A Legacy of Educational Inequality
In the late nineteenth-century, captains of agribusiness recruited Mexican farm workers by developing separate and unequal schools for the children of prospective workers.
At the turn of the century, “Americanization” schools had become the avenue through which policy makers and educators sought to assimilate “foreign” students. “Mexican Schools” sought to assimilate Mexican school children. Through Mexican Schools the Americanization process was reflected in teaching/learning of “American” ideals, and restrictive curriculum that reflected lowered expectations, and thus preparation for jobs in the lower economic stratums of the labor market.
Early 20th Century Education and Civil Rights Advocacy
In the first half of the twentieth century, parents and communities fought back against this segregation. Various cases in the southwest including Salvatierra v. Independent School District, (Del Rio, Texas, 1930), Roberto Alvarez vs. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District, (Lemon Grove, California, 1931) and Mendez vs. Westminster (Westminster, California 1947) demonstrated an affirmation of civil and human rights in the arena of education. Indeed, these cases served as precedents to the federal case, Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that called for the desegregation of schools at the national level.
Still, as some scholars point out, such legal victories were short lived as rhetorically the federal government engaged in political correctness, but in actuality, left interpretation of the law to local jurisdiction. Consequently, education continued to be repressive in many barrios through the 1950s and 1960s.
A Call to Self Actualization through Education
The 1960's were years of intense struggle for the Chicana/o community. The war in Viet Nam escalated, civil rights movements flourished, and liberation movements in third world countries dominated the headlines.
Once again, students and communities became increasingly disillusioned and dissatisfied with their schools and with their teachers, and social, educational, political, and religious institutions were not responding to their plight. Chicanas/os were dropping out of schools in alarming rates, and very few were prepared well enough to go on to higher education if they survived the K-12 experience.
Students walked out of East Los Angeles Schools in 1967 demanding a more relevant curriculum and teachers who would be adequately prepared to teach them and responsive to their needs. During those times colleges and universities were not recruiting minorities. CSUN in 1967 had a student population of over twenty thousand with less than fifty of these students from the Chicana/o community.
In 1968 African American and Chicana/o students demanded that the university recruit more minority faculty, establish programs that would meet the needs of these students, and provide the necessary support services so that they would succeed and graduate. They took over the Administration Building, were arrested, and presented a series of demands to the President of the university.
Subsequently, the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and a variety of support programs were initiated. Chicano/a Studies and Pan African Studies Departments were established. In the Summer of 1969 about 100 Chicana/o students and about 100 African American Students were welcomed to a program similar to today's Summer Bridge Program in preparation for their first regular semester which was to be in Fall 1969. These students were enrolled in a writing class and in a culture course. Both courses gave the students credits that would be applied to the BA requirements. The intent was to help prepare the students enter CSUN in the Fall of 1969 and begin a program of undergraduate studies. Founding chair, Dr. Rodolfo Acuña, developed a curriculum of forty five courses. Chicana/o Studies began with this first group of students in the Fall of 1969.
Human Rights Advocacy through Education
Currently the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at California State University, Northridge is the largest of its kind in the country housing 25 fulltime and 35 part time professors. Approximately 170 class sections are offered every semester. The 2008-2009 Academic Year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Chicana/o Studies Department at California State University, Northridge. Today the department offers a major, a double-major, a minor, and a Masters in Chicana/o Studies.
Yet, we have not arrived. The backlash against civil rights gains in the last two decades requires a renewed focus on human rights. The work before us remains challenging. As we enter the 21st Century the Department of Chicana/o Studies continues its commitment to assisting in the holistic development of our students, so that they in turn adhere to humanitarian principles as they serve the local, national and global constituencies which we engage.