Using history as a ruler, not a map
Change isn’t necessarily an indicator of progress.
According to University of Texas history professor Emilio Zamora who spoke at the Center for Mexican American Studies’ Spring Speaker Series at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Elizabeth D. Rockwell Pavilion in the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library.
“Historians try to measure change and identify things that continue,” Zamora said.
“We tend to look at our immediate condition in terms of our immediate past to try to explain what we observe today.”
He said that it is important to look deeper into Mexican-American history because it not only explains the reality of Mexican-Americans, but it also sheds light on the causes of such realities and why they keep repeating.
“We see an increase in Mexican-American students in public schools,” Zamora said.
“Mexican-Americans represent the majority of the body population in public schools in Texas today. That is part of the change, but we also see outrageous dropout rates among the same group, and that is part of the things that remain the same.”
The commemorative series helps illustrate the 40-year-old center’s mission to “advance knowledge, promote critical thinking and foster the value of service to the community,” said CMAS director Tatcho Mindiola.
Zamora aimed to uphold this mission when he addressed his analysis of Mexican-American condition in Texas with his motto: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Even though more Mexican-Americans are going to school and graduating college, a large number of them are dropping out of schools and falling into the bottom of the social scale.
“This dropout problem means we are going to remain marginalized, segregated and assume bottom positions in the labor market. A large number of us are graduating and succeeding, but an even larger number are going to stay in the margins of society,” Zamora said.
The second speaker, Emma Perez, a professor and University of Colorado Department of Ethic Studies chair, addressed the difficulties regarding Mexican-American women.
“The stats tell us that in 1974, only three Chicanas had earned a Ph.D in history in the universe,” Perez said.
“The next generation from 1981 to 1990 — the one I’m a part of — five more Chicanas earned the title. From 1991 to 2000, 15 more. Out of those 23 Chicanas that have Ph.Ds, only five are full professors.”
She said that although the numbers are increasing with the years, they are still dismal and reflect the lack of opportunities given to women of Mexican heritage.
Perez said she became a historian because she came across an essay that reflected Mexican women as “docile and passive who followed their men.”
“My own history helped me understand that such statement didn’t reflect the truth,” Perez said.
“This is why oral history is so important. We need to know our history, talk to our ‘abuelitos’ and understand that sometimes we are taught things that don’t reflect history.”
Perez said what motivates her work is her interest in “excavating hidden voices from the past” of those marginalized and making them heard. She emphasizes that our society lives by ideologies inspired by Manifest Destiny that encouraged the invasion of Mexico and hatred against the land’s native habitants.
“We need to decolonize history and interpret documents. It’s important that we deconstruct this white, colonial mindset we’ve inherited that assumes that because we are all Americans; we share the same culture and ideologies so that we can reclaim our voices,” Perez said.
Mindiola said the commemorative Speaker Series helps illustrate the mission of the center “to advance knowledge, promote critical thinking and foster the value of service to the community.”