Sunday, January 10, 2010

Texas to Tom Sawyer: Have We Got A Fence for You!

Cesar Chavez, 1927-1993

In John Sayles’ 1996 film, Lone Star, set in Texas, there is a moment at a local school board meeting when an angry blonde woman turns to the teacher, played by Elizabeth Peña, and demands, “Who are you calling a bigot??”

I was thinking about Lone Star today. It deals with the difficult relationships among and between Latinos and non-Latinos in south Texas. It came to mind because I received a note from the United Farm Workers Union reading, “Stop Texas from erasing Cesar Chavez and Hispanics from school books.” It goes on to explain that the Texas State Board of Education is planning to erase Cesar Chavez and all Hispanic historical figures from public school textbooks.

Don’t they ever give up? Lest anyone relax because we have a black president and discussions about race are supposed to be a thing of the past, now comes the Texas School Board of Education to demonstrate, once again, that complacency is a luxury we cannot afford especially because Texas is such a big purchaser of text books; what happens there could affect the entire country.

The problem, claim those who are pushing this change, is that figures like Cesar Chavez, founder of the Farm Workers Union and among the most important civil rights leaders of the 20th century, “lacks the stature…and contributions” and should not be “held up to our children as worthy of emulation.” They complain of “over representation of minorities” in the current social studies textbooks. But the attack on Hispanics in history does not stop with Mr. Chavez. They intend to remove all Hispanics in Texas history since the 16th century. Their objection, no doubt, is that they cannot put Mr. Chavez on a horse with a rifle in his hands.

Tom Sawyer, there is a very big fence in need of your services!

Building the Wall Between the United States and Mexico

Texas is about to cross the line to having Latinos comprise the largest number of school children in the state. Texas is home to 8.9 million Hispanics, or 37% of the total population. Today, even without counting the 4 million Latinos in Puerto Rico, Latinos make up 15% of the population of our country—the largest minority group in the U.S. By 2050, Hispanics will be the 30% of the population of the United States.

Starr County, Texas, leads the nation with a population that was 97% Hispanic as of 2008. All of the top 10 counties in this category are in Texas. Already, almost a third of all Texans speak Spanish at home. In places like Texas where Latinos are already a large percentage part of the population, 2050 may be the tipping point, when Latinos will outnumber the non-Latino population.

Judith Baca - Wall of Resistance

Where you stand depends on where you sit. To a non-Latino Texan who is not enamored of these changes or of their Latino neighbors, these developments must be terrifying; evidence of their fear can be seen in the wall that they have been building along the Rio Grande on the borders of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas: in their vigilante border patrols, and in their rabid anti-immigration activities. The fear-monger-in-chief himself, George W. Bush, hails from Midland, Texas. There are Mexican-Texans whose families were artificially divided by the political boundary between Texas and the United States. To Latino Texans who are recent arrivals as well as those who have lived there from time immemorial, the waves of fear and prejudice pose a daily danger. Then are the thousands of Latino migrants from south of the border and south of Mexico; the ones that many Texans are trying to block from coming in. Intolerance is the breeding-ground of violence.

I believe the fear and hatred of Latinos is so deep that they may actually carry out their plans to white-wash Texas history but the clock cannot be turned back.The efforts to keep the waves of migrants from coming in illegally ultimately cannot succeed. Texas will never be lily-white. They can delete General Santa Anna from the chronicles of the Mexican victory at the Alamo; they can try to erase Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and all the greatest Latinos from their history but the tides of change are coming. Even if not one more Latino was to migrate to the United States, there can be no turning back. Texas cannot stop the changes taking place in our country.

In the words of the UFW memo,

This Wednesday, Jan. 13, the [Texas] state board [of Education] will take a preliminary vote to adopt new standards for social studies texts. Please take a few moments right now to send board Chair Lowe an e-mail. Tell the TX State Board of Education not to allow a handful of ideological extremists to revise history by eliminating people of color. Please act now.

Go to:

Please help us stop the color-blinding of Texas history. Honor the memory of those Latinos who made this country a more equitable place.


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