EL PASO, Texas — César Chávez was a Chicano leader who led the fight in a proud movement in the 1960’s for the rights and dignity of migrant farm workers. He fought so they would receive better treatment and better pay for their hard labor in the fields.
By organizing the United Farm Worker and using peaceful protest as a tool for change Chávez gave voice to an entire minority in what can be seen as American free speech at its finest. To the Texas State Board of Education, however, Chávez isn’t worth putting in the high school history books.
“Personally I believe that not mentioning him [Chávez] would be taking away the identity of people who really struggled and managed to shape the political landscape. Most importantly though, Chávez is indeed an iconic figure in our society. Leaving him out doesn’t do the Chicano culture any justice,” said graduate student and Chicano Ricardo Cortez.
Every 10 years the Texas curriculum is changed in schools and one of the many things discussed is who and what will be in history books. In January the discussion to remove César Chávez from Texas history books sparked a debate with those in the Chicano community.
The Texas State Board of Education board members believe that there is an over-representation of minorities in textbooks. Most of these members are strongly conservative and believe that the separation of minorities should be done away with.
“Its colonialism at its finest.” said Cortez, “ I tutor students at local high schools and a lot of them barely know who Chávez is. If you remove him it will again be another forced assimilation. The same assimilation our ancestors experienced before us.”
Texas high school teachers have mixed feelings about the situation based on their identities.
“As a teacher I truly understand and see both sides of the debate in what will be taught in our classrooms. Normally a name like César Chávez is one southwest Americans can’t ignore. The Board indeed wants history to be of the same American effort but Chávez clearly changed the lives of thousands of people. He changed history and he should be acknowledged for it,” said middle-school teacher India Hoover.
The attitudes expressed by board members fail to select good examples of outstanding cultural leaders who did things the right way compared to people who didn’t. For example, why should Texas Conservatives allow someone like Sen. Joseph McCarthy into the history textbooks when he is known for directing false accusations of Communism at ordinary people and managed to scare a nation for a decade. Why should he be allowed to be seen as an American hero as opposed to Chávez who did everything peacefully with no malice toward anyone.
“I think it’s important that I learn about people like Cesar Chavez. I know who my founding fathers were and I know about our wars. I understand patriotism but from what my family tells me César Chávez is a symbol of patriotism in my culture,” Said Jefferson High School freshman Angela Villalobos. “What’s wrong with having someone to relate with in history especially when he is of my culture. Isn’t history supposed to set examples for the future?”
– New York Times coverage of the curriculum change.
– Texas Tribune’s annotated version of the high school U.S. History standards, which have been the focus of controversy