Arts » Arts Etc.

Books Moving target


A&M Press releases show that one Mexican-American political gain often means another challenge


Many languages, one state

In The Strange Career of Bilingual Education in Texas, 1836-1981, historian Carlos Kevin Blanton heads into the contested territory of educators, politicians, and cultural activists. His well-documented study traces bilingual education in Texas from the state's origins as a republic to the passage in 1981 of landmark bilingual legislation. Blanton's title is an overt reference to C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow, in which the esteemed historian demonstrated that the Southern brand of segregation that persisted legally through the '60s was, in fact, a relatively recent phenomena and thus capable of being changed. Blanton shows that, far from being born in the wake of the '60s-era Chicano Movement, bilingual education is part of the very fabric of Texas. Those who argue otherwise in an attempt to discredit bilingual education or foster support for an English-only amendment are practicing poor history.

Blanton contextualizes his research within the broader scope of state and U.S. history, demonstrating how the state's rich multilingual laboratory of the 19th century, in which Czechs, Germans, and Tejanos, among others, participated, gave way to a solid pro-Americanization curriculum that ensured the dominance of the English language and secured the hegemony of Anglo-Texan culture. This led to the struggle of groups such as the League of United Latin American Citizens to contest the education system's inherent discrimination. An alliance of Mexican-American activists and largely Anglo educators and language theorists struck a blow to the separate-but-equal schooling and pedagogical practices of English-only. While their legacy, in the form of bilingual education and dual-language instruction, survives today, unfortunately so do the calls for its demise. Without competent teachers, sufficient funding, and community support, Blanton argues, the future of bilingual education is in a precarious position. His study connects the threads between linguistic diversity and educational equality, and affirms its importance as a thoroughly Texas tradition - one worth defending.

From education to public policy


LULAC began in the 1930s with chapters in Texas cities such as San Antonio and Corpus Christi, but by the end of World War II it had expanded to include councils throughout the Southwest and the nation. Middle-class Mexican Americans - a small but significant elite - comprised the leadership and the rank-and-file. Then, as now, the organization promoted a pro-assimilationist agenda that sought compromise over confrontation. Throughout its history, LULAC has been a staunch supporter of education equality (including bilingual education), voting rights, economic self-reliance, and patriotic participation - the most American of values - in order to ensure Mexican Americans' acceptance into Anglo society.

LULAC's approach to race and ethnic identity makes the organization's story particularly compelling. From the beginning, members emphasized their U.S. citizenship - deliberately excluding Mexican nationals - and, during the era of Jim Crow and de jure segregation, they fought for Mexican Americans to be recognized legally as whites. In LULAC, Mexican Americans and National Policy, Craig A. Kaplowitz explores the effect this "other white" strategy had on programs and policies such as voting rights and language instruction, as well as the continuing dialogue about identity within the Mexican-American community.

The Strange Career of Bilingual Education in Texas, 1836-1981
Carlos Kevin Blanton
Texas A&M University Press
$29.95, 204 pages
ISBN: 1585443107

LULAC: Mexican Americans and National Policy
Craig A. Kaplowitz
Texas A&M University Press
$35.00, 254 pages
ISBN: 1585443883
"While the importance of the Chicano movement is unquestioned," Kaplowitz writes, "we have an incomplete view of Mexican-American policy origins if we fail to recognize the role of older, more conservative organizations in the federal policy process." Confronted with the prospect of negotiating with militant Chicano organizations, the Johnson and Nixon administrations sought out LULAC's advice in formulating their policies. Much like David G. Gutierrez' excellent Walls & Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity, Kaplowitz' study examines the tensions and contradictions faced by the more mainstream Mexican-American organization during the era of Civil Rights, self-determination, ethnic nationalism, and Chicano power.

Blanton's and Kaplowitz' traditionally written histories overlap in many ways. Both address issues of education and second-language minorities in Texas. Both take a top-down approach to their subjects by emphasizing "the big picture." For these researchers, the types of questions they ask influence the story they tell of the lingering effects of racism in the Lone Star State. Their books are published at a crucial time, as Texas and the United States wrestle with questions of national identity and multicultural inclusion. Blanton and Kaplowitz close their studies on relatively optimistic notes. Blanton celebrates the passage of important legislation. And despite their different tactics, Kaplowitz writes that by the mid-1970s, other Chicano groups shared LULAC's voting rights and bilingual-education goals.

While LULAC has not regained the prominence or status it once enjoyed, it remains an influential organization, a comfortably moderate voice from the Mexican-American and Latina/o middle class. But a strong, culturally specific Chicano voice has all but faded from the mainstream dialogue as a result of conservative backlash and the continual trade-off between community identity and collective memory and individual wants and immediate appearances. This isn't just a 'Texas thing,' either. In the supposedly blue state of California, as Blanton notes, voters approved measures ending bilingual education, dismantling affirmative action, and penalizing immigrants. Ultimately, these volumes show how much has changed, and how much more is at stake.

By Alejandro Pérez

Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.