Texas Rep. Christina Morales, a Houston Democrat, understands how difficult it is to pass a bipartisan bill requiring Mexican American and Black studies to be offered in every school district. But, she added, history is replete with Latinos and others succeeding despite seemingly insurmountable odds.
“My grandparents owned the first Latino funeral home in the Gulf Coast and the first Spanish-language radio station,” Morales explained. Her grandmother was a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens and other organizations that helped Latino businesses succeed.
Morales, whose mother and father had both died by the time she was in her mid-teens, benefited from those connections and a sense of history. “There are so many kids in our community who need hope to see people who look like them and share similar stories of how they overcame obstacles and became community leaders,” Morales said.
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Mexican American and African American studies are already electives in Texas, but they are not available in all of the state’s 1,250 school districts. Currently, 63 school districts offer Mexican American studies, while 58 offer African American studies.
Morales’ reintroduced bill would require all districts to offer the courses as social studies options alongside world history and geography. The courses would also be eligible for graduate credit under the bill. In the 2021 regular legislative session, the Texas House passed an identical bill, and while it was approved by a Senate committee, it did not receive a vote on the Senate floor.
And the reintroduced legislation is unlikely to pass this session. Texas lawmakers reconvened amid campaigns in GOP-controlled states, including Texas, to limit or eliminate racial education and diversity and inclusion programs.
Attacks on ethnic studies and diversity initiatives have become a rallying cry for potential GOP presidential candidates seeking to energize their party’s right-wing base in 2024. When asked about her confidence in getting her bill to the governor’s desk and signed in such a political climate, Morales sighed heavily.
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“I know we have some challenges ahead of us,” she said, “but in the face-to-face conversations I’ve had with some members, I do feel there are enough moderates left” to get this bill passed. The bill’s co-author is retired businessman Rep. Charles Cunningham. Cunningham, a Republican who previously served on the Humble school board and on the city council, was elected this year.
Cunningham’s chief of staff, Roel Benavides, said Cunningham was unavailable for comment Friday due to a family emergency. The office of Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott did not respond to questions about whether he would support the bipartisan legislation or what form it would need to take to gain his support.
According to the Pew Research Center, the vast majority of the state’s Latinos are of Mexican descent. According to the Census Bureau, the number of Hispanics in Texas has surpassed that of non-Hispanic whites. Texas has the nation’s largest Black population, with nearly 4 million people, or about 14% of the total population.
In a news conference this week, lawmakers acknowledged that they were dealing with a more difficult political terrain.
Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher, chair of the Texas Democratic Caucus, said threats to diversity and inclusion on college campuses come with every news cycle, and “everyone seems to be walking on eggshells.” Despite “the odds and headwinds,” he stated that the legislation is not intended to pit Republicans against Democrats or people of color against one another.
“My message from this podium is to reach across the aisle and tell Republican colleagues that this is an opportunity for us to stand together as one Texas, 254 counties, 31 million people, and the world’s ninth largest economy,” Martinez Fischer of San Antonio said. “Because we are a global economy, we must adopt and accept our global history.”
Rep. Ron Reynolds, chairman of the Texas Black Caucus, said the bill’s passage could help to heal the state’s divisions caused by squabbles over diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and critical race theory, a generally college-level concept whose main idea is that racism is systemic, or embedded, in-laws, institutions, and policies.
Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat from Houston who supports the bill, stated that Asian Americans have been targeted by laws that would deprive them of their civil rights, which has enraged the community. SB147, introduced this session, would make it illegal for Chinese citizens to purchase real estate in Texas, including homes.
To explain the anger, Wu said at the news conference, “we had to dig deep into our community history” and explain to people that “back in the 1800s, y’all already did this.” Wu was referring to the Alien Land Laws. He also mentioned the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese American internment during WWII.
“Even though those are historic, ground-breaking events for us, they are barely mentioned in our textbooks….” “We will not be a footnote,” Wu stated.
We Need To Tell A Compelling Story
Morales told NBC News that before her grandparents, who were born in the United States, established their funeral home in Houston, Mexican American families had to hold their services in their homes or garages because white-owned funeral homes would not allow them in.
Morales stated that her father died of a massive stroke when she was 11 years old, and her mother died of kidney failure when she was 15 years old. Morales learned about the funeral business from her grandmother, and when she died at the age of 23, she became the owner of her grandparents’ funeral home.
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KLVL, her grandparents’ radio station, had a show called “Yo Necesito Trabajo (I Need Work)” that helped many people find work. “One man approached me and said, ‘My father got a job through ‘Yo Necesito Trabajo,’ and he ended up putting us (his children) through college with that job,” Morales explained.
“Every (ethnic) community in our state has contributed to the success of our neighborhood, city, and country,” she explained. “When it comes to our history, we need to tell a robust story.”
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