Based on articles written for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, author Richard J. Gonzales draws on his educational, inner-city and professional life experiences to weave eyewitness testimony into issues facing Chicanos, including economic, health, education, criminal justice, politics, immigration, and cultural issues. Raza Rising presents a personal recounting of a Chicano’s struggle with and understanding of the socio-economic policies and historical actions that impact their ascendancy. Raza Rising offers first-hand observations, supported by well-documented scholarly research, of Chicanos’ growth and subsequent struggles to participate fully in North Texas’ political and economic life.Raza Rising takes the reader to the organization of a Fort Worth immigration reform march, to the actual march with 20,000 people on Main Street on Palm Sunday, to a protest demonstration of the City of Farmers Branch’s attempt to prohibit renting to the undocumented immigrant, to the author’s awakening in Chicago on the importance of learning, and to his poignant experience as a guest speaker in a Fort Worth public school classroom. Other observations offer insight on how Chicanos struggle with their ethnic identity and understanding of their history. In addition, the book highlights important historical and political events that illustrate Chicanos’ attempts to overcome barriers to their rise. At a time when global economic competition threatens the United States’ first world status, this country must nurture academic excellence for all its citizens. Raza Rising provides specific explanations for the Chicano educational lag and workable solutions to accelerate their political, economic and academic achievements. Prophetic state and national demographers have forecasted the steady increase in Chicano populations and decrease in white populations. Raza Rising offers students, instructors, policy makers, politicians and neighbors a deeper understanding of Chicanos, who in the near future will transition from minority to majority status in Texas.
About the Author
RICHARD J. GONZALES wrote for six years about Chicanos as a Fort Worth Star-Telegram weekly guest columnist. He has published short stories in The Americas Review, a Hispanic literary journal of the University of Houston, and has worked in, observed, and researched the Chicano community from the 1970s to the present.
Read an Excerpt
Chicanos in North Texas
By Richard J. Gonzales, Roberto R. Calderón
University of North Texas PressCopyright © 2016 Richard J. Gonzales
All rights reserved.
My affinity for books started in my early schooling in Chicago. I helped the nuns of St. Charles Borromeo Elementary School to unbox new shipments of library books, catalog, and shelve them. The smooth feel and fresh smell of new books in hand was enjoyable. I suspected that it pleased the nuns as well, because they spoke to me about how important it was to take care of books and, more importantly, to read them.
Elementary school was challenging; my nun teachers and librarians must have known that for boys and girls from the Chicago inner-city, where many lived in tenement homes and both parents earned just enough to put food on their table most days of the week, an education was our freedom pass from poverty.
Pursed-lipped sisters were tough in order to harden us for the rigors of overcoming language barriers and violence (street gangs were rampant). They instilled a hardy faith in books. Bless these demanding nuns who worked with thousands of inner-city children, preaching and teaching this message of freedom and faith. They were educational missionaries working to give children a belief in their skills to search and learn.
As a teen, I escaped from inner-city libraries to the grandest library of the prairie city: the Chicago Public Library at Washington Street and Michigan Avenue. Built in 1897 in a classical-revival style exterior with a classical Greek and Italian Renaissance interior of mosaics, marbles, bronze, and two stained-glass domes, that library was a place where I could pretend to be a Chicago book prince in a palace overlooking majestic Lake Michigan.
On hot, sultry, or snow-covered days, I rode the subway from the west side, passing rows of tenement buildings and Greek, Italian, Black, Chinese, and Mexican American neighborhoods. I rode past cathedrals, taverns, and smokestacks into the magical land by the lake where architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, William Holabird, and Mike Roche built buildings that blended art, function, and nature. The subway was my freedom train from the wilds to a station stop of culture and beauty.
I would sit in the grand reading room, sunlight pouring in at an angle from wide, ceiling-high windows onto the roomful of readers. I took my place in the brotherhood of books seeking information, wisdom, and respite from the roiling hustle-bustle of the City of the Big Shoulders.
We were Americans living the American Dream that permitted us to read uncensored books, to decide on what was propaganda and truth, to discern the difference between good and bad ideas, to read the controversial and orthodox.
One of my favorite haunts was a large chamber called Preston Bradley Hall, where a 38-foot Tiffany dome — said to be the world's largest — shimmered the room with filtered, blue-tinted light. Tiffany lamps were suspended from the ceiling like golden earrings on a beautiful woman. Mosaic medallions, scrolls, rosettes, and zodiacs adorned the walls and arches that led from one room to another.
Inlaid across the edge of the ceiling were the names of great writers and philosophers of the world. Amid the names were inscriptions in ten languages professing the wisdom of the ages. Profound words swelled a barrio kid's thoughts.
I walked outside of the library and a few, long blocks along Michigan Avenue to the statue of Union General John Logan, mounted on his horse and holding high a captured enemy flag. It struck me as ironic that we had played at the feet of this Civil War hero, but my family and millions of other Northern minorities were still enslaved in ignorance.
In the land of Lincoln, we had lost our freedom of expression because we didn't know how to write or read well in Spanish or English. We hadn't learned to master our books. We must act like eagles teaching their young to fly from the nest — the book pages are their wings to keep them from falling. They just need to learn to flap them often to reach dizzying heights.
I struggled to illustrate for a fourteen-year-old son the glories of libraries. Perhaps he needed a subway tour of Chicago, a visit to the palace of the common man and woman, a walk to Grant Park.
He said, "Libraries are for nerds."
I told him, "I'm the prince of nerds," and continued reading.
Like any skill, the earlier you start encouraging reading, the more likely the child will develop a reading habit and overcome any book lover stigma. For children from un-literate families, reading was a foreign activity that many youth never adopted as a self-initiated fun adventure equal to sports and TV. The odds were stacked against literacy for low-income minorities; if we were to convert Chicano children to book-carrying pleasure and serious readers, parental involvement was vital. Father and mother encouragement and mentoring propelled the child to take up the book. I found the Early Childhood Matters Program in Fort Worth, Texas, an excellent reading program to teach parents and children how to read and grow together.
Timing was important in instilling a desire to read and learn. The earlier that the Chicano child acquired the habit of picking up a book, looking at and turning the pages, pronouncing words and making sense of what is read, the quicker they're prepared for school and the world.
The solution to school dropouts, juvenile delinquency, welfare, and prison might be as simple as reading to an infant.
How so? Prison administrators looked at third-graders' reading levels to project the number of prison beds that they would need, said Roza Abbasi, a librarian who worked with parents in an Early Childhood Matters (ECM) class at the North Tri-Ethnic Community Center in Fort Worth.
She offered parents and children, including infants, library cards as their get-out-of-jail card. When a parent read to a child, it freed that young, developing brain to absorb words, concepts, and images needed to prepare for school. The human brain was the only organ that hasn't fully developed at birth, said Sandra Lamm, an early childhood coordinator. In fact, she said in an interview with the author, "85 percent of the brain's architecture is formed before children enter school."
Words, ideas, and colors must fill the brain's cells as its synapses begin to fire, form and connect. Timing is vital. More than anyone else, the parents or primary caregiver must nourish the child's brain daily. They can begin by reading to the child in the womb and continuing through childhood.
Some enlightened parents might assume that this was common knowledge. So why the need for programs such as ECM, which Fort Worth sponsors? Lamm cited research in an interview with the author to reveal that many parents lacked basic knowledge on how to prepare their children for school: More than 40 percent of children in low-income Fort Worth neighborhoods weren't able to pass a simple readiness screening when they entered kindergarten — a test that included knowledge such as reading progresses from left to right.
The Fort Worth school district spent more than $5 million each year to re-educate children who were held back in kindergarten or the first or second grades. Children who were behind when they entered school stayed behind and many dropped out.
Two mothers who attend ECM classes described how they used words to nourish their children's minds. Rosa Medina boasted how she had learned to become a better mother in the year she had been enrolled. Before, she would tell her children not to bother her or would sleep in the mornings. Now, aware of the importance of talking with her children, she devoted all of her attention to them when they asked her to read or talk.
Reyna Cabera said that she read to her sixteen-month-old grandson, whom she cared for while her daughter worked. In a corner where the books were kept, she found her grandson asleep with a book draped over his head. Although two of her children graduated from college, she realized she could have offered them so much more attention if she had read to them.
Lamm said that as the mothers came to classes over time, they began to dress better, speak up, and carry themselves with more confidence. Once they developed better parenting and teaching skills and realized the influence they had over their children's futures, their self-esteem rose.
Lamm's goal through the ECM program was to build a "scaffold of support around the child." The scaffolding began with parents but required the support of city-sponsored programs that taught motivated parents how to raise healthy, smart, and socially adept kids.
In 2004, Fort Worth had the foresight to seek federal and local funding, such as a $687,000 grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services, to allow experts like Lamm to reach out to parents. The city was paying staff salaries, which allowed the ECM program to continue after that grant ended in 2006. Call it a return on investment that paid off in smart kids for a smart city.
Enlightened, motivated teachers in our inner-city schools open the world of reading to Chicano students. I accepted an invitation from North Side High School Spanish teacher Juliet Wells in Fort Worth to speak to several of her Spanish language classes. A school comprised of mostly Chicano students, North Side High was an old school with a rich, Western tradition, taking the steer as their school mascot. Unbeknownst to the teacher, I had taught English and History classes years ago at North Side High as my first job out of college. Drafted away by the Army, I taught only one year but as I walked down the school hall I recalled the challenges teachers faced at a low-income, minority-dominated school.
In the first class, I felt excited to stand before the class of adolescent Mexican American students. By the end of the third class, my words sputtered, thoughts wandered, legs ached and enthusiasm waned. Teaching high school students was hard work, requiring mental, physical, and creative prowess. I learned that teaching was not for the faint-hearted or dull-witted. Teaching required nimbleness of feet, mind, and speech, a fondness for children and thick skin. Possessing the encyclopedic knowledge of Carl Sagan and wry wit of Woody Allen would make the job easier.
It also helped if the students took notes, listened, completed their homework, read, spoke up, and possessed a passion to learn.
How do we make the "have-not" students of North Side High School equal in academic excellence to the "have" students of Highland Park High School, a prestigious, mostly Anglo school in Highland Park, Texas?
The answer: good teachers motivating eager students open to learning. And we must believe that economically disadvantaged students possess the brainpower to learn well.
Marva Collins of Chicago believed it so. She had taught in the City of Big Shoulders' schools for 14 years before leaving to create the Daniel Hale Williams Westside Preparatory School.
Collins had been frustrated by the public schools' attitude toward inner-city children. Her school took a handful of them, many who had been considered impossible to educate, and gave them wings.
Collins wrote slogans daily on the blackboard: "Character is what you know you are and not what others think you are." "He who eats my bread does my will." "Speak the speech trippingly on the tongue."
Jaime Escalante of Los Angeles challenged his students at Garfield High School to find the ganas, or desire, to master calculus and pass an Advanced Placement exam in the subject. He had them stand as he quizzed them on their understanding of the formulas. Escalante led his students to the proof that they were smart.
Collins and Escalante knew that the magic lay in the nurturing of a passion for learning and respect for children's ability to learn. We can build palatial schools with shimmering labs in the bowels of the barrio, but if teachers fail to inspire learning, we've built castles of false hope. We've deceived the community and robbed the poor.
At career day at North Side High, soldiers in fatigues, architects, code enforcers, day care owners, writers, and other professionals stormed the classes. Ms. Wells introduced me as someone who "lucha con sus palabras," or fights with his words.
The students didn't appear impressed. But I was, as I observed the large cards of conjugated regular and irregular verbs along the tops of the walls, Spanish-language newspapers, a map of the world with Spanish-speaking countries highlighted, illustrations of historical events in Mexican American culture, photographs of Mexican American heroes. A walk into the classroom was a trip to Latinolandia where the Spanish-language virus was contagious.
More importantly, Wells moved gracefully among the students, encouraging them to ask questions, to volunteer to read aloud, and to stay alert.
She was a Fort Worth native who had attended the University of Texas at Austin and worked as a journalist for several years before changing careers. She seemed to possess the characteristics of a good teacher; she was enthusiastic, challenging, prepared, encouraging, accepting of cultural diversity, smart, and fluent in Spanish.
I picked the closest student to stand and read aloud one of my columns. My upbringing in a family of big mouths made it difficult to accept the silence of Chicano lambs. As he read haltingly in heavily accented Spanish, I thought that I had made a mistake and embarrassed the student. But he plugged away, stumbling, grappling with words until he got them trippingly out.
I asked for volunteers after that.
Wells thanked me for my presentation and was especially pleased that I had chosen the first student. "He never reads," she said.
"Oh," I said, glad that I hadn't apologized.
Perhaps I've unleashed a literary lion. Perchance, I inspired.
Chicanos can look for inspiration in their quest to improve their child's reading and academic skills from early Mexican history. Learning for Mexicans is in the blood.
In the days of the Aztecs, it was expected that all children would go to school. Jacques Soustelle wrote in The Daily Life of the Aztecs that fathers and mothers educated their sons and daughters and later enrolled them in either the calmecac for priesthood or high office of the state or the telpochcalli, the school for ordinary citizens.
In the calmecac, students learned about architecture, the writing of glyphs, mathematics, the charting of the stars, the ways of the warrior and others. Some would study theology to prepare for the strenuous, self-sacrificing life as a priest who honored many gods.
Historians proposed theories about the dominance of the Aztecs over the other Indians in central México. Some cited their formidable armies; others said their political alliances and riches gave them control. I proposed that their stress on education and service to their people won them superiority.
As we observe Hispanic Heritage Month in September and October with parades, dancing, banquets, and speeches, let's reflect on one truth: Education is the primary quality that will help Chicanos thrive in the capitalist, global economy of the twenty-first century.
Although Chicanos were the fastest-growing minority group in the United States, they continued to lag woefully in the classroom. What a disgrace to hear of Mexican American youth gunning down a group of students at Sunset High School in Dallas on August 20, 1996, the second day of the school year, as reported by Jason Sickles and Alexi Barrionuevo in the Dallas Morning News. Did Mexican American teens devalue schools to where they became just another drive-by killing ground?
School administrators and teachers received criticism for perceived failures to meet the needs of the Mexican American student. Although some complaints were valid, there continued to be a shameful absence of Chicano parents in the academic lives of their children. Chicano parents should know their child's subjects and teachers more than how to dance the macarena.
Excerpted from Raza Rising by Richard J. Gonzales, Roberto R. Calderón. Copyright © 2016 Richard J. Gonzales. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
List of Photos ix
List of Tables xiii
Section 1 School Blues 7
Chapter 1 Reading 13
Chapter 2 Policy 27
Chapter 3 Foreign Language Skills 61
Chapter 4 Education Innovators 71
Section 2 La Gente 83
Chapter 5 La Familia 87
Chapter 6 Mexican Culture 103
Chapter 7 White Privilege 115
Chapter 8 Cultural Competency 125
Chapter 9 Letters 133
Chapter 10 Sports 141
Section 3 Raza Rising 147
Chapter 11 Chicano Political Power 151
Chapter 12 Immigration Reform 169
Chapter 13 Community Mobilization 199
Chapter 14 Criminal Justice 209
Section 4 Chicano Roots 225
Chapter 15 Tejanos 229
Chapter 16 Chicanos at War 243
Chapter 17 Chicano Heroes 259
Chapter 18 Mexican Indigenous Roots 277
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