising the curriculum and more concerned with teaching Mexican American children English before they began first grade. While some were trying to change the system from within to make it more inclusive of Mexican Americans, others were trying to help Mexican American children become more acceptable to the system.

Presented By
Philis M. Barragán Goetz, Texas A&M University–San Antonio

Census Breakthroughs in the 1930 Portraiture of Mexican American Teachers

Building upon Latina history, Chicano/a educational historiography, and population studies, this investigation employs the 1930 U.S. Census to trace race, gender, and ethnicity in teacher employment. I analyze the census to build a demographic profile of Mexican American educators prior to World War II in south Texas. Historians do not know exactly how many Mexican Americans worked in this profession in any period or region in U.S. history. Only one scholar, historian Vicki L. Ruiz has suggested that Mexican-origin women may have figured prominently in national assessments of “professional/technical” employees, where Mexican-origin women made up 2.9 percent of white collar workers in 1930. Within this slim margin, this study asks “adonde están las maestras?” Where are the Mexican American teachers? What can they tell us about their professional journeys in light of the dilemmas they may have confronted in Juan/Jaime/Jim Crow America? Did Mexican American women, like their Euro-American and African-American colleagues, perceive teaching as a viable option toward middle-class achievement and professionalization in the pre-Brown era? How do their personal educational and professional successes square with the larger undereducated, underemployed status of Mexican-origin people? The answers hint at the role, place, and historical significance of teachers within Mexican American communities. Ideally, this study strives to explain when and why Mexican American teachers emerged as an identifiable class of workers and how their employment may have shaped the educational pathways of Mexican-heritage populations.

Presented By
Laura Kathryn Muñoz, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Carlos Kevin Blanton, Texas A&M Universit
Dr. Carlos Kevin Blanton is a Professor of History at Texas A&M University in College Station. He has a 1999 PhD from Rice University. His authored monographs are The Strange Career of Bilingual Education in Texas, 1836–1981 (TAMU, 2004) and George I. Sánchez: The Long Fight for Mexican American Integration (Yale, 2014). He was editor of A Promising Problem: The New Chicana/o History (Texas, 2016). Blanton’s work has been honored with the TSHA’s Coral Horton Tullis Award for best book in Texas history (2005), the WHA’s Bolton Cutter Award for best article in Borderlands history (2010) and the National Association of Chicana-Chicano Studies best book award (2016). He has also published in the Journal of Southern History, the Pacific Historical Review, the Western Historical Quarterly, the Journal of American Ethnic History, the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, the Teachers College Record, and other journals. Blanton enjoys teaching 20th Century U.S, Chicana/o, and Texas history.

Presenter: Philis M. Barragán Goetz, Texas A&M University–San Antonio
Philis M. Barragán Goetz received her Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. She is an Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, where she teaches classes in Mexican American history, women's history, Texas history, and United States social and cultural history. She is also Texas A&M San Antonio's community liaison to the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum. Her manuscript, Reading, Writing, and Revolution: Escuelitas and the Emergence of a Mexican American Identity in Texas, is under contract with the University of Texas Press.

Presenter: David G. Garcia, University of California, Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
David G. García earned his Ph.D. in U.S. History and is an associate professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. His research documents how the constructs of race, culture, and class shape educational experiences for Communities of Color across time and place. His publications have followed three lines of inquiry, (1) Chicana/o teatro (theater) as public revisionist history, (2) the pedagogy of Hollywood’s urban school genre, and (3) Chicana/o educational histories. His work is published in journals such as the Harvard Educational Review and History of Education Quarterly. His book, Strategies of Segregation: Race, Residence, and the Struggle for Educational Equality (University of California Press, 2018), unearths the ideological and structural architecture of enduring racial inequality within and beyond schools in Oxnard, California. He has been awarded the UC President’s and Ford Foundation postdoctoral fellowships, and a UCLA Hellman fellowship.

Presenter: Victoria-Maria MacDonald, University of Maryland, College Park
As the first wave of Chicano/a Ph.D. historians began publishing their works in the 1970s and 1980s, contemporary historiography emphasized “bottom up” revisionist social history at the regional, state, and local levels. Less studied, however, is how Anglo and Mexican American politicians and staff in the halls of power in Washington D.C. influenced educational reform sensitive to the needs and rights of Mexican Americans. This paper explores the development of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ Mexican American agenda during the early 1960s, a period of rapidly shifting societal change. Established permanently in the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the Commission was charged, among other responsibilities, with holding hearings and conferences, receiving complaints from citizens and producing reports for the use of Congress and the President in the creation of federal policies. Lack of knowledge of Southwestern and Mexican American culture and history among USCRC Northeastern-educated Anglo staff directors and Washington DC office employees, contributed to the initial perpetuation of stereotypes, flawed histories, and inadequate research agendas. USCRC staff responded at first reluctantly to not only top down demands from the White House, but charges of neglect and discrimination from Chicano advocacy group leaders. The hiring of Mexican-descent staff members led to more robust and useful proposals. Pycior (1997), has examined Lyndon B. Johnson’s relationship and politics with Mexican Americans and historians such as Kaplowitz (2005) have studied the work of LULAC in relation to the federal governments, but works examining the role of the USCRC and Mexican American civil rights are rare. Utilizing recently released unpublished correspondence and other materials at the National Archives, this paper identifies how federal stakeholders initially identified and framed Mexican Americans, received pushback and protest from advocacy groups, and altered its agenda with the incorporation of Mexican American perspectives and staff.

Presenter: Laura Kathryn Muñoz, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
I study the people and histories of Mexican American, Chicanx and Latinx communities in the United States with an emphasis on race, gender and education in the American West. I often say, as I learned from la raza in Indiana, that “Aztlán is everywhere.” Understanding this movement and migration of Mexican-heritage people within North America, and particularly the place we know today as the United States, has intrigued me since I was a young person and learned about my own history as a daughter of the borderlands. This concern informs my inquiries about recovering and recuperating Chicanx/Latinx history, especially in places and among populations who remain understudied. In my current book project, “Desert Dreams: Mexican Arizona and the Politics of Educational Equality,” I explore how Mexican Americans embraced public schools as a conduit to political access and cultural preservation in the face of Americanization in the century following the Mexican American War. It reveals how they challenged the structure of “Juan Crow,” the unofficial segregation of Mexican-heritage people in the North American West. It also explains how their civil rights politics would influence the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and significantly alter children’s lives across the nation for generations.

Prior to joining UNL, I held the Joe B. Frantz Associate Professorship of American History at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi— a Hispanic and Minority Serving Institution in my hometown. During my twelve years there, I published a series of articles on the history of Chicana/o education, as well as the scholarship of teaching. In 2017, I won the Gilbert Award for the Best Article on Teaching History from the American Historical Association for my essay, “Civil Rights, Educational Inequality, and Transnational Takes on the US History Survey,” (History of Education Quarterly 56, no. 1, February 2016, 140-148). As a result of this success, I joined the editorial board of the History of Education Quarterly and also serve (since 2014) on the editorial board of Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS). I am a former fellow of the National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship and continue to serve the NAEd as a mentor to junior scholars. In addition, I actively participate in several history associations, most notably as a member of the OAH 2018 Program Committee.