Brown, Not White: School Integration and the Chicano Movement in Houston

Brown, Not White: School Integration and the Chicano Movement in Houston

Brown, Not White: School Integration and the Chicano Movement in Houston

Brown, Not White: School Integration and the Chicano Movement in Houston

Synopsis

Strikes, boycotts, rallies, negotiations, and litigation marked the efforts of Mexican-origin community members to achieve educational opportunity and oppose discrimination in Houston schools in the early 1970s. These responses were sparked by the effort of the Houston Independent School District to circumvent a court order for desegregation by classifying Mexican American children as "white" and integrating them with African American children-leaving Anglos in segregated schools. Gaining legal recognition for Mexican Americans as a minority group became the only means for fighting this kind of discrimination.

The struggle for legal recognition not only reflected an upsurge in organizing within the community but also generated a shift in consciousness and identity. In Brown, Not White Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., astutely traces the evolution of the community's political activism in education during the Chicano Movement era of the early 1970s.

San Miguel also identifies the important implications of this struggle for Mexican Americans and for public education. First, he demonstrates, the political mobilization in Houston underscored the emergence of a new type of grassroots ethnic leadership committed to community empowerment and to inclusiveness of diverse ideological interests within the minority community. Second, it signaled a shift in the activist community's identity from the assimilationist "Mexican American Generation" to the rising Chicano Movement with its "nationalist" ideology. Finally, it introduced Mexican American interests into educational policy making in general and into the national desegregation struggles in particular.

This important study will engage those interested in public school policy, as well as scholars of Mexican American history and the history of desegregation in America.

Excerpt

In the early 1970s thousands of Mexican-origin students, parents, mothers, and community members participated in a variety of legal and political actions against the Houston public schools. They boycotted the public schools; attended rallies or informational meetings at local parks, churches, community centers, and homes; picketed the school board offices or individual schools; conducted various negotiation sessions with local school officials; established “huelga” (strike) schools; and participated in several litigation efforts. These actions were sparked by the local school district’s effort in 1970 to circumvent a desegregation court order by classifying Mexican American children as “white” and integrating them with African American children. Although more than 85 percent of the white children in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) were Anglos, they were not significantly affected by this part of the desegregation plan.

Mexican-origin activists opposed the school board’s decision and demanded that local school officials recognize Mexican Americans as a minority group. This was a highly unusual demand, because for many years activist Mexican Americans in Houston and throughout the country had viewed themselves as part of the white or Caucasian race in order to obtain social justice and equal educational opportunity. Now that their “whiteness” was being used to circumvent desegregation, however, many of them rejected this racial identity and acquired a new one. They were “brown,” not white, as one of the slogans developed during a 1970 boycott of the Houston public schools indicated.

The struggle for recognition, probably the most important action of the Mexican-origin activist community in the city during this period, lasted for two years. It ended in September, 1972, when the courts and the schools finally recognized Mexican Americans as a distinct ethnic minority group. The struggle’s ultimate success eventually forced school officials and the courts to include Mexican American interests in the formulation . . .

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