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Advocate For Mexican-American Studies In Texas Schools: 'You Can't Ban What You Don't Have'

Pablo Rocha

Author and activist Tony Diaz has been leading a fight to get ethnic studies approved in public schools.

He began in Arizona, protesting the law — which was eventually overturned — banning ethnic studies. He then helped start the “Librotraficante” movement, smuggling banned books to Arizona students.

Diaz, who is also the director of intercultural initiatives at Lone Star College-North Harris in Houston,  wrote a Mexican-American studies textbook for public schools — “The Mexican-American Studies Toolkit” — that was rejected by the Texas State Board of Education in November. The board said it contained historical and grammatical errors. It’s the second such book to be rejected. The first one — “Mexican-American Heritage” — was heavily criticized by scholars as being factually incorrect and for being racist in its depiction of lazy Mexican laborers.


Credit cover art by Marc-Antony Piñón

Diaz said the State Board of Education rejected “The Mexican-American Studies Toolkit” despite it having met the board’s requirements.

“Really, what’s at stake is the Texas State Board of Education has no interest in implementing or adopting Mexican-American studies,” Diaz said. “Some of the members said as much. ... It all goes back to the same issue: The State Board of Education dreams up its own rules, debates its own rules, and votes on its own rules.

“So if they wanted to adopt Mexican-American studies, they would. And they just don’t want to.”

In 2010, Arizona passed a law banning ethnic studies. It grew out of a ban instituted by the Tucson Unified School District. The law was overturned in August. No such ban exists in Texas, but Diaz argued that by failing to adopt a curriculum, ethnic studies will never flourish in public schools.

“At the end of the day,” Diaz said, “we’re not banning it in Texas, but you can’t ban what you don’t have. Here you have 1,200 school districts with 52 percent Latino students who are not being catered to.

“… I hope it’s not the case where Texas is not going to implement culturally-relevant courses unless they’re forced to. I think there’s a window here for them to be proactive and to get with the times.”

Diaz had seven months to produce “The Mexican-American Studies Toolkit.” The normal process to introduce a textbook normally takes two years. Grammatical errors and other mistakes arose and were pointed out by board members, but Diaz said deadlines were not extended to allow for corrections.

“They could have given us more time,” Diaz said. “This curriculum helps all students. ... It is a sad state of affairs that the Texas State Board of Education does not seem to want to give Mexican-American studies a fair shot or to implement it.  All they decided was to maybe talk about it next year.”

On Nov. 8, shortly after the Texas State Board of Education rejected “The Mexican-American Studies Toolkit,” board member Marisa Perez-Diaz issued a statement lamenting the short amount of time Diaz had to produce a textbook. She said she hopes to see Mexican-American studies expand in public schools, but “I am not willing to accept a less than perfect textbook for official use — our students and the Mexican-American history deserve better. Based on feedback from our expert scholars this book was not classroom ready and could not serve as the SBOE-approved MAS textbook.”

Diaz said even though “The Mexican-American Studies Toolkit” was rejected by the board, it can still be taught in schools. However, it’s going to involve trying to convince the more than 1,200 school districts in the state to adopt it.

“At the grassroots level, if a high school or middle school has the interest and the expertise, they can adopt Mexican-American studies,” Diaz said, “be it ‘The Mexican-American Studies Toolkit’ or other fantastic textbooks.”  

Norma Martinez can be reached by email at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1