AUSTIN - Frustrated parents, activists and lawmakers from all corners of the state gathered Tuesday in Austin to protest a Mexican-American history textbook they argue would expose Texas school children to racist descriptions of Hispanics and indigenous peoples.
"With this textbook, they would see negative stereotypes reinforced; Immigrants are criminals. Mexicans are lazy," said Celina Moreno, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), who emceed Tuesday's rally outside the Texas Education Agency headquarters.
The protest gathered several organizations as part of the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition. University historians found scores of errors and stereotypical passages in Momentum Instruction's Mexican-American Heritage textbook, which are summarized in a review compiled by State Board of Education Secretary Ruben Cortez, Jr.
"I'm getting even some incendiary e-mails that say we're 'crybaby Mexicans,'" Cortez told the crowd Tuesday. One of a half dozen lawmakers on hand, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) told demonstrators, "No book that calls Mexicans lazy or accuses Chicanos of wanting to destroy this society has any business in our classrooms in Texas."
"I'm personally offended. My parents are both immigrants to this country," state Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) told KVUE. "If this was written by a student, this would get a total F."
More than a hundred people signed up to testify before the 15-member State Board of Education, which is charged with overseeing education policy. The board scheduled a public hearing Tuesday to discuss items received pursuant to a general request for instructional materials before it votes in November. In 2011, the Texas Legislature stripped the board of its power to choose textbooks for all students after years of just such controversy, relegating the board's role to providing a seal of approval.
"There's no upside. There's only downside of going through an adoption process," board member David Bradley said at Tuesday's hearing. Pointing out the controversial textbook was the only one submitted, Bradley suggested the flap was evidence the board's power should be reinstated.
"The districts can purchase anything they want from the adopted list or off Amazon.com," said Bradley. "If this publisher didn't want to go through the adoption process, as many publishers are now opting out of, and just went directly to school districts, we would have no impact on the sale of this textbook, or its content or its errors. So I think we in retrospect may have created a problem."
Publisher Momentum Instruction is tied to a previous board member, and current board president Donna Bahorich emphasized the current board didn't ask for it.
"I believe I speak for everyone on the board when I say that your story is part of the American story. We appreciate and recognize your struggles and celebrate your valuable contributions to this great country," Bahorich told the audience in prepared remarks kicking off the hearing. "We are committed to making sure our students receive historically accurate materials in the telling of your story. Everyone deserves to have their story told in a fair and accurate manner."
"I believe that every colleague in there, with the exception of maybe one, is going to do the right thing," Cortez told KVUE. "The board that we have post 2010 hasn't been as controversial as boards in the past."
(© 2016 KVUE)