In Baytown, some high school students are learning about Mexican American Studies at Lee College through a special program.
Professor Maria Garcia teaches them about different chapters in U.S.-Mexico relations, like how during World War II the United States brought Mexicans over to work in agricultural fields.
“So that’s something that they did not know about. They didn’t know that the U.S. has a big history with Mexico. Especially here in Texas they think, ‘Oh it’s the Battle of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto and that’s it.’ They don’t know more to it.
Garcia says once the class gets going, her students become very engaged.
“It kind of intrigues them more. They’re questioning things. They’re researching things. They are analyzing things from a different perspective.”
Some Hispanic leaders say this kind of class needs to be available to more students in high school.
They say now it’s more important than ever because the population of Texas is changing. Hispanics now make up more than half of all students in Texas.
Tony Diaz with Lone Star College says cultural classes benefit students in different ways.
“So when they see their history, when they see their story, the rhetoric and critical thinking sinks in.”
But Diaz is concerned that Mexican American Studies is not on the state’s list of courses that fulfill the new high school graduation requirements.
“All we need is the State Board of Education representatives to put Mexican American studies in the Foundation Program and the endorsements that they’ll be voting on.”
The Foundation Plan involves the basic courses high school students have to complete starting next year.
Endorsements are areas that students can specialize in like arts and humanities.
Diaz says Mexican American Studies belongs on the list of options for both.
It’s technically not there.
Donna Bahorich on the State Board of Education says that doesn’t mean it’s not allowed. She says students can still take cultural classes for certain requirements.
“It’s just that at the local level it will be called Mexican American Studies but on the official transcript it will qualify under independent study or special studies.”
Bahorich recognizes there’s a demand for cultural classes. But she says it would be too much to try and list them all.
“I mean I see lots of opportunities for Chinese studies, or you know — the list could just go on and on and on.”
Bahorich says the current approach lets school districts decide for themselves.
But that approach still has Tony Diaz concerned.
He says if Mexican American Studies is not on the list of options, some districts will be hesitant to offer it.
Diaz plans to try and convince the Republican-majority State Board of Education at its meeting this week in Austin.