The Mexican in Texas Schools

by: William O. Sisk
Posted: July 14, 2021

Port Arthur – Reprinted from Texas Outlook, December, 1930

IN RECENT years the problem of the Mexican in Texas schools has received an undue amount of attention by the educators of our state.  Research work has been carried on in this field.  Surveys have been made for the purpose of securing accurate information on the subject.  Graduate students in the school of education have chosen this field in which to do their thesis work.  Perhaps the most comprehensive study that has been made of the problem is that recently completed by Dr. H. T. Manuel, professor of education in the University of Texas.  For the past five or six years he, with the help of many associates, has carried on an extensive research and as a result has collected a vast amount of accurate data concerning the Mexicans in Texas.  It is from this report and similar reports made by several other individuals that I propose to gather my information concerning the Mexican in the Texas schools.

In order to secure a systematic procedure and also for the sake of brevity, I shall center my discussion of the Mexican in the Texas schools around the following topics: the historical background and racial derivation; the economic and social status of the Mexican child; the personality of the Mexican child; the number and distribution of Mexicans in Texas; the educational provision; and, school enrollment and attendance.

The Mexican child does cause a problem in the school system.  Some superintendents of schools report that the causes for such problems are due to such factors as language, cultural levels, and the prevailing attitude of other people toward the Mexicans.  A report on illiteracy in Texas states that the most difficult human problem confronting elementary education in Texas today is that presented by the illiterate Mexican.

A study of the historical background of the Mexican reveals the fact that he is not a newcomer to Texas.  During colonial days the Mexican colonists came to Texas and settled on the choice of land grants in the state.  At that time the Americans were considered, by the Mexicans, as foreigners, but were permitted to settle in Texas.  The fact that among the signers of the Declaration of Independence were three Mexicans, namely, Francisco Ruiz, Jose Antonio Navarro, and Lorenzo de Zavala shows that the Mexican played no small part in the history and development of Texas.

AT THE present time, there are varied groups of Mexicans scattered throughout the whole of the state.  They range from citizens of long standing at one extreme to the newest immigrant at the other.  In 1920 it was found by Doctor Manuel that between fifty and sixty per cent of the Mexicans in Texas were citizens of the state.  This left near fifty per cent of our Mexican population to be classified as immigrants who had not lived in Texas long enough to become citizens.

In regard to the racial derivation of the Mexican it may be stated that an examination of the works of such men as Paschal and Sullivan reveals that the Mexican population in Texas has many elements entering into it. The elements most commonly found are Spanish, Indian, intermarriage with northern Europeans, and the peon element.  Some authorities claim that there is also a minor sprinkling of Chinese and Negro blood in the Mexican.  It is claimed by Doctor Manuel, and he has good grounds for his contentions, that three-fourths of the immigrants from Mexico are of pure blood Indian origin.  Riley Aiken, a graduate student of the University of Texas and a frequent visitor of Mexico, is also of the opinion that the Mexican is of pure blood Indian origin.

One of the important causes of the Mexican problem is the low economic and social status of the Mexicans. The Mexican children in Texas come from homes representing all degrees of economic and social levels from the highest to the lowest.  In describing the economic and social status of the Mexican child, Handman, in his book on the Mexican immigrant in Texas, groups them into three economic and social groups.  The first group, he calls the political refugees, found most commonly in San Antonio.  The second group is the Texas Mexican, who lives along the border.  He is a descendent of the original Texas Mexican population and of later settlers.  The third group of Mexicans is composed of immigrants, who in a large measure are agricultural laborers.

In a report made by W. J. Knox on the economical status of the Mexican immigrant in San Antonio which was based on a survey of 1,550 homes, representing 9,000 persons or about one-eighth of the entire Mexican population of the city, he presents the following information:

  1. 48 per cent of 1,282 men earners were classified as common labors earning on an average of $13.68 a week, and 42 per cent of these had irregular work; of those surveyed 3 per cent were classified as professional or semi-professional earning on an average of about $24.90 per week; the average wage for 1,211 men was $16.34 per week;
  2. Of 1,211 men earners 65 per cent were classified as foreign born;
  3. The English-speaking Mexican laborer earned 37 per cent more than the non-English-speaking laborer; of 949 men classified 39 per cent were in the non-English-speaking group;
  4. Mexicans with an education earned $8.39 per week or 67 per cent more than did the uneducated Mexicans; of 1,211 men, 665 or 55 per cent were illiterate; of 424 native fathers 31 per cent were illiterate;
  5. The average time spent in school by each of 546 men was about four years; only one-third of this group had been in school five years or more; only 9 per cent had spent more than seven years in school;
  6. The average size of 1,397 families was 5.7 persons.

In a report on the home situations of the Mexicans in San Antonio, made by Thomas G. Rogers, a graduate student of the University of Texas, the economic condition of the Mexican homes is described very minutely.  The model house is a two-room structure.  In the report 1,543 houses were classified on a seven point scale ranging from miserable to modern.  Only one house in the group was graded modern, while 107 were graded miserable.  Mr. Rogers summed up his report by saying, “the housing situation of the Mexicans in San Antonio is, indeed, very poor.”

TO SUM up, the economic and social status of the Mexican as revealed by certain reports is one of underprivilege.  Nearly half of the Mexican children have parents classified as unskilled laborers, and among these the wages are very low and labor is unsteady.  It is not to be understood, however, that all Mexicans are in this group.  Some are regarded with respect and consideration in their own communities, even though it is the policy of other whites to regard them as social inferiors.  The attitude of Mexicans toward this treatment as inferiors varies from acquiescence to bitter resentment. The importance of this social factor cannot be easily overestimated in studying the problems of the Mexican child in our school system.

The next factor to be considered in studying the Mexican child in the Texas school is his personality.  It is impossible to point out traits of a typical Mexican, because of the individual differences.  It is true that the trends of a group can be observed and from such an observation rather accurate conclusions may be drawn.  In order to discover certain group trends of the Mexican it may be well to note the traits as observed by certain individuals.

  1. J. Knox, a man who has associated with Mexicans in San Antonio since a few years after the Civil War and who taught among Mexicans for twenty years, notes the following characteristics in the Mexican: first, a high appreciation of friendship or favors; second, no one can change their faith or confidence in an individual; third, teachers are highly respected along with doctors and priests; fourth, the word of the Mexican father is law for his wife and children; fifth, Mexican women can seldom be induced to stay away from home at night; sixth, they are skilled with any kind of handwork; seventh, foreign born Mexicans are loathe to use English on account of the fact that they are very sensitive to the least criticism; and eighth, few skilled laborers belong to labor unions.
  2. K. Harris states that the following traits are shown in the school life of the Mexican child; (1) charity to the needy; (2) sociability; (3) vivid emotional reactions to proper appeal; (4) strong domestic affection; (5) sensitivity to invidious comparisons; (6) artistic ability; (7) love for music; (8) appreciation of favors; (9) respect for authority of home and state; (10) loyalty to friends and hatred of enemies; (11) poor spirit in losing athletic contests; (12) incessant talk; (13) slow thinking, probably resulting from language difficulty; (14) curiosity; (15) lack of worthy ambition; and (16) inveterate gambling.

Based upon these reports and also upon studies made by Garretson, Garth, Hughes, Young, Wright and others in trends of some of the most important findings are: (1) Mexican children on the average have lower scores on intelligence tests than do other white children; (2) the language handicap decreases with school advancement; and (3) test scores seem to decrease with the increase of Indian blood.

In regard to the relative scholarship of the Mexican child, it has been discovered by Doctor Manuel and others, that there is a tendency for them in mixed groups to rank in the middle and lowest third of the class.  Cases of special talents were found among the Mexican, also. Individuals possessing such talents present special education problems in our school systems. Even under adverse circumstances there are many Mexican children who show quite a bit of success in their school work. The reasons for their success may be attributed to the following factors: their ambition to be educated; hard work; fewer diversions; rivalry with other whites; and greater age.  On the other hand, the reasons pointed out for their failure are: poor attendance; inefficiency of school systems; lack of understanding between home and the school; lack of incentive; and, less mental ability.

The next topic of importance concerns the number and distribution of the Mexicans in Texas.  Taken from a report made by E. E. Davis, the number of foreign-born Mexicans in the state in 1900, 1910, and 1920 were as follows:  in 1900 there were 70,981; in 1910 the number was 124,238; and in 1920 the number had increased to 249,652.  The number for 1920 shows an increase of 100.9 per cent for the previous ten years.  From 1910 to 1920 an average of 12,541 Mexicans per year entered Texas.  In this same report it is stated that the Mexican element is located almost wholly in the southern and the southwestern portion of the state.  In 1920 there were 11.1 Mexicans per square mile in Caldwell county, 10 Mexicans per square mile in Hidalgo County, and 7 Mexicans per square mile in Cameron county.  These three counties showed the greatest density of Mexican population in the state.  Since 1920 it seems that the migration has been to the north and east of San Antonio.  There is a tendency for the Mexican to follow the black land counties toward Waco and Dallas.

Due to the fact that the scholastic census does not list the Mexicans as a separate race it is necessary to classify them on the basis of Mexican names.  This has been done to a great degree of accuracy by Miss Dolores Lozano and Mr. Riley Aiken in the office of the State Department of Education.  On a basis of names, a tabulation by age and sex was made for 1928 and a mere count for 1922.  As a result of this work the following tabulations are offered for consideration:



The following tabulations show that there is a tendency for the Mexicans to live in centers of population:

From the Public School Directory for 1928-1929, the percentages of scholastics found in Common School Districts were 33.5 per cent of all Mexicans, 42.2 per cent of all other whites, and 44.7 per cent of all colored scholastics.  These figures seem to verify the fact that Mexicans tend to live in centers of population.

A study of the same report shows that boys outnumbered girls in the case of both Mexicans and other whites, but the difference is greater in the case of Mexicans.  The report shows that there was a ratio of 107 boys to 100 girls in school.

The following table which is taken from Doctor Manuel’s report shows the age distribution of scholastics in Texas for 1929.

It will be observed that in each group there is a downward trend, but the greatest drop occurs in the case of the Mexicans.  The number of Mexican scholastics decreases one-half between the ages of seven and seventeen.  This unusual decrease may be due to the higher death rate of the Mexicans; or to the tendency to omit the older children in census reports; or to immigration.

From a comparison of the scholastic reports of 1922 and 1928 it will be observed that there is an increase in this six year period of 42,150 Mexicans, 49,579 other whites, 7,392 colored, and 99,121 as a total for all.  This report shows an increase of 32.8 per cent for Mexicans as compared with 5.7 per cent for other whites.  In other words, the annual increase for Mexicans is 4.8 per cent as compared with .9 per cent for all other whites.  In terms of total population of the state, it was estimated in 1928 that there were 800,000 Mexicans with 187,000 Mexican scholastics which numbered 13.0 per cent of the total scholastics for Texas.

The constitution of Texas provides for public free schools for all children in the state.  Not only does it provide for free education for all children, but it attempts to force all children between the ages of eight and fourteen years of age to attend school at 100 consecutive days each year.  The question now is asked, “Does such educational provision, in practice, include the Mexican child?”

William O. Sisk
This 1930 article by William O. Sisk about Mexican American public education in Texas is significant for several reasons. First, the reference by the educator to Mexican Americans as “Mexicans,” confirms that everyone in Texas who had a Spanish surname was considered a “Mexican”. Second, Mr. Sisk was apparently distressed that the “problem of the Mexican… [was receiving] an undue amount of attention. Interestingly, he focused much attention on the Mexican as causing problems in the public schools. He also describes the “personality” and “characteristics” of the typical Mexican. The article does provide some excellent demographic data that current historians of Mexican American in history in Texas may find useful.

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