The book The Other Struggle for Equal Schools: Mexican Americans during the Civil Rights Era by Ruben Donato provides a additional source to a rather scanty amount of literature available dedicated for the understanding of the educational experiences of racial and ethnic minorities such as the Mexican Americans. The title itself is a strong point that is meant to emphasize the idea that prejudice and desegregation are not only limited to that of the African Americans but also extends to the Mexican Americans. Donato used the historical experiences of the African Americans as his point of comparison in establishing how the Chicanos in the 1960s and 1970s struggled for civil rights in education. Like the African Americans who continued to fight for their emancipation, and later on equal rights in the society, Donato disproves popular notions that Mexican Americans were passive enough to accept their fates in education.
In the seven chapters of the book, Donato examines the educational situation of the Mexican American students in the Southwest in general and in Brownsfield, California in particular. The first chapter highlights how public schools segregated Mexican American from American students and followed different curricula for both groups. The IQ test results were utilized to strengthen the belief that Mexican American students were far more inferior in intellect compared to the white Americans which justifies the segregation. Due to this theory, educators and Americans in general developed a “lazy, amoral, dirty, stupid, disease ridden, and deviant” (Donato 145) image of Mexican Americans. As a result of the blatant prejudice against Mexican American students, a Chicano civil rights movement was developed as parents seek for educational equity for their children. Through the civil rights movement, Mexican Americans responded to issues of year-round schooling, bilingual education, and the legal dismantling of school segregation.
The struggle of the Mexican Americans for equal education is reminiscent of the long history of struggle of African Americans for their freedom and social equality. Through interviews, community organization files, newspapaers, state and local reports, and school board minutes, the reality of education and civil rights movement for Mexican Americans during the 1960s and 1970s illustrates that migrant ethnic communities in America, in general, had to fight for recognition and their integration in the society. Donato showed considerable skills in contextualizing the issue of unjust policies in education such as year-round schooling, segregation, and bilingual education in such a way that it puts into focus the less known aspects of American education through the point of view of Mexian Americans. Donato then endeavored to explain the reaction of the Mexican Americans as they initiated grassroots activism to respond and counter the educational situation that their children were forcibly put into. Despite the victories achieved by the Mexican American community, such as the unification of the whole area into a single school system and a semblance of political presence, Donato concludes that Mexican Americans failed to establish significant changes in Brownsfield school due to their lack of political power (152). Major policy decisions that were guaranteed to result to positive effects for the education of Mexican American students were not influenced enough by the grassroot activists to make them work on their benefits.
Despite the book’s contribution to the understanding of Mexican American struggles in the 1960s and 1970s, there were cerain concepts that were left unresolved. For one, it was not clear how the attempt of the Brownsfield School Board to fire an influential community advocate in 1960s concluded. The dispute revolved around how this person’s participation in the organization of grassroots community in support of the bilingual-bicultural elementary schooling angered the members of the board. As a reponse, the school board claimed that they wished to put into good use the Title I funds which was used to pay for her salary instead. However, there was no explanation provided as to how the case ended and what resulted from it, which would have provided an example for similar cases in the years that followed.
Donato, Ruben (1997). The other struggle for equal schools: Mexican Americans during the
Civil Rights era. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.