The Tortilla Diaries

August 1, 2019

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas during the last days of the Jim Crow era. A first generation American, I was surrounded by Spanish speakers and personally felt the sting of racism. I entered school prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when racist laws and practices still abounded. Many school districts in Texas segregated Mexican school children into separate “Mexican schools” or into separate classes, based upon Spanish surname or language spoken. I personally knew that my hometown of San Antonio was segregated into different ethnic enclaves and my own research for “Oral History as a Means of Moral Repair: Jim Crow Racism and the Mexican Americans of San Antonio,” revealed the persistence and widespread use of racially restrictive housing covenants. Some of these enclaves existed prior to 1920, but the housing covenants enforced racial/ethnic segregation and prevented minorities from buying homes or land in certain areas such as Alamo Heights or Terrell Hills. The discriminatory effects of these racial covenants far outlasted the laws and continue to affect minority communities present day, especially educational outcomes. 

August and September are busy months for high school students across the US as most look forward to their senior year, high school graduation and college. Unfortunately, students who attend disadvantaged schools (similar to school I attended) experience poor educational outcomes. The appalling high school graduation rates for minority students causes concern. The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), founded by Dr. Jose Cardenas in 1973, compiles statistics about attrition and dropout rates in Texas. According to IDRA data, one out of four Hispanic students drops out in states like Texas. In 2018 out of a total of 94, 767 students lost, almost two thirds were Hispanic. IDRA asserts that school suspensions, grade retention, scant resources for language learners, underfunding, sub-standard curricula, and high stakes testing all contribute to drop out rates. Professor Christine Drennon from Trinity University in San Antonio attributes San Antonio’s educational inequality to ethnic, racial and socioeconomic disparities—all long-term results of racially restrictive housing covenants. 

I know many groups and agencies in San Antonio are working hard to rectify this disparity and I applaud them. They know the educational outcomes for Latino youth must improve and we need to call upon every resource available. As parents, we need to actively participate in programs that benefit our children, rather than be mere bystanders. Parents need to be their children’s biggest advocates. We can’t do it alone, but with the support of others, si se puede.  We need partners like the IDRA, school districts, local colleges and universities, LULAC, educational non-profits, literacy coalitions, mentorship programs, churches and most of all parents to tackle the challenges that face tomorrow’s generation.  We are a vibrant group of people—we have survived hardships, we have contributed to US society, and together—we must raise our voices to improve our community.

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