A&M Press releases show that one Mexican-American political gain often means another challenge
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'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
LULAC: Mexican Americans and National Policy
Craig A. Kaplowitz
Texas A&M University Press
$35.00, 254 pages
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. •