Controversial Hispanic Studies Textbook Described As "Dead on Arrival" at Hearing

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It was impossible Tuesday, at the first Texas State Board of Education meeting discussing a proposed new Mexican-American Studies textbook, to find anyone willing to say they believed the text was fit for Texas classrooms. Attendees called the book in question, Mexican American Heritage, racist, inaccurate and embarrassing for the state and board considering its use. 

Mexican American Heritage, published by a company owned by former firebrand board of education member Cynthia Dunbar, includes passages describing Mexicans as being "viewed as lazy compared to European or American workers." Mexicans, the book claims, often operated on something known as "mañana time," meaning they consistently put things off until tomorrow. The book also says that Chicano activists "adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society."

"This book is so flawed that it should never get the stamp of approval from anyone in the state of Texas," state Senator Sylvia Garcia said. "The board approval of this textbook would be a major embarrassment to this state. I personally have found the textbook unacceptable. It is one thing to hear political rhetoric that calls us lazy and calls us names but we should never expect it as facts and accept it and put it in textbooks."

Jose Rodriguez, El Paso's state senator, defended the legacy of activists. "I was one of those Chicano activists back in the '60s and believe me, as a Chicano activist ... it has never been about opposing Western civilization or our democracy in this state or in this country," he said. "It was always about improving democracy and making democracy live up to its promise for all of us."

Members of the board seemed uncomfortable with the textbook as well. Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, a Republican, called the text dead on arrival, while Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, also a member of the GOP, began the meeting by emphasizing that Hispanic Texans deserve to have their story told correctly.

“Your story is part of the American story,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have their story told in a fair and accurate manner.”

In a review of the book commissioned by board member Ruben Cortez Jr., a Democrat, Mexican-American studies scholars found 141 factual, interpretation or omission errors. Additionally, as state Represenative Carol Alvarado pointed out to the committee Tuesday, an essay in the book about former Mexican president Benito Juarez is available for purchase on a website called 123helpme.com.

Dunbar's company, Momentum Instruction, submitted the textbook to the board for approval after the board issued a call last year for ethnic studies texts to be used in Texas high schools. It was the only book submitted, something critics of the book blamed on the board's not officially creating a Mexican-American studies elective.

"[There's] no incentive for publishers to know that this course would be offered in lots and lots of classrooms around the state and therefore make some money off of it," Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said Tuesday.

A final vote on the book, which Dunbar did not show up to defend on Tuesday, will come in November. It seems unlikely that Mexican American Heritage has any shot of making it past the board.

"It's hard for me to imagine any parent or any student seeing this book and not immediately sending up a flare," Ratliff said.

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