Lyndon B. Johnson as a young teacher in one of the "Mexican schools" in S. Texas, 1928, Wikimedia Common (left)
City Council Member Kay McAnally who introduced the motion to create Minerva Delgado Park, 2017, Austin American Stateman (right)
This week, the media reported that the City of Bastrop will soon place a historical marker commemorating the city's "Mexican School," now reduced to a concrete slab. In addition, the City Council approved purchasing a piece of land near the site of the former school in order to create a park named after Minerva Delgado. The motion was introduced by City Council member Kay [Garcia] McAnnaly who was born the year that Delgado's grandpaprents filed a lawsuit again the school district. In 1947, Delgado's grandparents filed a law suit, Minerva Delgado v Bastrop ISD, after she was denied entry into the white school. Twenty additional children joined the class action lawsuit, which was also supported by LULAC. The Degaldo v Bastrop ISD ruling was historic; the judge ruled that segregation of Mexican American children was unconstitutional. It was part of a struggle for educational equality for Mexican American children that spanned the twentieth century.
As a scholar of Mexican American education and a public historian, this news made me ecstatic. Many people don't know about the existence of the "Mexican schools" nor the on-going legacy of these segregated schools and the inequitable education they provided generations of Mexican American children.
The "Mexican schools" emerged in the 1880s all across the Southwest as Mexican-origin parents began to demand education for their children. Their demands were often met with the creation of schools that were less-funded and less-resourced than what were called the "American schools" meant for white children. When Paul Horn, an expert in education, visited El Paso in the 1920s, he was disturbed to see that there seemed to be two cities: one north of the tracks where Anglos lived and one south of the tracks where Mexican Americans lived. The schools and the education that they provided were profoundly unequal.
In the early twentieth century, as the Mexican origin population of the Southwest grew, both from those fleeing the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath and those recruited or enticed by the growing demand for cheap labor, school districts established what were referred to as "the Mexican schools." In their early history, these schools focused on Spanish-speaking children, yet as more generations of children were born in the United States and spoke English, the schools continued to justify segregation on the basis of language. Since Mexican Americans were considered nominally "white," they could not be racially segregated so their segregation was based on language and culture.
Texas Historical Commission markers tell the story. In 1903, the town of Edna incorporated and established schools. As Historical Marker 55007017609 states, "The Mexican school was offered six months of the year for grades one through four. If a child wanted to continue their education, they would be transferred to the Anglo school. However, many did not advance due to their need to help support their families. Located in the northwest part of the city, the Edna Mexican School was a wood-frame building containing several rows of desks and meager educational supplies." The story was the same in town after town across the Southwest. Children of Mexican origin received not only inferior resources and in many cases, unqualified teachers, but they received even fewer months of schooling than white children.
In 1923, the Goose Creek Independent School District established Baytown Mexican School. It did not build a school, however, nor did it hire teachers. Instead, the school was held in Humble Oil and Refining Company's Mexican community recreation hall. The children were taught by high school girls from Robert E. Lee High School. (Historical Marker 5507018144)
As an Abileen historical marker states, "From its earliest days, education for Mexican Americans in Texas has varied from none at all to apparent equality. The Republic of Texas in 1839 and 1840 established laws governing a system of schools. As these institutions took shape, Mexican American students often were segregated, encountering racial, social and economic discrimination, ideological differences and political tensions." (Historical Marker 5441012221)
The actions of the Bastrop City Council are significant not only because they make visible the history of unequal educational opportunities for Mexican origin children but because they make visible the work of Mexican American families and communities to fight that inequity.
Delgado v Bastrop was an important court case against the segregation of Mexican American children. In 1946, fathers of students attending segregated schools in Westminster and other nearby town challenged the segregation of their children. The judge ruled against the segregation of Mexican American children in Mendez v Westminster. See the screenshot below from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History website.
In the 1970s, David Alvarado filed suit against the El Paso Independent School District. The Plaintiffs, who were represented by Albert Armendariz and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) argued that the school district had maintained a dual school system by implementing the three actions: 1. Racially-inspired selection of school construction sites; 2. Discriminatory zoning lines; and 3. Discriminatory feeder patterns.The federal judge ruled in 1976 that the district had intentionally segregated students through school zoning and that prior to 1961, "the El Paso School System intentionally maintained inferior facilities for Mexican-American students."
These discriminatory practices, including the physical punishment of children for speaking Spanish, as well as the struggle to end discrimination have profound meaning and consequences for Mexican American communities today. Yet, much of this history is invisible. Bastrop City Council has taken a step to recall this history. Felicidades to City Council member McAnnaly who told reporters that through this, she had done something to make her grandparents proud.