Why Mexicans Can’t Win: The Attack on Semillas Charter School

Semillas Charter School

Marcos Aguilar, executive director and co-founder of Academia Semillas del Pueblo, talks with his wife, Minnie Ferguson, also a founder, during a fifth-grade class.

Counted along with other Latinos, Mexican-origin people make up the largest minority in the United States. In East Los Angeles, the overwhelming population is of Mexican extraction. Why then is it that we can’t win?

After all, aren’t we the largest minority in the U.S.? Don’t we keep on hearing that the Sleeping Giant is awake? Yet, since its founding over fifty years ago Mexican Americans have been fighting to get a Mexican American appointed as president of CSULA. The closest we have gotten is the just-appointed president who is Italian-American, and whose name ends in a vowel.

Evidence that this is all an illusion is the battle to get the charter of The Semillas Community Schools renewed. Originally, it was chartered by the LA Unified School District – 75 percent of the district’s students are Latina/o, but only one of seven members of its board of education is so-called Latino.

The LAUSD dropped Semillas’ Charter largely on the recommendation of Superintendent John Deasy, who has very little professional background when it comes to Latino students. This is the same Deasy who refused to help the late Sal Castro when he appealed for district support to take students to Camp Hess Kramer. Sal pled with him showing data that the volunteer program was highly successful in motivating mostly LAUSD students to go to college. Deasy, you have to understand, is a privatizer who is well-connected to other privatizers in the city.

Semillas Charter School

Juana de la Cruz Farias, a teacher at Academia Semillas del Pueblo, teaches Nahuatl, an indigenous language of Mexico, to Anthony Rayo. The Los Angeles Board of Education recently renewed the school’s charter despite underperformance on state tests.

This is not the first time that a highly successful program has been dismantled. Take the Mexican American Studies K-12 program in the Tucson Unified School District. It had put a big dent into the dropout epidemic, and Mexican American students were motivated to go to college. It was maligned, called un-American and racist by the racists.

Semillas is an experimental program in one of the poorest of the poorest areas of Los Angeles. Like the Tucson program it has cultural programs, and students have to learn English, Spanish, Nahuatl and Mandarin. Students even visited China. However, the school was not run by a corporation privatizers and thus suspect.

I have been through this “Anything But Mexican” scenario hundreds of times. Once more it is déjà vu! I remember when Dr. Ernesto Galarza in the 1970s became an ardent advocate for bilingual education and in the process ruffled a lot feathers. Galarza was defunded, maligned and attacked by the bilingual establishment. He was literally driven out of the field, which I consider one of the worst moments in Mexican American history. It was disgraceful because even friends of Galarza ran for cover. Many believed that their own funds would be in danger –truly a profile in courage.

rudy acunaNow, Semillas is fighting for its life. It is appealing to the Los Angeles County Office of Education where two of its five board members are Mexican American. Things don’t look good. Semillas has presented documentation – proof – that it is in compliance and successful.

As in the cases of Galarza, Sal and Tucson friends have run for cover in the face of slander, defamation, lies and pressure. It is time for us to have some amor propio and fightback!

Email the Los Angeles County Board and tell them you stand with Semillas and quality education for Mexican Americans/Latinos. We should not be the anything but people.

Rodolfo Acuña

Photos: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on September 26, 2013
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About Rodolfo F. Acuña

Rodolfo F. Acuña is the founding Chairperson of the Chicana/o Studies Department at California State University, Northridge and author of Occupied America.