Interview – Alejo Salinas Jr, bilingual education: the early years

Date of Interview: December 14, 2017
Interviewed By: Chuy Ramirez
Posted: July 11, 2021

Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr. is a former college lecturer, retired from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At the University, he was engaged in the Department of Organization and School Leadership.  He currently serves on the board of trustees of South Texas College, an elected position which he has held for over 20 years.

EDUCATION:  Ph.D., The University of Texas – Austin, 1983 Major: Educational Administration; M.Ed., Sam Houston State University, 1970 Major: History, Government, and Education; B.A., Pan American College, 1967 Major: History and Government

The son of a tenant farmer in La Reforma, Starr County, Alejo Salinas recalls growing up as a child when his family was still using horse-drawn implements and a horse-drawn wagon for farming.  His mom cooked on a wood stove.  Next to the youngest of several children, he was the first to graduate high school.  After a college degree from Pan American College, Edinburg, he pursued higher education and attained his master’s degree (Sam Houston State) and PhD degree (University of Texas, Austin).  Now retired, Mr. Salinas was engaged in public education throughout his career as teacher, counselor, director of bilingual education, principal, superintendent of schools, and university lecturer.  For close to twenty years, he has served as trustee of South Texas College, McAllen, Texas, serving as chairman of the board 2016 through 2018, having served as vice-chairman in 2002-2002 and 2014 to 2016.

Many of the educational efforts to assist Mexican American high school students were initially undertaken in the 1970s during the Johnson Administration.  Dr. Salinas talks briefly about his first teaching job in 1967 in the “Migrant Program” at PSJA. By 1971, he became director the PSJA bilingual education program, a position which he did not apply for, but was directed to undertake.  Bilingual education was entirely discretionary and consisted of school districts organizing pilot programs funded through special federal grants.  PSJA was one of the first school districts in the state to seek and obtain federal funding for these initial programs.   Bilingual education efforts would be attacked from various directions, including right wing conservatives, but parents, as well, often found the programs lacking.  And they were lacking, for progressive school districts were struggling with creating an educational model from scratch.  Salinas explains those struggles with the lack of staff development, lack of curriculum and lack of implementation methodologies.  Often the district found itself relying on curriculum materials and supplies used by other Hispanic communities and adapted for use in South Texas.  Eventually, the district developed its own curriculum and instructional methodologies locally.  

On the heels of that effort followed the activities of Region One Educational Center in Edinburg, Texas and their progressive leader, Al Ramirez.  Under Mr. Ramirez’ leadership, Region One developed the Rock and Roll series of bilingual education materials.

Alejo Salinas shares some of his personal life experiences.  He describes for us the needs of Mexican American students in South Texas which existed 50 years ago, and which led to the local efforts by school districts to develop alternatives to the exclusive, English-only teaching models then in effect in Texas.

Chuy:  Today is December 14, 2017, and we are here at the Echo Hotel in Edinburg, Texas, with Dr. Alejo Salinas. Doc, can you briefly summarize for us your early years, your birth, your parents, where you come from, where you grew up?

Dr. Salinas:  I was born in northeastern Starr county, in a small community called La Reforma. It was a farming community. My dad was a tenant farmer. I come from an era when we were still using horse-drawn implements for farming and a horse-drawn wagon and I am proud to say my mom cooked on a wood stove. We had a very humble, humble beginning, my entire family, extreme poverty. We moved away from there to another place called El Javalín which was a farming community but there were not as many people there as in La Reforma.[1] There, we stayed three years and again it did not pan out for us because we were not making a living. There was nothing really to sustain us, so we headed to Edinburg. I finished growing up in Edinburg where we continued to work out in the fields and do odd jobs to try to make ends meet.

My older brothers both dropped out of high school to help support the family along with my dad. So overall, it was a very, very undescriptive environment. But somehow or another, I felt an education would be the way to go. And I graduated from Edinburg High School, went on to Pan American College and became a teacher with Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Schools in the migrant program at Fulton Elementary in Alamo. I received my masters’ degree from Sam Houston State University and went on to become an administrator with the PSJA District, serving as Assistant Principal and for two years as Director of Bilingual Education.

That was an opportunity that I had never envisioned. As a matter fact, I never felt that I was going to go into administration. I really wanted to be a counselor. But the opportunity came up and I gave it a try and felt that I was successful enough to stay in the position or at least go after another position. The bilingual program was by far the most challenging because there was very little material, information, curriculum, training in that particular area. So, we had to start from scratch.

Chuy:  Well, let’s come back to that. Let me go back just a bit to your family. So, where was your father born?

Dr. Salinas:  My father was born in Mexico, but he moved across when he was four years old. He was born in Los Herreras, Nuevo Leon. Actually, it’s a community attached to Los Herreras. It’s called Rancho San Agustin. When he was four years old, his father and mother came across and settled in the La Grulla area where my grandfather was serving as a cook for the U.S. troops.

Chuy:  Your grandfather is serving as a cook for the U.S. troops?  What year was this?

Dr. Salinas:  You’re talking about maybe 1915. There were still some troops around in the area.

Chuy:  There were troops that were left over…

Dr. Salinas:  …from the Pancho Villa era. They were prominent in the area. And my grandfather moved on from there to an area called La Sal Colorada which is west of San Isidro in Starr County. He started farming there. Dry-land farming is very difficult to make a living off of. He stayed there a couple of years and then moved on to La Reforma where he had met the owners of the La Reforma properties. He stayed there until he passed away and then my dad was a farmer with that same organization. And so, our roots are in Mexico, although my dad really grew up here, had very little opportunity to get an education. So, he could read and write in Spanish, but that was about it.

Chuy:  So, did he go to school?

Dr. Salinas:  No, he learned it as we called it, lírico.

Chuy:  Right. So, let me ask you this. Your father is born in Mexico. He comes over here. By the time he comes over here, it’s already the turn of the century, right?

Dr. Salinas:  Yes.

Chuy:  And so, does he become a U.S. citizen?

Dr. Salinas:   No, until much later. He was able to get his passport in the 30’s because by the time he married my mother in the 30’s, he had already gotten his passport. My family was beginning to grow. By the time World War II broke out, four of the six siblings were born, and they didn’t take him into service because he had more than three or four kids. So, he was to stay behind and tend to the farms and help the effort through the farming area.

Chuy:  Okay. So, you were the first one to graduate college?

Dr. Salinas:  Yes, the first one that attended and went on. Actually, I am the next to the last in the family, then my baby brother is two or three years younger than I am. He also went on and graduated from college. He has his master’s from A&M and I went on to get my Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin.

Chuy:  What grade levels did you teach initially?

Dr. Salinas:  I started out at the elementary level. It was a fifth-grade teacher, teaching migrant students. We had a modified program because in the migrant program we started classes earlier and finished later and we compressed the school year, so that students wouldn’t have to be there nine months. And so, it was called a six-month program and we were able to serve the students starting in late October and letting them go by the beginning of May.

Chuy:  And you knew the program worked well?

Dr. Salinas:  I thought that it did. Fortunately, the teachers that I saw around me were dedicated people that would help the students and it gave them an opportunity.  It was a structured program.

Chuy:  What year was this, roughly?

Dr. Salinas:  Nineteen sixty-seven.

Chuy:  This is still before the bilingual education program.

Dr. Salinas:  Yes. Well, actually, bilingual was beginning to have its birth. But, this was a federally funded program for migrant students. It was part of the effort for the War on Poverty that President Johnson had pushed. There was a lot of money available in education from the federal government. You have to realize that the federal government really had not played a significant role in making monies available for schools, in that they are a state responsibility and a local responsibility.

Chuy:  Up until that time.

Dr. Salinas:  Up until that time. And they made compensatory education a big issue which would help compensate for the lack of opportunity for students to attend a full school year.

Chuy:  Now, when you got involved in bilingual education, what year was that? How did you get in involved in bilingual education?

Dr. Salinas:  This happened in 1970. I had just completed my master’s degree. No, in 1971, because I had already completed my master’s degree and I was working as Assistant Principal for the junior high, but I wasn’t very happy with that position because I was the person who applied corporal punishment and I wasn’t getting much satisfaction with what I was doing. I figured, “My God, I’d gone to get an education, prepared myself with a masters’ degree. I should be able to do things that are not necessarily just applying corporal punishment.”

Chuy:  And by corporal punishment you mean what?

Dr. Salinas:  Using the paddle. You know, we used it excessively at the time. And so, corporal punishment was definitely legal. Well, it’s still legal but people don’t practice it as often anymore because of the danger element and because now parental involvement has certainly improved from the times when we had no parental involvement. And so, there is more communication between parents and the students and the administrators. So, over the years, there’s been less and less corporal punishment. But it is still in the books as far as the school laws are concerned. And so, we had an opportunity in Pharr to start out with the bilingual program in 1971. We got funded for that pilot program that summer.

Chuy:  Was that state-funded?

Dr. Salinas:  No, federally funded. The state did not put any money into it until way after that. We started with federal funding. We had applied for a grant to start a bilingual program.

Chuy:  As I recall, bilingual education in the state of Texas then was purely voluntary.

Dr. Salinas:  Well, initially it was. But then, it became mandatory depending on the number of students that you had. If you had twenty or more per class grade, you had to offer it. It was no longer voluntary. But at the time, this was a pilot program that was being supported by the federal government and a way to provide compensatory education to the students who were in need of bilingual education. And so, there had been some programs that had been operated in New York with the Puerto Rican community and other different-language communities. So, it wasn’t entirely new to the U.S., but it was new to us down here because we had never engaged in anything like that. And, as a result, when we started the bilingual program, we were at a loss for staff development, for curriculum implementation, for curriculum materials and supplies that would be adapted to our use in our area down here.

Chuy:  Let me ask you this. Conceptually, back then, in ’71, what was bilingual education?

Dr. Salinas:  Anything that you wanted to make out of it. Okay? So, there was no structure. It all depended on what kind of program you wanted to put up, so long as you brought in the bilingual concept.

Chuy:  Which was what?

Dr. Salinas:  To be able to teach in both languages or at least teach in the Spanish language up to such standards that you would be able to transfer into the English full time. And that was the goal; the transition program. What you call a transition program is where you would be using Spanish for a period of time until such time that the student felt comfortable and could achieve in English, and then you would transfer him to English.

Chuy:  That was the concept?

Dr. Salinas:  That was the concept. And so, for us at PSJA, we had a different program. We had the bilingual program going on and we added a bicultural element because just to make a transference to English is not necessarily what is totally good for the students. You also have to build up their self-esteem. And one of the things you can do for that is that you are going to provide them with the cultural heritage they have. So, you have to have a wedding between bilingual ed and bicultural ed and it could be multi-cultural. It doesn’t necessarily have to be bicultural because at some point, we transferred to multi-cultural. And that worked even better because you’re no longer saying, “This is a quinciañera. In our culture everybody knows what a quinciañera is. And so, we were challenged with developing materials. I know that many of the suppliers down here started importing materials that were designed and used by the Puerto Rican community. But that was not what was the best for us. The Puerto Rican culture is different from the Hispanic culture down here. And so, we wanted to have more localized materials and in order to comply with that, we had to develop our own product. And we did. So, there was a lot of work going on. I was able to work with a wonderful staff that was very dedicated, that was very creative. I think we became leaders in a lot of the areas having to do with bilingual curriculum at the time. We were also working with a tremendous leader in that particular area, Al Ramirez. Alfonso Ramirez[2] from Edinburg who by that time had started the Bilingual Education Department at Region I. He was developing literacy materials and he had two major curriculum developments. One of them was called the ROCK and that stood for the Region One Curriculum Kit and the other was the ROLL. The ROLL was the Region One Literacy Lessons. So, it was known as ROCK and ROLL.

Chuy:  So, at that time, basically, you folks were involved in this work inventing, developing bilingual education.

Dr. Salinas: We were developing. Yes, nobody knew anything about it. You know, when I was offered the job to lead the bilingual program in Pharr, my first comment was, “I don’t know anything about bilingual ed. The assistant then, at the time, Gus Guerra, said, “Nobody does, so you’ll fit in great.” So, I took the challenge. (Chuckle)

Chuy:  It seems to me that that is an interesting approach to education. That is where the cart comes before the horse. But first, there is a political decision that bilingual education would be what we would need. And then they say, “I’ll go out and figure what that means.”

Dr. Salinas:  Yes, exactly.  That’s exactly the way it was. The cart was put in front of the horse and it was actually pushed because we had to develop something. And we filled it with new developments and it had to be pushed until such time as it started going. But see, it was a very hard issue to sell because the powers that be that were in control of school districts and the state and so forth were very, very conservative and they were suspicious of anything that wasn’t the norm.

Chuy:  And they still are.

Dr. Salinas:  And they still are, yeah.  But during that era, it was worse. So not did you have the lack of materials, training supplies and evaluation materials and so forth, but you had to work with a community that many times was against bilingual education. And I’m not talking only about the Anglo community that we had here. We had a fair share of Hispanics that didn’t want it. So, it had to be a selling point. And at PSJA, the selling point was that bilingual education was being offered to the students that needed it from the stand point of starting off with the immediate learning. And then, the other one was that we were also offering bilingual education to non-Spanish speakers. So, there was a counterpart there. There was a balance and that balance created a selling point in the community. It’s not just for you, Chuy, it’s for the Anglos too.

Chuy:  Okay. Let’s talk about that. Let me make a comparison and I hope it’s a true comparison. When I attended school in the mid-fifties, the mexicanos were segregated from the Anglos until the sixth grade.[3] And what little I have been able to find in support of that approach is that it was somewhat of an effort by the school districts in Texas to establish a point of English proficiency. That is to say that you segregate the mexicano students so that they can, at their own pace, learn English, learn the material and then, hopefully, by the sixth grade, they have learned enough, so they aren’t going to stymie the Anglo within the same grade.

Dr. Salinas:  Either that Chuy, or they didn’t know enough so they dropped out of the sixth grade. That’s another factor.

Chuy: I agree with you, but as a policy in Texas, the state would segregate mexicanos up to the sixth grade.

Dr. Salinas:  Oh, yes. You know, that was hidden under the “Neighborhood Concept”.

Chuy:  But it also had a rational basis.

Dr. Salinas:  There was a plan to it, yes.

Chuy: So how is that different from what bilingual education was? There’s still some segregation taking place, right?

Dr. Salinas:  In a way, yes, because you had those students that didn’t know any English that were being served in a classroom without the integration of the other students. And then you had the students who were totally English-speaking, whether they be Anglo or Hispanics that would make up maybe, the upper and middle-class section of the school. So, there was segregation within the school. No question about it. And a lot of times because of the language. But, the end-product was going to be that the Hispanics were going to learn enough English to be able to transition and then enter the regular flow, which occurred in some situations, but in others it didn’t.

Chuy:  How does bilingual education, then, modify that?

Dr. Salinas:  It was a hit-and-miss type of thing and we did have evaluation components that we needed to integrate into our bilingual education programs. The federal government, at about the third year that they were awarding bilingual grants decided that, “Yeah, this is good. We’re spending millions and millions on this but let’s get some accountability going on. Let’s get some evaluation.”

And so, if you were looking at comparing the test scores and the ability for students to transfer into the regular program, you had to have outside evaluators come in and look at all those factors. We conducted the testing of which there was very little material that you could, initially, use. But fortunately, during the second year, the beginning of 1972, a brilliant young man by the name of Ed de Ávila from the California area—I think he was in Sacramento, in that area—Stockton, California—was doing a lot of research on learning by Spanish-speaking students. He came up with the idea that we needed to have specific assessments for that population. And he went on to develop and perfect and get all of the tests that are necessary to determine whether those testing instruments qualify for a bona fide score that can be quantified. And so, it was through his efforts that bilingual education testing came about as a science. He then went on to become a very prominent figure in assessment in bilingual education. His project was in Stockton, but we had a pilot part of it at Pharr. And it was known as The Stockton Multilingual, no longer bilingual, Multilingual/Multicultural Program. Very interesting. We would attend sessions all over where he had his pilot programs. You had to standardize the results. You just couldn’t say that Ed de Ávila says that’s the way it is. You have to standardize and prove to testing entities in the states that you have done enough research and you have cross-referenced and have had an opportunity to standardize the scores.

Chuy:  And his assessment methods, were they proven to work?

Dr. Salinas:  To this day there are still some assessment instruments that he has developed that are in place, you know, because he was doing some of this when the program was over, the pilot program for Multilingual/Multicultural Education was over. He set up his own firm doing all that kind of stuff. He was very successful, financially, and otherwise. It helped him, and it helped a bunch of other people. His assessments are still recognized today.

Chuy: You went from basically a hit-or-miss approach to developing your own local nuanced program…

Dr. Salinas:  And then attached it to his assessment.

Chuy:  …and then you had a way of assessing and proving. And then, did the assessments prove that bilingual education was working?

Dr. Salinas:  Yes, but sometimes because of the statistical tests that are run when it comes to education, what you do is that you look at the progress and the amounts in progress as being very minimal. And you would say, “Well, it’s not worth it.”  Sometimes statistics show minor growth. But, in essence, it reflects a much bigger growth than what you see there. And that also made it a hard-selling point. A funny thing that I was just remembering is when I was in Pharr, I was in charge of making presentations to the school board about the progress and what we’d done, you know, our own accountability to the local board. And there was a gentleman that worked there. He was not a board member. He was responsible for keeping up with the attendance reports and enrollment reports and things like that. Walter, I forget his last name. But, anyway, I asked if there were any questions about the presentation that I had made. None of the board members had any questions. Neither did the superintendent. But, Walter had a very important question to ask. And he asked, “I want to know, do you use Castilian Spanish in the classrooms?” And I said, “Yes, we do. As much as we use the Queen’s English.” Next question.


Chuy:  I tell you, that’s a good comment. He didn’t even know what he was asking.

Dr. Salinas:  No, he didn’t know what he was asking.

Chuy:  But definitely wanted to ask it.

Dr. Salinas:  Oh, yes. Put us on the spot. Because that’s the only Spanish people of that generation would accept as Spanish. Everything else was prostituted.

Chuy:  But that’s interesting because that continues to be to some extent an issue. So, describe a classroom, as best as you can, that consists of students in a bilingual program, say hypothetically, from a second-grade classroom. What is happening in that classroom that is different than the classes that I attended in elementary school?

Dr. Salinas:  When we started, one of the things that we had was that we knew our students didn’t know how to read, they didn’t know how to write, but they could visualize. If we said, “árbol / tree”, and showed them a picture of a tree with both words printed underneath the picture, side by side, they were going to associate. So, a lot of it was by association. And so, it was vocabulary build-up more than anything else. And then, getting the students to feel successful because you expect your child in the first grade to be able to read something, right? So, for that, we accessed Region One Literacy, the Rock and Roll program areas that we had to develop. And this was the program that we were using. But we were able to read and write using those kits. For example, by using, let’s say, three or four letters from the alphabet, we could get the kid to learn how to write and spell and read. For example, you take “m”. “Mi mamá me ama”. How many letters are you using? “M”, “a”, “i”. That’s it. “Mi mamá…”

Chuy:  And “e”.

Dr. Salinas:  And “e”, “…me ama.”

Chuy:  All the vowels, almost except for “o” and “u”.

Dr. Salinas:  And one consonant. And so, there you have success right away because as soon you can pick that up, you can read. “I’m reading!”

Chuy:  I can read. I’m successful.

Dr. Salinas:  Yes, it builds success in the students. And that was the brainchild of Al Ramirez who did the ROCK and ROLL. From there it progressed.

Chuy:  Esteem, self-esteem. You mentioned that.

Dr. Salinas:  Oh, it’s very important.

Chuy:  Why? What is self-esteem, first of all, and why is it so important?

Dr. Salinas:  Well, self-esteem is feeling good about yourself, feeling good about standards, feeling good about where you live, your community, so many elements that enter into your environment and your life style that make you feel good. Or make you feel bad. And you know, and I know from our experience growing up that a lot of times what we saw around us did not create the esteem that we wanted. And take, for example, a migrant student who is always moving around from place to place and conquering different places and different people and a lot of discrimination along the way. There is no question that there was a lot of discrimination and so their self-esteem was lowered because even as a child, you develop that self-esteem through your family and your associations and your friends. And while you have it there, it’s building up. You can also get it from the love that your friends and family give you and it gives you a very positive feeling. But then, you go to places where there is rampant discrimination and down goes that self-esteem, you know. My experience when I first went to school in San Isidro was, I didn’t know what was going on in school. I had never seen a school in my life. My parents didn’t take me to enroll me in school. I went with my brothers and sisters and they basically got me enrolled and they took me to my first class. And as soon as they left, I got out and went to look for them. (Laughter.) I didn’t know what was going on. It was all English. I actually sat in class, day after day after day, not knowing what was going on. Bored as heck because I didn’t                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          know what was going on.  I’m pretty good about remembering all these things.

Chuy:  You were talking about self-esteem. There is a word that I have used for many years, I think that I picked up from some of the Black literature back in the 60’s, an inferiority complex. Have you ever heard of anyone use that?

Dr. Salinas:  Yeah, we used to use it a lot. “You have an inferiority complex.”  Very common.


Chuy:  How does it apply, or does it apply to what you’re talking about in terms of self-esteem?

Dr. Salinas:  I think it is something that develops. More where you enter your teen-age years. And the formative years, when you’re in elementary school are really more reflective of self-esteem, of yourself. You get to a level in time and age that you start recognizing basic differences. And that basically gets you to kind of drawback instead of being more participatory. When you see other students excelling and you’re not, that creates an inferiority complex. If it continues throughout your school years, it gets compounded to the point that you really don’t want to do much because you’re inferior. And I know that in my own personal experience, I felt that I was inferior to the White population. And, you know, that may have been ingrained in me over a period of time by the actions that were taken in school and so forth, but I didn’t feel that I was superior in anything.

Chuy:  Or that you could measure up.

Dr. Salinas:  No, no. I wasn’t. And so that was an inferiority complex that developed. I remember that it really started when we were in junior high. Junior high was 6th, 7th and 8th grade. Up to that time, you know, we were still going on the fuel called self-esteem. Then we get into the lesser octane which is an inferiority complex. Then by the time you got to college, you really had an inferiority complex. (Laughter) So it just kept compounding.

Chuy:  I remember reading something recently from an article that was written by Dr. Gómez, who was at TEA.

Dr. Salinas:  Severo?

Chuy: Severo Gómez. And I was surprised by that because I did not know that he was that committed to bilingual education. But one of the things that he cites is that there had to be an element of bicultural education. And you mentioned something along those lines. Why is that? Why does bilingual education have to include an element of culture?

Dr. Salinas:  It’s part of what builds up your self-esteem, in a way. You know, it wasn’t by design, but it was recognized that it was helpful. “I want to be part of my culture and if I don’t hear about it in school and if I don’t see anything about it at school then that means that my culture is worthless. And it’s going to shoot me toward an inferiority complex that we already have. Dr. Gómez was a fantastic educator. I had a testing class with Dr. Gomez. He recognized one of the things that we needed was to be able to understand our culture, to appreciate our culture and be proud of our culture in the schools, not only in the quinciañeras out there in the barrio and so forth.

Chuy:  And what is that culture? Or what was that culture? Are you able to define or describe what that is?

Dr. Salinas:  There are a number of things and especially for us here in the Valley where we are so close to Mexico and we have so many ties with families in Mexico; that we celebrate El día de los muertos, for example, that we celebrate jointlyEl cinco de mayo y El dieciséis de septiembre. Because these things that tie us to Mexico whether we like it or not; that we honor our parents heavily through Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, that we appreciate our family by having a closeness and celebrating birthdays and things of that nature. Or get together and so forth. I think that all that culture makes us feel that we’re part of a unit. And it’s an extended unit. It’s not only us here, but an extended unit and it gives us a positive feeling. It makes you feel good.

Chuy:  Okay. So now, from ’71, ’72 to 2017 is a long time.

Dr. Salinas:  Yes.

Chuy:  As I understand it, in the bilingual programs, now there are several iterations. There is one model in which the students are looking at becoming proficient in English and the primary goal is maybe to become proficient. Then there’s a test-out and a student can flow into the traditional English program.

Dr. Salinas:  There is a test-in and a test-out. You enter, and you exit. And you know, it has changed. But times have also changed.

Chuy:  The PSJA School District prides itself on its dual language program and they’ve got, I don’t know if the majority, but a good number of the elementary schools that they consider full dual language. And from what I can tell, the dual language model is described as a 90/10 or a 50/50. Ninety/ten being 90 percent English language instruction and 10 percent Spanish language instruction. Then you have the 50/50 model, and of course, one half of the time is dedicated to English and the other half of the time is dedicated to Spanish. And they already have some classes in high school and classes in middle school. Then you have a situation like a neighboring school district that does not have any dual language enrollment and I don’t know if there is even any fidelity to bilingual education. Are those just philosophical differences or are they based on different populations? What do you think?

Alejo: They’re based pretty much on the community make-up and the leadership in that community and the leadership doesn’t necessarily always represent the majority. It represents the special interests that they consider to be vital to the community.

Chuy:  The prevailing views?

Alejo:  Yes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And so, these are also vanguards, guardians of a system that must never change. And we’ve lost our call by being guardians of the system. But by and large, it still provides an opportunity to participate either in bilingual ed or the dual language in spite of the vanguards.  And, I also see the vanguards disappearing over a period of time. There will be some stalwarts who are going to come in and try to replace them, but it will never be the same.

Chuy:  Okay. And so, if all of the science is in fact correct and points to the following: This is what is so interesting. We have a population that generally, across the country, is losing its literacy. Not very impressive and in terms of First World countries, if we are in the top ten percent of the most literate, we are closer to the bottom of that ten percent, in terms of literacy, right.

Alejo:  It’s very possible.

Chuy:  And I’m not talking about that as a result of immigrants. I’m talking about the general population. So, on the other hand, you have countries with high literacy, where dual languages are second nature.

Alejo:  And because of, not the vastness, but the closeness, the proximity.

Chuy:  The proximity?

Alejo:  Of the different countries, of the different nationalities and so forth, the proximity. Our country is so wide and so big that we encompass so much in between. As an example, along the border, we have that contact that we’re never going to lose. But within the other part of the United States that is not as proximate to Mexico, English is going to be very common and we don’t appreciate the need for us to learn French or German or whatever happens to be European.

Chuy:  So, can you see, ironically, a situation where along the border or other communities where Spanish is prevalent, people are learning formally two languages and in fact, schools are teaching in both languages. And the university is teaching professionals to teach in both languages. That you may have, ironically, a situation where those areas become places where there’s superior knowledge.

Alejo:  Well, we’re always going to have levels of that too. It all goes back to where you started and how you worked your way up from there. Because if you come up, let’s say, not knowing any English, you’re already behind and therefore, you’re going to have a situation where once you catch up, you can become equal to or superior to, depending on which route you want to take. Again, here, it’s what we want in our areas, in our localities, how much we want to change. Interestingly enough, you have radio announcers in our area and even television announcers that had that polished Spanish who are now gravitating toward the less professional Spanish. They are mixing the local lingo that we have here.

Chuy:  Spanglish. Tex-Mex.

Alejo:  Oh, yeah. They were very formal. Hugo de la Cruz is an example of someone who was very formal in the Spanish language. Over a period of time he has kind of acclimatized to the population we have here. You have a number of radio announcers throughout the Valley that go that route. But at one time, they were the inspiration for the people who wanted to speak a better quality of Spanish. The people are going to go with what the area needs or wants. If you go to a place that has superior studies of a university nature and that group that surrounds itself with the university are going to have certainly quality language whether it be English or Spanish or both. But, if it’s not for that, they’ll go for what the average area population speaks.

Chuy:  So, you’re saying it’s a matter of demand.

Alejo:  And what’s in trend at that particular moment.

Chuy:  Whether it’s an operational language or not?

Alejo:  Yes.

Chuy:  So, if you’re not making money off of the language…

Alejo:  Money talks, always has. Show me the money.

Chuy:  Yeah. Why should you study a class in German literature, except for the academic benefit, if there is no value from it, right?

Alejo:  That’s right. There’s got to be value associated with it for today’s society to become interested in something like that. It’s got to. There’s got to be economic value. That’s the driving force.

Chuy:   Let me ask you. In terms of offering a fair, equitable, enrichment to all the students, if a school district were to offer dual language in English and Spanish and allow all students to participate. In other words,…

Alejo:  It would have to be mandatory. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it.

Chuy:  It’s not going to happen?

Alejo:  No, although the students are being more pro-multi-language than their parents because they have friends that gravitate both ways and they’d like to be able to be competitive in the use of Spanish, for example. My grandniece said, “I want to learn Spanish.” So, I got her a book, workbook and when I get a chance, I talk to her in Spanish.

“Why do you want to learn Spanish?”

“So, I can know what you all are talking about.”

Chuy:  I love that.

Alejo:  She’s something else.

Chuy:  No, but there’s a reason for that. I suspect that like all kids, we want to be part of something. And there are kids out there that we like and are communicating in a language different than ours.

Alejo:  And kids are very accepting, Chuy. Adults aren’t. If we could be as accepting as children are with the knowledge that we have, it would be a different world.

Chuy:  So, in conclusion, coming back to the beginning again, the squishy middle sees…

Alejo: … bilingual as a hindrance.

Chuy:  Yeah. They see cognition as English proficiency so my grandchild who is learning English exclusively at home and at school, then that must be because we believe that that is the best investment of his time and effort. Otherwise we’d be doing something else.

Alejo:  Sure.

Chuy:  And that’s those generations who feel that and believe that. And it may not have anything to do with nationhood or being American. It’s just that they see that benefit. The more recent immigrants who are coming here are in a situation in a state that is closer to the state of affairs that existed in the ‘50s. For those people, for that generation, there is no way that they are going to make up that gap by trying to compete with my grandkids. Now, there will be special people. There will be the Alejo Salinas, the Leo Montalvo and those people who are special and work hard and kick ass and so forth. But those are special people, they’re not your average Joes.

Alejo:  Highly motivated.

Chuy:  What is your take on the continuing expansion of dual language?

Alejo:  I salute it.

Chuy: Why?

Alejo:  Because I think that the demand for multi-languages is always going to be there. And for some of our students to learn Chinese is a new and dimension into a different country. And for the Chinese to learn Spanish opens up a door.

Chuy:  What about this thought: Actually, being taught in Spanish is nothing more than enrichment?

Alejo:  It becomes enrichment once you get into the English level where you mastered English and you are now operational in English. Then the Spanish that you grew up under as a kid, that is enrichment.

Chuy:  Thanks for sharing this great wisdom.

Alejo Salinas Jr., Ph.D.

To Learn More About Alejo Salinas Jr., Ph.D.

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