An Elective Mexican American history course at Texas high schools – the beginning?

by: Chuy Ramirez
Posted: 04/14/2021

The trajectory of advocacy for adoption of Chicana/o (Mexican American) studies has been a lengthy one, but hardly consistent.  Commencing with the Plan de Santa Barbara (California, 1968), chicana/o studies was perceived by its advocates as a long-term strategy which called for a holistic response to the dismal engagement  in higher education by Mexican Americans.  A culturally relevant curriculum was but one of several  goals set out in the Santa Barbara blueprint.  Over the next half century, most colleges and universities throughout the Southwest have paid minor service  to the notion that because of their particular cultural bent,  chicano/a studies have made education more relevant and attractive to Mexican American students, thus, helping to improve higher education participation by Mexican Americans. Typically, the adoption of an elective history, music or literature course will pass for a Mexican American studies program.  On the other hand, many colleges and universities have developed impressive programs with interdisciplinary curriculum, aggressively recruited top-notch professors and administrators and helped publish much of the Mexican American literary material now available.  Those types of actions are indeed consistent with the visionary tenets of Santa Barbara.

In Texas, where the call for what can be characterized as Mexican American studies originated with the student walkouts of the late 1960s and early 70s, the formal adoption of any courses or use of culturally relevant materials in public schools has been negligible. In 2019, however, the Texas Board of Education (SBOE), which has close to absolute discretion over the adoption of public school curriculum and textbooks, grudgingly gave its  unanimous approval to one elective Mexican American history course.

We learn from Dr. Christopher Carmona of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley how efforts by the Texas Association for  Mexican American Studies (TX-MAS) led to the approval by the SBOE of one elective Mexican American course.[1]  Also, currently, as the Texas Legislature meets in session,  HB 1504, introduced in the Texas House of Representatives, would convert elective history courses in Mexican American, African American and Native American to optional credited standard history courses.[2]  One can certainly envision a time when history courses will actually incorporate the multi-racial and ethnic historiography of the state, rather than rely on the traditional  and exclusive hegemonic Anglo-centric approach to history.  One can only hope.

As the Texas Legislature rolls toward its May 31, 2021 session end-date, there is at least one goal which the majority is fixed on accomplishing: more repressive voting requirements and procedures.  The Senate, in fact, has already approved the measures which are part of a national Republican Party strategy to diminish opposing voter turnout.  There may not be enough time left in the current session for Republicans to continue their strategy to dismantle the gains which Mexican Americans have made in education over the past fifty years:  equity in school finance, bilingual-dual language programs and now, Mexican American studies. It will all turn on votes, votes, votes.


[1] See Dr. Angela Valenzuela’s excellent piece on the struggle in Texas for a Mexican American history course, The Struggle to Decolonize Official Knowledge in Texas State Curriculum—Sidestepping the Colonial Matrix of Power, https:/ or

[2] See HB 1504,

Chuy Ramirez is an attorney practicing law in the Rio Grande Valley since 1983, and dabbles in writing.

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