Chicana/o Activism and Education: An Introduction to the Special Issue

Article excerpt

The Mexican American community has been involved in a struggle to improve the educational conditions of their children ever since the US invasion and continued occupation of Mexican territory (Gallegos, 2000). This struggle includes the successful litigation of court cases against segregation a decade prior to Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 (Moreno, 1999). But, perhaps the biggest event surrounding Education was during the early Chicana/o movimientos in the 1960s. An estimated 10,000 Chicana/o students walked out of classes on March 3, 1968 in East Los Angeles to protest the unequal conditions of their education (San Miguel, 1996; Solorzano and Delgado Bernal, 2001).

Since then Chicana/o activism in Education has focused on the rights of Latina/o students, especially non-English speaking and migrant students and the right to bilingual education programs. Increased efforts to integrate Latina/o students, equal distribution of educational funding sources, and the constant struggle against alienating schooling practices such as tracking, standardized testing, the whitestream (Grande, 2000) curriculum, and access to higher education (Gandara, 1995) have also been important issues. This special issue of The High School Journal is dedicated to this struggle and legacy for social justice and change.

Although arguments for a color-blind society claim that racial prejudice and discrimination are a part of the past, more realistic and critical examinations attest that race and discrimination are still big problems in US society (Baker, 1998). In fact, the conservative backlash unleashed by the Bush dynasty has reversed a lot of the gains of the civil rights movements creating a state of siege against minority communities and the poor at home and abroad. Corporate greed and neoliberal, market-oriented policies continuously push for educational changes that aggravate the racial and socio-economic inequities in society as do vouchers, charter schools, and high-stakes testing accountability that attempt to privatize and quantify education.

More recently, to the amazement of many, proactive Chicana/o high school and college student organizations for community empowerment and advocacy such as Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA-Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan), have been attacked as racist and to the extreme even as terrorists for working for social justice (Gonzales & Rodriguez, 2003). During the recent gubernatorial race in California Lieutenant General Cruz Bustamante was chastised by conservative opponents for his early activism in MEChA, who likened MEChA to the Ku Klux Klan (Sifuentes, 2003). Irresponsible accusations like these, although aggravating, do call for self-reflection as we re/consider our recent past as Chicanas/os and plan for our future.

This introduction intends to accomplish several goals. First to re-call what Chicana/o activism has been in education and what the outcomes of that activism have accomplished. Second, it is important to re-call what the conservative backlashes against the larger Latina/o community have redressed and how those redresses influence how we re/think activism for social justice. Third, I focus on the contributions this special issue hopes to make in tracing some of the legacies and accomplishments of Chicana/o activism as well as illustrate how the locus of practice concerning activism has changed and what that might mean for informed future action.

Chicana/o Activism and Education

Chicana/o identity "officially" arose within the context of the social movements of the 1960s. In an effort to self-identify and in response to both the material and symbolic oppression and subjugation of people of Mexican descent, the Chicana/o movimientos emerged. The Chicana/o movimientos were by no means a unified social movement given the large geophysical area of the Southwest and the diverse leadership and points of contention and struggles of its early founders. …