Austin Revealed: Chicano Civil Rights “Desegregation & Education”


(music) (pleasant music) – In 1938, I went
to the first grade at Zavala Elementary School, and it didn’t take
me long to realize that the only kids in
the school were Mexicans, so it was a segregated school. – In Austin, of course,
it’s totally divided, you know, with I-35,
and so Mexican-Americans live on the east side of I-35, and the south, and this is a total construction on the
part of the city council, dating back to the 1920s. There’s nothing
natural about it. – My mother was from Mexico, so she spoke Spanish
to us all the time, so I truly was bilingual. I spoke Spanish at home, and when I was at school, the teachers would punish
us if we spoke Spanish. – When I went into
the first grade at Govalle Elementary School, I was sent to the
Principal’s office. You’d get swatted with a paddle. – They would discipline us
and take us to the restroom and wash our mouth
out with soap. And I felt that it
was something wrong, but I was too young
to know better, you know, to speak up about it. – I decided that, if
they’re gonna attack me because of my speaking Spanish, I wasn’t gonna speak. So I didn’t speak. I spent three years
in the first grade. – Palm Elementary,
there on IH-35 in Cesar Chavez, East
First back at that time. Old building. I worked there for a while, and they only had
electrical plugs, not enough for, let’s say, an overhead projector
that the teacher used or a tape recorder or whatever electrical devices that
a teacher would need. They didn’t have
air conditioning, so I helped open up the windows and guess what? The noise of all
the cars on IH-35. – When I went there, it looked
like a little mini-prison. We had to cross
Highway-35 every day to get to the school. – It was primarily
Mexican-American, although most of our teachers were white, the
Principal was white. – [Voiceover] At that time I
thought, “Well maybe people “who look like me
couldn’t be educators.” – The Mexican-Americans
were not included in the desegregation
plan originally. Mexican-Americans had
attended Austin High going way back, but the kids that were
going to Austin High prior to the Integration Plan, they faced a lot
of discrimination. They said that the word was, “All you Mexicans, you’re
gonna go to Johnston now.” when they opened Johnston. You know, “You can’t
go to Austin High. “You’re gonna go to Johnston. “That’s your school over there.” That was for Mexicans. The stories that came to me came from students
who had been there. They weren’t talking
about hearsay, they had lived it, so it was tough. – I had a whole
group of friends, and we were all in
the honor system, and when we got to Austin High, we were struggling, and we sat
down to talk to each other, and it hit us real quick that we had gotten an
inferior education. You know, our As were
probably a C-plus, and we were finding
ourself having to study really hard and so much just to catch up with the
students that were there. – Austin High is kind of
where you started seeing the social class differences. I went to school with the, one of the sons of Governor
Connally back then, and you know, all the
rich people and so on, so you started having
more distinctions. – And at that time, we were
also facing the Vietnam War. The Dean that I had was
constantly encouraging all the students
that got in trouble, which were minority students, and he was just basically
a recruiter for the Army, and basically telling,
“Hey, we don’t want you “to have any bad record. “If you just join the
service right now, “we’ll write the
recommendation saying “you’re a good student
and we’ll back you up “on your recruitment.” – My experience there was
good as far as learning, up until the time
that I found out that I was not on
the college track. I had joined this program called The Vocational Office
Education, where we learned how to type,
how to take shorthand, and the goal was for us
to go into office-type, secretarial types of careers. If I had stayed working,
then I would have missed out on having
the requirements so that I could attend college, and so when I found that out, I went to one of my teachers and told him, “My plan is
to discontinue this program “because I wanna
take more coursework “that’s required for
me to go to college “so that I can attend college.” and he told me, “You’re
making a big mistake.” and I was like, college
is supposed to be better, and why would he tell me this? And so I just told him, “i don’t think so,
and this is my plan.” I did apply during the spring of my senior year. – I attended Johnston High
School until I was a senior and I dropped out. I was being bullied
by the coaches and some of the
band directors there and I didn’t feel
that it was a place for me to continue school there, so I just decided just to try to make it with what
I already had learned in school and the
vocational courses that I had taken in printing, so I picked up a
job as a printer. – So I go over to east
side, go to school, and they’re teaching
bricklaying. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re not teaching
bricklaying in high schools on the west side, this
is obviously they’re, they’re not tracking people
to colleges on the east side, they’re tracking
people in trades. They’re tracking people to
college on the west side. I mean, it couldn’t
be more plain. – After a couple of years there, we decided to organize,
and at that time, you were having the
Chicano walkouts through all, sorta
like the southwest was experiencing this movement where students were just upset with how the educational
system was working, and so, we worked
and we organized to do a walkout, and so, we went to the auditorium
and we demanded to speak to the Superintendent, to the Principals, and
then we had our grievances, and we then began the process of having, you know,
meetings to address it. So there was a
lot of changes and we as the seniors
didn’t benefit, but we knew from then on, the students there would benefit from that particular
action that we did there. – In the Austin Independent
School District, you know, when you went
to achievement levels, the Whites, the
African-Americans,
the Hispanics, we were at the bottom. The drop-out rate
was horrendous. But what happened
was, we didn’t have any administrators or teachers. When I went to the school board, we had one Mexican-American
Principal at Zavala, and 40 teachers. The relationship
between teachers and students is very special, and you have to have teachers in the rooms that understand who these kids are. And if they don’t, the magic just doesn’t happen. Ernie Pelares had
decided to do a study in the community
itself to determine what needed to be done, and they came up with this list called The 17 Demands. That became my agenda, and I went into
the school board, I said, “Here it is.” They wanted more teachers,
they wanted more Principals, they wanted more
bilingual education, they wanted all those
things that came about. – You had a lot of
people now getting, like, they wanted
to be educators, and they were getting
to go to college, and so they was
going like, “Okay, “how do we make sure that “our educators reflect
our community?” – They would train
the beginning teachers in Title I schools,
and then they would, after they were trained
two or three years, they would take
the better teachers and move them to west Austin
and other parts of Austin and bring us more
beginning teachers, and so our children never
had the opportunities to work with
experienced teachers. More teachers like
Modesta, Maria Elena, fought to stay at the
east Austin schools. – We said, “We need to
promote bilingual education, “and especially in east Austin.” A lot of them were
Spanish-speaking students. If we didn’t, these
kids were gonna suffer because the kids were not ready to take a test in English. – Everybody got signs, we
went to the school board, and they got Dr. George Sanchez from The University of Texas
to come and score, and so we had to present
all this information to the school board,
“This isn’t right.” and it, some of
the teachers there, “Oh, no, no, we don’t
need to have them “have a new school.” You know, “They’re not gonna
take care of it anyway. “They’re just gonna mess it up “like they do
everything else, okay?” Ooh, that was like
putting salt in our wound. I said, “We’re gonna show you.” So we got Dr. Sanchez, we
got the people mobilized and Palm school got closed down and then the other fight was we wanted it on the
east side of IH-35. Location was where
the old Salvation Army was, and that’s right now where the Sanchez
Elementary School is. – Sanchez was one of
those special schools where they had a
Chicano Principal. We had a good, solid
bilingual program. That gave us the
sense of community. It gives us a sense of culture. So there was an expansion in, you might say, in what
we were able to offer. – Every generation has to be an improvement from the next. My parents didn’t go to school, but we got to high school. Our children, college. And now, I love it that I see so many Latinos getting PhDs. I’m just, you know, I love it when I hear it, because I know that it’s getting better. – We’re not at the
point where we can say, “Well, we’re there. “We have reached
the highest level “and we can now do whatever.” No, I’m just happy that things are moving in
the right direction.

4 thoughts on “Austin Revealed: Chicano Civil Rights “Desegregation & Education””

  1. Thank you for creating this piece and telling one of the great S tories that makes Austin and the east side so unique! I loved seeing the primary sources of the organizing that went on. Now in 2017, the school board needs to all sit down and watch this. After all the work that was done to make sure Sanchez was a safe school for the learning of bilingual education and what it means to the community, it should be supported and cherished.

  2. I was waiting for them to mention that Mexicans were white then, but they never did.

    They're trying to rewrite history pretending that Spanish people were minorities in Texas.

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