Impact of Brown on Multicultural Education of Hispanic Americans

By Contreras, A. Reynaldo | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Impact of Brown on Multicultural Education of Hispanic Americans


Contreras, A. Reynaldo, The Journal of Negro Education


This article suggests that many forces, including various branches of the federal government, in confusing and often conflicting ways, have constructed and influenced the Hispanic identity and educational status. Moreover, this unique identity of Hispanics is important because of their common cultural experience in the United States-an experience that is both distinct from and common to that of African Americans. School desegregation, however, has collapsed the Hispanic narrative, rendering it homeless in a "Black-White" binary that was the legacy of Brown, and, then, rendering it invisible in a "White-Non-White" binary that was the legacy of Keyes v. School District No. 1 (Denver, Colorado), which held that Hispanics "constitute an identifiable class for purposes of the 14th Amendment." Recognizing Hispanics as a distinct group would threaten the privilege connected to those binaries. Nevertheless, Hispanics are a significant percentage of our nation's population and are becoming a greater percentage every day. Allowing for the greater educational segregation of Hispanics is inconsistent with the spirit, if not the letter, of Brown.

INTRODUCTION

Few issues in American education have drawn more intense attention and controversy than school segregation. More than a century after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson made racial segregation the law of the land, and 50 years after the Court overturned that decision in Brown v. Board of Education, segregation still exists in U.S. schools. Furthermore, contemporary trends point to a return to widespread segregated schooling. This article provides an overview of U.S. national trends in school segregation and summarizes the results of this author's research on the impact of Brown on multicultural education.

The 2000 Census tells us that Hispanics have become the largest minority group in the United States (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Unfortunately, Hispanic school enrollment exploded during the post-civil rights era, and very little has been done to provide desegregated education for Hispanic students. They have been more segregated than Blacks for a number of years, not only by race and ethnicity but also by poverty (Orfield, 2002). There is also serious segregation developing by language.

Most Hispanics are concentrated in high poverty, low-achieving schools and face by far the highest dropout rate. Also, since many are concentrated in the large states where affirmative action for college is now illegal and with high stakes high school graduation tests (California, Texas, and Florida), the concentration of these students in schools with a poor record of graduating students and sending them onto college raises important national issues.

The Hispanic population changed and became more diversified throughout the 20th century. Between 1900 and 1980, the composition, social-class status, and ideological orientation of the Hispanic population underwent dramatic transformation. It became more heterogeneous and included multiple groups with a range of views and experiences with education. Between 1848 and 1940, Mexican-descent individuals were the predominant and, in some areas, the only group of Hispanics in the United States. Most of these individuals were concentrated in the Southwest. During the 1920s, Mexican-descent individuals began to migrate to other parts of the United States, especially the Midwest. During the 1940s, the United States experienced a tremendous influx of Hispanics from Puerto Rico. Beginning in 1959, the United States again experienced another tremendous influx of Hispanics. This time they were from Cuba. Beginning in the mid-1960s and later spurred by political conflict and economic instability in their homelands during the 1970s, there was a tremendous influx of immigrants from Central and South American countries, such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Peru. Despite the tremendous influx of Hispanics immigrants from Central and South America in the past three decades, Mexicans, both citizen and non-citizen, continued to be the largest and oldest residing group of Hispanics in the United States. …

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