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Fronteras: 'Personal reflection is this class' — Students embark on journey of self discovery through Mexican American Studies

In 2018, the Texas State Board of Education approved Mexican American studies to become a part of the public-school curriculum.

Schools across the state have slowly rolled out the curriculum since then. Jefferson High School in San Antonio is one of those schools.

From historical events like the Zoot Suit Riots, to cultural traditions like tamaladas, the subjects the class focuses on are about heritage and — most importantly — self-reflection.

Fronteras visited the Mexican American Studies, or MAS, class at Jefferson in January.

Monica Rodriguez is a U.S. History teacher and department chair at Jefferson. She said a MAS course at the school was long overdue.

“We're here at Jefferson High School, where the first valedictorian was Gus Garcia, the famous attorney for LULAC and MALDEF and the Hernandez case in 1954 that opened up juries (to) Mexican Americans,” she said. “We want to make sure that they understand that our campus is unique.”

The majority of the students in the class were placed by school officials based on credits needed for graduation.

Alejandro Johnson is in his first year of teaching the course. He said he knew he was facing an uphill battle on day one of the class.

“‘Give me a week. Let me change your mind. And then if you want to go, go and I'll sign the paper.’” he told them. “Only three wanted to leave and couldn’t. Everybody else. Every single one wanted to be here.”

Senior Steve Flores originally wanted to take an art class. After sticking it out, he said the course has connected him to his family and roots.

“Immediately we started talking about family,” he said. “This class, from that point on, has really been a gateway … for me being able to ask my mom … and my dad questions,” he said.

The school expects to open more Mexican American studies sections next school year.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Marian Navarro produces for Texas Public Radio's Morning Edition and Fronteras.