Arlington ISD turns thumbs down on Cesar Chavez holiday (yet again)

By Alan Bean

To the surprise of no one, the students of Arlington were once again denied a May holiday honoring civil rights legend Cesar Chavez. 

Last night’s meeting of the Arlington ISD school board reminded me of the climactic scene in To Kill a Mockingbird.  An all-white jury convicts the black defendant even though the case against him has crumbled to dust.  As the article below suggests, last night’s decision was a foregone conclusion.

Last year, the statements of support for a Chavez holiday, mine included, were polite and deferential.  This year was different.  

I used my five minutes to address the elephant in the room.  The school board trustees are both politicians and public servants, I said.  There is no political upside to voting to rename a generic “May holiday” in honor of Chavez.  The majority of voters in Arlington have little interest in honoring a Latino icon, and many would staunchly oppose the move.  This is, after all, one of the most conservative demographics in America. 

On the other hand, 65% of the students (and therefore a solid majority of the parents) are people of color who would love to see Chavez honored.  There is a disconnect between the political imperative to please the voters and the moral imperative to do what’s best for the children.  The heart sides with the kids; the head craves political security.

LULAC representative (and Friends of Justice board member) Luis Castillo, made much the same point.  Last year, Luis submitted an open records request that gave him access to all the emails sent to board members from the public during the two weeks prior to the  annual hearing on the Chavez holiday issue.  “I know the pressure you are under,” Mr. Castillo told the trustees.  “People say things like, ‘If they want to honor Chavez, let them go back to Mexico.'”

Tragically, this attitude is driving the political process in Arlington.

 Arlington school board rejects proposed holiday for Chavez

By Robert Cadwallader

ARLINGTON — Despite pleas from Hispanic and African-American leaders, the school board Thursday declined for the third consecutive year to create a school holiday honoring labor leader Cesar Chavez.

Trustee Gloria Pena, one of two Hispanics on the seven-member board, asked to replace the “May Holiday” on the Arlington school district’s calendar with a holiday honoring Chavez. But her motion failed to get a second, and the board quickly approved the 2012-13 calendar without a Chavez holiday.

The decision seemed all but predetermined at the Nov. 3 meeting, where Pena was the only trustee to speak up for the Chavez holiday during the board’s preliminary discussion on the calendar.

But more than a dozen people turned out Thursday to support the proposal, including several activists who told the board they would declare a Cesar Chavez holiday themselves and mount a public campaign to get area students and parents involved in the celebration.

“We are no longer seeking your permission to declare a Cesar Chavez holiday,” said Bridgett Davis, who ran unsuccessfully for the board last spring. “The city of Arlington as well as the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth will celebrate Cesar Chavez in May.”

The board didn’t discuss the proposal before the vote. But several trustees previously said they favored an in-school program recognizing Chavez in which students would spend a day studying the union leader and his cause, which centered on organizing and empowering migrant workers and others who lacked a political voice. That’s how the district recognizes Veterans Day, and some trustees have said creating a holiday for Chavez could be seen as a snub to veterans.

The district, where Hispanic students comprise more than 40 percent of enrollment, observed a Cinco de Mayo holiday until three years ago, when the board removed it at the request of Pena and others who questioned the need for a holiday recognizing something specifically Mexican.

They believe a Chavez holiday would be more representative of all Hispanics. Pena said she expected the Chavez holiday to immediately replace Cinco de Mayo, but the board repeatedly declined. Instead, the day off began appearing as “May Holiday” on school calendars. The speakers on Thursday noted that they weren’t asking for an additional holiday, just the renaming of the May Holiday, which some referred to as the “no-name holiday.” Richard Gonzales, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens Council No. 4916, noted the achievement gap between Hispanics and Anglos and said one of the ingredients in improving academics is to “embrace our cultural heroes.”

“Together we can close the gap,” Gonzales told the board. “By recognizing this hero, you show us mucho, mucho respect.”

Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641

5 thoughts on “Arlington ISD turns thumbs down on Cesar Chavez holiday (yet again)

  1. Since there was no discussion on the issue, just a nay vote, no comment was made by any of the board members. Only one board member – Gloria Pena – supported the proposed Cesar Chavez school holiday. On the flip side, it is disturbing that the apartheid-like white Board of Trustees still just don’t get it. However more disturbing yet is the purported Latino board member, Tony Pompa, who voted against our Cesar Chavez efforts. As you know in Spanish we called that a “vendido” (sellout) and sadly they’re a dime a dozen.

  2. It’s unfortunate that the board was more concerned about their political positions than their real job — the good of the students. Except for Gloria Pena.

  3. I am a Tejano and from what I have read about Cesar Chavez, he did some admirable things, but I am opposed to the trend of ignoring our own uniquely American Tejano history and replacing it with the legacy of Cesar Chavez.

    My tejano/mexican/hispanic family settled in South Texas more than 250 years ago, and I am the ninth generation of Tejanos to live in this state of Texas, which I consider my homeland.

    Yet I have always been asked by immigrants from a dozen other Latin-American countries the same old tired and ignorant question “No, really, where are you from?” with the implication that because I am hispanic, I am not a native and do not have native roots here in the United States.

    We Tejanos have a proud long list of GREAT Tejano men and women who have played large roles in the history and building of Texas, and perhaps the least known but most important is Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara, the First President of the First Independent Republic of Texas, established in 1813. Not only did he united Native Americans and Spanish settlers in their war for independence from the Centralist state of Mexico, but he also united freedom-loving Americans from across the border to join our cause. He was Father Hidalgo’s (of the famous Mexican ‘Grito de Dolores’) emissary of the Mexican war for Independence to the United States, and had met with both Father Hidalgo (before his capture at the Ambush of Bazan) and with President James Monroe.

    With so many Soldiers, Statesmen, Conquistadors, Cowboys, not to mention local-born activists such as Temayuca, why must we settle for the hyped-up role of a man who was not from Texas, whose own role and myth is constantly hyped up and exaggerated over the years, and who, frankly, is imposed on us by outsiders.

    The idea that Cesar Chavez should have a state holiday and prominent streets named after him in every major city is an insult, because it something imposed on us from the outside.

    It is imposed by outsiders who have strong stereotypes about what Tejanos are and at the same time it shows their (intentional?) ignorance of our long and storied history in Texas.

    Tejanos should assert their heritage and pride and insist that we rename all “Cesar Chavez Boulevards” to something that is more representative our our own uniquely American and Texan experience.

    Robert Gonzales

  4. Robert:
    Would you like to honor a prominent Tejano with a holiday? If not Chavez, whom would you prefer?

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