Ethnic studies build pride, not revolt, teacher says

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By Wally Perez 

In 1968, student walkouts all over the U.S. Southwest, including Texas, and more famously, East Los Angeles, helped originate Mexican-American studies across the country, a professor said to about 35 students during the Hot Potato lecture Tuesday in the Methodist Student Center.

Lisa Ramos, Mexican-American studies professor, said 1968 was an important year, not just in East L.A., but also across the country. African-Americans were protesting, the Black Panthers had risen; it was a radical period, she said.

“Education, not eradication, were popular signs during protests in L.A.,” she said. Students felt they were culturally deprived.

“My father was 18 at this time and he told me you didn’t speak Spanish in school,” she said. “If you did, you were punished by being slapped with rulers or holding bricks.”

Students had a list of demands that included adding a curriculum for “people like us,” that taught about struggles and triumphs of their ancestors.

They also wanted access to college courses because vocational tracking kept some students from taking certain courses based on their backgrounds, she said.

Before the 1960s, a lot of people of Mexican descent tried to blend in to the U.S. by claiming they were white. In the 1960s, it was about emphasizing the indigenous. “People of Mexican descent got tired of being told they were foreigners,” Ramos said. “They would say things like, ‘What do you mean go back to my country? I am of indigenous blood, this is my country.’”

The courses implemented had to do with instilling pride in people who were taught they were inconsequential.

Critics argue that students who take them leave with a hatred toward white people, she said. Some say it promotes racial resentment, victimhood or even overthrow of the U.S. government.

“I have yet to hear of a Chicano studies course where students want to lead a revolution after leaving the class,” Ramos said, laughing.


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