I have designed this unit on Latino history to bring some better balance to the way I teach American history. I want to emphasize that the Spanish, as well as other Europeans, were outsiders arriving in the New World. Over the centuries they shaped the cultures of North America, South America, and the Caribbean, but the American history that we teach frequently pushes Spanish influences to a footnote. For example, how many students are aware that Florida belonged to Spain until 1819 or that Mexican families owned
in California long before the gold rush? In addition, given the current debates in Congress over immigration and naturalization rights and restrictions, I want to prepare my students to think about current political issues. Students need a deeper background and understanding of Latino immigration and settlement patterns, traditions, and value systems as well as a consideration of the political struggles Latinos have faced over the course of American history.
The students will need to think about how the Constitution protects American citizens; they will also need to think about the rights of citizens which will in turn lead them to the 14th Amendment. By looking into the story of an actual person with a real problem in the not so distant past, I am hoping that the students will understand that American democracy does provide a system that can be used to protect the individual. The inherent rights of individuals,
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,
are guaranteed to citizens and non citizens alike through the Constitution and its amendments.
Of course, in this research the students will also encounter the tension of the ideal
reality. As the students graduate out of 8th grade and enroll in high school (and approach voting age), my hope is that students see that activism in politics is a responsibility. If 63 million people can vote for a future star on the 2006
TV Show, I would hope that students realize the imperative to vote in a real election is a much more important test of what it means to be an American.
In addition, another goal is to demonstrate that because civil rights issues and problems exist for many groups of Americans, we share the responsibility to consider individual progress in this area as progress for everyone. Cases and struggles involving Latinos do not only belong to Latino residents of the United States, and Latinos must recognize the connections between their own histories and the experiences of other groups in the United States. The Supreme Court case of
Meyer v Nebraska
in 1923 is an excellent example: a teacher was using German to teach a class in a Nebraska middle school and was restricted in doing so by a state regulation - the case eventually headed to the Supreme Court where the regulation disallowing the teaching of a foreign language in a public school was overturned. The case is cited as a jumping-off spot for the Latino civil rights struggles over the acceptance of Spanish in a classroom setting because it was used as precedent for the teaching of foreign languages at an early age in schools. Court cases support the Constitution - and the Constitution should protect everyone.
Students will also study vocabulary; these words are current with today's news issues (for example immigration, alien, equal protection, provisions, treaty,) and are evident in court and civil rights events throughout the 20th century. The case of Isabel Gonzalez in 1902 should bring up a discussion of who is a citizen, who is an alien and how the law treats newcomers to America. The phrase "Porto Ricans are not aliens" comes from the court decision that allowed Mrs. Gonzalez (a resident of Puerto Rico) to enter the US without being detained for immigration procedures at Ellis Island.
Students will share their work intermittently in the course of the project with the whole class. A reason for expanding the choice of topics to include Latino civil rights leaders and experiences is to show everyone in the class that all Americans, regardless of background and heritage, have intellectual leaders, political activists, devoted family members, and rich traditions as well as hopes, dreams and challenges. Mexican parents rallied for the education of their children at the Lemon Grove Grammar School in California in the 1930s. They challenged the move by the San Diego school board to separate their children into isolated 'special' schools and eventually took the case to the California Supreme Court. The Lemon Grove Incident influenced the background briefs used later on in
Brown v. Board of Education
; the case
Mendez v. Westminster School District
(1946), was another challenge to
segregation in schools. The United States district court ruled in 1946 that the children of Gonzalo Mendez, William Guzman, Frank Palomino and others were denied their rights under the 14th Amendment when the Westminster school district in Orange County, California, created separate schools for non-English speaking students. The decision foreshadows
Brown v Board of Education
and the final challenge to 'separate but equal' as a legitimate policy. The
decision states, "'The equal protection of the laws' pertaining to the public school system in California is not provided by furnishing in separate schools the same technical facilities, text books and courses of instruction to children of Mexican ancestry that are available to the other public school children regardless of their ancestry. A paramount requisite in the American system of public education is social equality. It must be open to all children by unified school association regardless of lineage."