Dr. Blandina Cardenas: praxis embodied
There is a connecting thread, I posit, between the “decolonial praxis,” and pedagogy advocated by contemporary Chicana/o scholars1 and the innovative teaching methods first advanced during the late 1960s by an array of Mexican American scholars. Among those innovators is our featured scholar, Dr. Blandina Cardenas. But the thread extends beyond academia. It reaches all the way back to the Mexican American high school students of the 1960s at Edcouch-Elsa2 who aspired to affirm an identity and autonomy as Chicana/os and as human beings.
That adolescents of the late 1960s had both the cognitive intuition to comprehend how the school system was failing them, and the mature passion to challenge the very authority imposing that system is nothing short of astounding. The “demands” made in November 1968, by the striking Texas high school students at Edcouch-Elsa,3 expressly included the need for positive images of themselves in their textbooks and the cessation of the brutal practice of corporal punishment of children for speaking Spanish. “Linguistic terrorism,” a term of relatively recent coinage, captures the brutality of the “Spanish-only” pedagogy of the 1920s to the early 1970s. But conceptually, that “terrorism” had been challenged since the early days of the League of United Latin American Citizens.4 Consider as well, El Plan de Santa Barbara,5 drafted in 1969. Underlying that ambitious higher education plan, which included Chicana/o studies, was the advocacy, in part, for what is now called a decolonial praxis. The pedagogical approaches offered by a new generation of scholars often overlaps with that of earlier scholars.
Come back with me to the present. Consider the pedagogical strategies applied by Carolina E. Alonzo in her classroom, which she terms as “decolonization”.6 It is a process of “deconstructing official discourses,” Ms. Alonzo explains. Ms. Alonzo’s short article is but one of many excellent works in a highly relevant anthology just published.7 Her pedagogical objective is a legitimation of the student’s identity and autonomy. Is that not similar to what the striking Edcouch-Elsa high school students in 1968 were demanding? (see the illustration herein). Isn’t the adage La misma gata, nomás que revolcada applicable here? They are both singing the same song, but a different tune. In some sense, it may speak of a sorry state of affairs. That is, new visionaries must keep stepping up to remind us of the lessons we have overlooked, forgotten, or simply, never learned.
In this February 2021 edition of IberoAztlan we share two lengthy interviews with Dr. Blandina Cardenas. The voice-only interview is pre-pandemic and contains a nagging background mechanical sound. Remember the days of phone recorders? This interview covers her family background and formative years, growing up in San Felipe-Del Rio. Her’s is a unique story, and yet, is also our story. The video interview, lengthy as well, is broken into digestible parts. Dr. Cardenas shares facets of her lengthy public career, her activism, and la causa. She affectionately refers to some of the many personalities with whom her path has intersected. She has doubtlessly been one of the most abiding advocates for the education and advancement of Mexican Americans. We have reprinted, as well, her article, first published in 2004, which relates back to her co-authorship, with Dr. Jose A. Cardenas,8 of the “Theory of Incompatibilities,” developed in 1968.9
Dr. Blandina Cardenas—public school teacher, educator, theoretician, academic scholar, activist, politica–is praxis embodied. She is one of a long line of such education scholar-practitioners, the sort who has always run toward the challenge. Take your pick, or add to the endless list: Dr. Juan Gomez Quiñones,10 Dr. Americo Paredes,11 Dr. Antonia Castañeda,12 Marta Cotera,13 Dr. George I. Sanchez,14 Al Ramirez, Martin de Leon,15 then State Senator Joe Bernal, Dr. Jose Limon,16 Dr. Norma Cantu,17 Dr. Tatcho Mindiola,18 Dr. Emilio Zamora,19 Dr. Angela Valenzuela,20 and numerous others.
As educators, each of the forerunners understood that the school systems of the Southwest had miserably failed their Mexican American students. Underlying that failure was the pedagogy of “Eurocentrism,” or “Anglocentrism”. They did not call it that. But, it was clear that while the pedagogy made perfect sense for teaching Anglo children, it simply was not working for the vast majority of Mexican Americans. Indeed, Dr. Cardenas diplomatically subsumed that failed pedagogy under the “incompatibilities” between the school and the Mexican American child.
The connective tissue underlaying the scholar-practitioners’ lives work is la causa. The overarching centrality of la causa, as it relates to education of Chicanas/os, has been identity. Affirmation of who we are has been a requisite underlayment in the development of a liberating state of consciousness. Through that consciousness we have gained a sense of our human autonomy which liberates us as individuals to find our place in America and consequently the social consciousness of our obligations to each other as human beings.
Dr. Blandina Cardenas exemplifies that unique and rare unity between theory and practice. She would never stray far from her native San Felipe-Del Rio, Texas, a place where she would begin her teaching career in the Texas public school system. In 1968, Dr. Blandina Cardenas would collaborate with Dr. Jose Angel Cardenas in producing, undoubtedly, one of the most influential pedagogical theories applied during the Mexican American desegregation cases of the 1970s and 80s. She would retire in 2008 as President of the University of Texas Pan American at Edinburg, Texas.
1 In this context, decolonial praxis refers to a pedagogical approach which advances cultural
diversity, including ethnic and gender studies.
2 See Guajardo, Miguel and Francisco Guajardo, Jr. “Impact of Brown on the Brown of South
as: A Micro-Political Perspective on the Education of Mexican Americans in a South Texas
Community.” American Educational Research Journal 41, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 501-526.
3 The Edcouch-Elsa student demands included inclusion of Mexican Americans in public
textbooks and ordering a top to public corporal punishment for speaking Spanish. See: Berta-
Avila, Margarita, Anita Tijerina Revilla & Julie Lopez Figueroa, Marching Students, Chicana
and Chicano Activism in Education, 1968 to the Present, University of Nevada Press, Reno,
4 LULAC’s focus on English proficiency as the panacea for educational deficiencies is often
mistaken as their sole strategy. During the Alonzo Perales and J.T. Canales years of leadership,
LULAC would help underwrite much of the early litigation to end segregation, including the
Salvatierra and Delgado cases.
5 El Plan de Santa Barbara: A Chicano Plan for Higher Education (1969), produced by the
Chicano Coordinating Council of Higher Education. The plan sought to raise political
consciousness among Chicanas/os to spur higher education and political action.
6 Alonzo, Carolina E., “Teaching Gloria Anzaldua: Decolonization Writing and Healing in the Classroom.” in Gloria E. Anzaldua, Pedagogy and Practice for Our Classroom and Communities, edited by Margaret Cantu-Sanchez, Candice de Leon-Zepeda, and Norma Cantu, 249-259. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1997.
8 See:Cardenas, Jose A. Ed. D., My Spanish-Speaking Left Foot, Intercultural Development Association, San Antonio, 1997.
9 Cardenas, Blandina, Breaking Through in Migrant Education (reprinted herein); See: The
Cardenas-Cardenas Theory of Incompatibilities (Blandina Cardenas and Jose A. Cardenas,
NEA Journal, Today’s Education, February, 1972.)
10 See Quiñones, Juan Gomez. Chicano Politics, Reality & Promise, 1940-1990. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990.
11 See: Limon, Jose E., Americo Paredes, Culture & Critique. Jack and Doris Series in Texas History, Life and Culture, no. 34. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012; Paredes, Americo, With His Pistol in His Hand, A Border Ballad and its Hero, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1958; Medrano, Manuel F., Americo Paredes, In his Own Words, an Authorized Biography, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2010.
12 See: Castaneda, Antonia, Susan H. Armitage, Patricia Hart & Karen- Weathermon, Gender on the Borderlands, University of Texas Press, Austin , 2007;
13 See: Cotera Martha P. “Mujeres Bravas: How Chicana Feminists Championed the Equal Rights Amendment and Feminist Agenda at the National Texas Women’s Meeting and the International Women’s Year National Conference in Houston, 1977.” In Chicanas Movidas: New Narratives of Activism and Feminism in the Movement Era, edited by Dionne Espinosa, Maria Eugenia Cotera, and Maylei Blackwell, 51-75. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018; Cotera,Marta, Diosa y Hembra: The History and Heritage of Chicanas in the U.S; The Chicana Feminist.
14 See: Blanton, Carlos Kevin. George I. Sanchez, The Long Fight for Mexican American Integration, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.
15 See: De Leon, Marcos, Statement of Philosophy and Policy as they pertain to the Acculturation and Education of the Mexican-American, Unknown Binding – 1964, by De Leon, Marcos (Author), reprinted in The Hamburger and the Taco; See also: De Leon, Marcos, “The Hamburger and the Taco: A Cultural Reality,” In Educating the Mexican American (Valley Forge, PA, Judson Press, 1970), 33-45.
16 See: Limon, Jose, Americo Paredes, Culture & Critique, University of Texas Press, 1990.
17 Teaching Gloria E. Anzaldua: Pedagogy and Practice for Our Classroom and Communities, edited by Margaret Cantu-Sanchez, Candice de Leon-Zepeda, and Norma Cantu, 249-259. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1997.
18 Mindiola, Tatcho, Jr., Yolanda Flores Neimann, and Nestor Rodriguez. Black-Brown Relations and Stereotypes. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.
19 Zamora, Emilio, Claiming Rights and Righting Wrongs in Texas: Mexican Workers and Job Politics during World War II (Rio Grande/Río Bravo: Borderlands Culture and Traditions) 2008; Zamora, Emilio, Cynthia Orozco & Rudy Rocha (eds), Mexican Americans in Texas History, Selected Essys, Feb. 2000; Sáenz, J. Luz, edited by Emilio Zamora, The World War I Diary of Jose de la Luz Saenz, 2014; Zamora, Emilio The World of the Mexican Worker in Texas , Texas A & M Univ., 2000.
20 Valenzuela, Angela, The Struggle to Decolonize Official Knowledge in Texas’ State Curriculum: Side-Stepping the Colonial Matrix of Power; see https://www.researchgate.net/publication/33547528; 1999 Valenzuela, Angela, Subtractive Schooling: U.S. – Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring, 1999; Valenzuela, Angela, Growing Critically Conscious Teachers: A Social Justice Curriculum for Educators of Latino/a Yourth; Valenzuela, Angela, Christine E. Sleeter, et al., eds, Leaving Children Behind: How “Texas]-style Accountability Fails Latino Youth (SUNY series, The Social Context of Education), 2004.