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Mexican-American Literature Course Aims To Connect Students With Culture

Melissa Reyna, from left; Sylvia Garcia; Luis Silva; Priscilla Garza; Jarin Huspeth; Kimberly Moreno; Sabrina Cordova; and Andres Lopez.
File Photo | Norma Martinez
Texas Public Radio
Melissa Reyna, from left; Sylvia Garcia; Luis Silva; Priscilla Garza; Jarin Huspeth; Kimberly Moreno; Sabrina Cordova; and Andres Lopez

Texas Public Radio has been following the path of Mexican-American studies in Texas public schools.

Last week we visited a San Antonio high school that’s implementing a Mexican-American course as an elective.

Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Luis Silva holds a sign he designed for his Mexican-American studies class.

Andres Lopez has been teaching Mexican-American Literature at Stevens High School for two years. He didn’t face much of an obstacle convincing his district supervisors that the course would be a good fit at the high school. But he faced a challenge from another front.

“It was a matter of trying to convince students, parents, teachers what that is,” Lopez said. “A lot of them, when I say ‘Mexican-American,’ they say ‘I don’t know Spanish.’ Or they start mentioning authors (who) are from totally different countries.' "

Lopez doesn’t go into the classroom with a fixed lesson plan. He lets the students shape their own studies by also incorporating their backgrounds and experiences.

“The students and I, we create — as a group — what is this class; what does it do for us; why does it matter; and with their voice, and a little bit of guidance from me, we’ve come up with some pretty compelling things,” Lopez said. “And slowly, word’s getting out.”

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Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Sylvia Garcia

Lopez has no shortage of champions for his class. Other than learning about Chicano literature, art, and film, the students found themselves connecting to their culture. Sylvia Garcia, a senior, said she thought the course was going to be like a normal English class but “mixed with a Mexican-American thing. As time went on, it was like everyone’s story that could relate was put into play with what we were learning. It was very easy to express my family’s background and how I am and (how I relate to) other people in my classes.”

Melissa Reyna, a senior, made an even more personal connection.  She said the material she read in class made her feel closer to her grandparents and relate to the immigrant experience.

Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Melissa Reyna

“I feel like I learned … how hard it can be, and how you just really want to support your family,” Reyna said. “My grandfather dropped out of school in the fifth grade to work in a factory to support all of his siblings. It just made me almost want to tear up reading some of the stories — like, 'wow, this is really what it was like for him.' ”

Even students who don’t have direct Mexican-American lineage appreciate the class. Jarin Hudspeth, a senior who is of Domenican and African-American descent, said the flexibility of Lopez’s class allowed her to not only learn more about Mexican-American culture, but also about her own biracial background.

Jarin Hudspeth

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“I learned about so much stuff that defined me and the people around me,” she said.

The Mexican-American literature class is only offered in the fall semester and is wrapped up in the second week of January. The abbreviated lifespan of the course is leaving some students craving more.

“After this, I’m trying to go into this again (in college) because it really sucks that this class is only one semester,” said Luis Silva, a junior. “We’re really missing out on more knowledge that they’re giving us.”

Lopez said this enthusiasm will extend beyond his classroom and the local colleges that support the program.

“There’s already talk of offering Mexican-American literature dual credit in the district as (part of) our partnership with Northwest Vista (College), and that is a big part of why that’s possible, because they’ve seen success with high school students,” he said. “It’s no longer just an idea. It’s happening.”

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

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