Hispanic: the word implies much more than a race. Behind it comes a vibrant, controversial history that many textbooks tend to overlook.
A few folks in the Westside of San Antonio are working hard to remedy the issue by hosting a six-week series of free Mexican-American studies classes for middle school and high school-aged kids at a favorite Westside hotspot called Barrio Barista.
The educational series, which began as a family-only event turned into a community-wide effort.
M.A.S. for the Masses (MAS) is a group composed of teachers, public and community leaders, artists, musicians, counselors, and public speakers who volunteer their time and knowledge to the community at large.
Classes are held at Barrio Barista, 3735 Culebra Rd., every Sunday until August 8 from 3-4:30 p.m.
“These classes are a way to show children they belong, give them a sense of identity” MAS Director Monica Avila said. “This is something needed in the community. If we sit around and wait for someone to teach our kids, it’s never going to happen. It has to happen in your own backyard.”
The Jefferson High School native has always been passionate about making a change in her neighborhood.
This Sunday marked the second in a series of six classes. Students learned about the origins of the Hispanic people, from Hernán Cortés’ conquest of Mexico, Spanish Conquistadors, and La Malinche. Last session, students learned about foods eaten by Aztec warriors, and the origins of the word Chicano.
Class consisted of lecture, video and plenty of hands-on activities including drawing, building “temples” and placing name tags on one another. Candies were treated as treasure, white face paint represented Spaniards. Newspaper vests were used as garb for Aztec slaves.
After class was adjourned, students were given handouts and door prizes, which included gift cards and various novels from Chicano authors.
“It’s important to know where you come from – it’s liberating,” Max Edman, MAS event coordinator and Monica’s husband said. “We didn’t have these resources growing up. I didn’t know who I was. I was so hungry for this knowledge and we didn’t it have it.
“We were stunned that in San Antonio — with the rich culture — nobody has stepped up to teach the teens. As a teen, you’re trying to find out who you are. If you don’t have any background of understanding of where your people came from, you’re going to be lost. That’s where we decided to step in.”
Monica and Max have integrated the Mexican-American Culture in their children’s lives, and are constantly finding ways to aid the community, from creating a free library outside their household, to growing loofahs in their yard for passerby’s to pick. These classes are the latest project they are working on, and they do it solely out of passion for the culture and desire to teach Hispanics about their history.
“People are interested in sharing this knowledge. Children need to identify with people that are them,” Avila said. “It’s not represented well enough. This is our way of giving back.”
They are still working out the kinks for the program, but in the near future, Avila hopes to shorten the age gap by hosting platicas (discussions), where adults can converse, debate and discuss Mexican-American studies from a selected textbook focused solely on the study.
“Even though this history isn’t mentioned widely in textbooks, it still matters,” Avila said.
Perception of MAS and Mexican-American Studies across the Southern States
MAS is one of many movements promoting Mexican-American studies in the nation.
According to a 2013 U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 54 million Hispanics live in the nation, roughly 17% of the total population. They represent America’s largest ethnic or race minority.
Despite the substantial population of Hispanics in the nation, only a marginal amount of ink is being used in textbooks regarding their vast history, and many are working towards vanquishing the study of Hispanics in public schools altogether.
Across the nation, others are taking a more proactive approach to Mexican-American studies. Three districts in California mandated ethic studies programs in public schools, including one in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
In Texas, educators are working on implementing ethnic studies in individual school districts, after the State Board of Education denied a statewide Mexican-American studies course in public schools.
Palo Alto College offers courses in Mexican-American studies and Our Lady of the Lake University and The University of Texas at San Antonio offers degree programs in the field. However, without a mandated public school curriculum, younger students must find other resources to study the topic.
Locally, the community has responded positively to MAS and Avila’s efforts. As students sit in the center of the coffeehouse learning, parents sat on the outskirts, showing their support.
Avila notices the efforts of the parents, and takes delight in knowing parents of the neighborhood are taking the initiative to teach their children about their heritage.
“Did you see how the parents sat around, watching their students? It was like a large family, urging these kids to learn,” Avila said. “Those in the middle are the focal point – the future. The parents are in the back, urging, encouraging. That’s how it should be.”
Pearl Morones-Gonzales brought her children to MAS for the first time, and was pleased with what she saw.
“Me and my husband were excited about this (MAS) because we are always looking for educational opportunities for the kids,” Morones-Gonzales said. “It’s hard to find events like this where they can actually learn history of where they came from. All this technology opens the world to them, they don’t understand the struggles the people before them went through. I’m excited for them to see and view these different perspectives.”
The family plans on returning to the remainder of the classes throughout the summer.
“I had a lot of fun doing this, I really liked it. I’m excited.” Noah said. Still donning his Aztec slave newspaper vest, he laughs. “I wouldn’t mind coming back. I wonder what they’ll teach us next.”