Mexican-American textbook problematic

September 9, 2016

Two years ago, Mexican-American educators, activists and officials persuaded the Texas State Board of Education to seek submissions for a text book on Mexican-American history. They couldn’t have imagined that Tuesday they would be traveling to Austin for a hearing on the sole submission, a 507-page tome titled “Mexican American Heritage.”

Or that they would be asking the state board to toss it in the trash bin.

Nor could they have imagined that the person publishing the book and writing part of it would be a former member of the board whose appointee to an “expert” review panel recommended removing César Chávez from an American history curriculum.

Cynthia Dunbar was a Houston-area member of the state board from 2007 to 2011. She stirred controversy beyond her attempts to change curricula in conformity with her belief that God wants, and the founders intended, for the United States to be a Christian nation.

In 2008, Dunbar wrote that if Barack Obama was elected, a massive terrorist attack within six months would be planned “by those with whom Obama truly sympathizes to take down the America that is a threat to tyranny.” She added that Obama would use the attack as an excuse to declare martial law.

This week, a committee of eight Hispanic scholars and educators issued a 54-page critique of the book submitted by Dunbar. It alleges many errors of fact and omission.

It also, they say, is infused with considerable bias. They cite a multiple of examples, but one stands out. It is worth quoting at some length:

“Stereotypically, Mexicans were viewed as lazy compared to European or American workers. Industrialists were very driven, competitive men who were always on the clock and continually concerned about efficiency. They were used to their workers putting in a full day’s work, quietly and obediently, and respecting rules, authority, and property. In contrast, Mexican laborers were not reared to put in a full day’s work so vigorously. There was a cultural attitude of ‘mañana,’ or ‘tomorrow,’ when it came to high-gear production. It was also traditional to skip work on Mondays, and drinking on the job could be a problem. The result was that Mexican laborers were seen as inferior and kept in low-paying, unskilled jobs that did not provide a pathway upward.”

I don’t know what would be worse: Hispanic students reading that passage, or Anglo students.

Dunbar has objected that the passage was intended to portray the prejudices Mexican-Americans had to overcome. But the first sentence doesn’t identify the way Mexicans were viewed as false, and the rest of the paragraph presents those stereotypes as fact. Dunbar says that passage and others have been changed.

I wonder if that includes passages describing the Chicano civil rights movement as adopting “a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.”

Dunbar considers the widespread criticism she and the book have received as unfair and not constructive.

“It would seem like the logical thing would be to call and talk to people calmly and work together instead of doing this horrible hit piece, character assassination,” she told the Austin American-Statesman this week.

But if they were open to talking with her before, a YouTube clip might explain why Hispanic scholars wouldn’t collaborate with her now. You can watch it by searching for “Cynthia Dunbar and Trump.”

That’s right: Having moved to Virginia and served as state co-chair for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, Dunbar is now a national Republican committee woman pumping for the candidate who called Mexicans rapists and said a Mexican-American judge could not be fair.

Dunbar begins by angrily telling the crowd at a Trump rally, “We are all here for the same reason. We want our country back!”

It’s not a message that is hard for first-, second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans to decode.

This column originally appeared as Rick Casey’s Last Word on KLRN’s “Texas Week with Rick Casey,” which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 1 p.m.