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‘Mexican-American’ Is More Than A Name, It’s A ‘Narrative Of Texas History,’ Professor Says

“Mexican-American history is a history that’s always been here and will always be here,” Roberto Calderon said.


From left to right: Isaiah Rodriguez, Agatha Scales, Micah Palomo and Wendy Lopez hold signs at an April rally supporting an increased Mexican-American Studies curriculum for Texas schools.

The State Board of Education will take a final vote Friday on what will be the first state-approved course on Mexican-American history in Texas public schools.

After weeks of debate about what to name the course, a compromise emerged this week: “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies.” The board initially voted to call the class “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent” after a Republican board member said he didn’t like “hyphenated Americanism.”

Roberto Calderon, an associate history professor at the University of North Texas in Denton, was among those who went to Austin this week to plead for a name change.

In our Friday Conversation, Calderon told KERA’s Rick Holterlike many of his students, he didn’t learn about Mexican-American history until he was in college.

Interview Highlights: Roberto Calderon

On the students who take his classes on Mexican-American history:

“This generation of students have never formally learned the history of Mexico. We totally ignore and rob them of the opportunity of knowing and putting themselves in a global context. By the time many of these students are coming to these courses, they’re coming to us as juniors and seniors. This may be the only course they get to take that gives them the opportunity to learn more. They’re saying, ‘Why didn’t I learn this before?’ “

On the version of Texas history currently taught in public schools:

“Simply, it’s one of silence and deletion, of minimizing and diminishing the Mexican story and Mexican history. It’s important to know that the first European language spoken in what is now Texas was Spanish; it was not English. Mexican history is also indigenous history because Mexicans are a mestizo people. That component of Mexican history gets diminished even more. We will get the English colonial history one way or another in our public schools, but we won’t get the other colonial history, like Spanish and eventually Mexican colonial history.”

On what people should understand about the debate on Mexican-American studies:

“Mexican-American history is a history that’s always been here and will always be here as long as there is a ‘here’ to speak of. While some people may not like that or feel uncomfortable with that, that’s part of the story. Mexican-American history is a dominant narrative of Texas history. We can choose to ignore that fact or we can choose to include it, and I firmly believe [we should include it.]”

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.