In the Shadow of the Mexican Border: Taking a Radical Stand

By Garza, Elizabeth | Radical Teacher, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

In the Shadow of the Mexican Border: Taking a Radical Stand


Garza, Elizabeth, Radical Teacher


We have a mission we believe in so much that we speak the same language and work toward the same goal It's not just about educating students. We don't want to waste anything that they bring with them. We want it to be an asset to them. The teaming here is very close. It's more than just professional. It's basically the vision and the mission that we value.

Abigail (two-way bilingual teacher) (1)

A bilingual and bicultural teacher confronts the challenges of an English-only school system at a very personal level. She is more than just a witness to the racist view inherent in the schooling of Mexicano/Latino students (2) that they are somehow culturally and intellectually deficient or inferior. She too is affected by the unfolding drama of the harsh socio-cultural context in which she lives and works and the larger antagonistic sociopolitical climate that surrounds her.

Her school is situated in the political hotbed of the Tijuana/San Diego border region where the blistering political rhetoric fans the flames of anti-bilingual education and anti-immigration sentiments. The most current example of this is the heated controversy over the Minutemen--U.S. citizens often described in the mainstream media as "protecting the border against illegal aliens and terrorists." Throughout California, such racist and discriminatory attitudes are being used to launch political careers.

Against this backdrop, the Latina bilingual teacher is confronted with the dilemma of either reinforcing recently mandated English-only legislation in California by teaching students in English at the expense of their native language and culture, or identifying with the students whose struggle to maintain their rich cultural heritage reflects her own. As others cross the physical border, she too crosses the heavily guarded linguistic border that retains English as the only language of power in public schools in a State where Anglos no longer represent the majority of the population. This teacher, like the nine others described in this research, dared to take a radical stand on the side of her students, challenging the racist assumptions about them, as well as the unequal and abusive relations of power that not only affect their emotional and intellectual growth, but also, as a bilingual educator, her own personal and professional development and well being.

In what follows, I describe how this group of dedicated teachers, in the face of English-only mandates, built a quality bilingual Two-way Immersion Program at their school, empowered each other through a shared educational vision and mission for Mexicano/ Latino students, and collaborated to ensure their students' success and their program's survival.

A HISTORY OF THE PROGRAM'S DEVELOPMENT

The teachers in this study work in a school district where over the last decade Mexicano/Latino enrollment has grown by 85%, yet the district's bilingual programs serve only about 7% of the Latino "minority" that make up the majority of students within the district (Latino Advisory Council, 2005). Their school, Cal Elementary; is 70% Latino and most English Language Learners (ELLs) are enrolled in Structured English Immersion (SEI), a program that was mandated for ELLs by Proposition 227 in 1998.

Awakened by the sunset of California's bilingual education law in 1987 and fueled by the anti-immigration legislation that passed in 1994--Proposition 187--English-only groups fought for legislation that would further weaken bilingual education, culminating in the Alpert-Firestone bill in 1997. This set the stage for Ron Unz, a businessman with political ambitions who campaigned for the anti-bilingual ballot initiative, Proposition 227.

Despite more than three decades of academic research in education which overwhelmingly demonstrates that ELLS who receive formal schooling in their native language academically outperform, in English, ELLs who receive instruction only in English (Slavin & Cheung, 2003; Thomas & Collier, 2002), the English-only ideology prevailed and Proposition 227 was passed into law. …

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