Now that an ethnic studies course in Mexican American studies has been approved in Texas public schools, some district officials may wonder about the next steps to take.
One San Antonio academy already immerses its students in language and culture. It just wrapped up a two-week camp that expands on that tradition for more than 100 middle and high school kids.
Rosie Castro, a longtime Chicana activist, was the guest speaker on the final day of the Mexican American Studies Leadership Institute, or MAS-LI, camp, on June 14. Castro is the mother of Congressman Joaquin Castro and presidential candidate Julián Castro.
Castro served as an inspiration for several students who attended the camp at the Bonham Academy in the San Antonio Independent School District.
Natalie Ornelas is a 12-year-old going into 8th grade at Bonham.
“When I started researching about Julián and Joaquin Castro, I didn’t really know about Rosie Castro,” Ornelas said. “But I saw that she was a Mexican American activist and that she was a Chicana. That was, like, really interesting because [I] never heard nothing about her.”
Students at the camp could choose from several breakout sessions that explored the deeper meanings of ethnic and indigenous music, art and culture.
David Nungaray, director of the MAS-LI camp, said those courses sparked students’ imaginations.
“When you have a course that’s titled Sacred Mathematics and Indigenous Arts, that’s going to do something for kids and make them excited and motivated to learn,” Nungaray said.
Nungaray, who completed his first year as principal of Bonham Academy, said these courses exposed children to a variety of experiences not typically encountered in classrooms.
“We’re understanding our connections to the earth,” he said.
Henry Busse, a 12-year-old going into 7th grade at Bonham Academy, took the Conocimiento Through Canción, or Knowledge Through Song, class.
He said he has learned about Tejano, ChicanX and mariachi music. The class also worked on writing corridos about activists.
“Our last speaker, the one today, was Rosie Castro,” Busse said. “And my group just happened to pick Rosie Castro as the person we have to write a corrido about.”
Corridos are typically Spanish-language ballads about activists, Revolutionary heroes or social justice.
Evelyn Salazar and her fellow students chose to write a corrido about a San Antonio labor leader in her Conocimiento class.
“We got Emma Tenayuca,” Salazar said. “She was a protester, and she got arrested three times for protesting and ‘disturbance of the peace,’” she said, emphasizing the last part of her sentence with air quotes.
11-year-old Luna Montez, who’s going into 6th grade at Bonham this fall, was inspired by the camp. She also learned about Emma Tenayuca.
“I’ve never learned about her. I’ve never even heard of her,” Montez said.
She also learned about Cesar Chavez, indigenous mathematics and Mexican American art and theater.
“It was a great learning experience. It was amazing,” Montez said.
The guest speaker at the MAS-LI camp’s final day, Rosie Castro, was herself inspired by what she saw that day and by the promise of a Mexican American studies curriculum in Texas schools.
“To me, these folks that pushed for MAS, Mexican American Studies, are really heroes,” Castro said. “Many of them are the newer generation, and they understood the need for this program.”
Castro hopes programs such as the MAS-LI camp and the introduction of Mexican American studies to Texas public schools will spur a greater understanding of the culture and heritage of minority populations.
“Hopefully one day these kinds of programs will reach so many people that there is a genuine regard for everyone’s history, not just ours, but everyone’s history,” she said.