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Interview: Lupe Mendez

Interview: Lupe Mendez
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By Amanda Hart
Illustration by Blake Jones

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Our history matters. And silence will not do when it comes to demanding that everyone’s history continues to be included in our school curriculum. FPH caught up with Librotraficante member Lupe Mendez to find out about the upcoming battle over SB 1128.

What impact will SB 1128 have on our community?

This bill and its companion in the House, TX (R) Rep. Capriglione’s HB 1938, would serve to limit the kinds of history classes undergraduates can take. Patrick and Capriglione want more “comprehensive history survey classes” that deal less with race, class, and gender. This bill, in the long run, filters out major players and parts of history, such as Frederick Douglass, the Grapes of Wrath, Cesar Chavez and Rosie the Riveter – all of whom we deserve to know more about. Currently, we don’t get to learn these stories, even before college, and now the bill will ensure that we don’t ever get to hear about them at all.

Why is there a push from people like Senator Dan Patrick to pass legislation that would marginalize our community’s history?

Both Capriglione and Patrick are major players in the Texas Tea Party – members who want a more conservative stance, especially in education. They and their constituents want a much more controlled idea of “American History” – one that moves and thinks and acts like them – devoid of a diverse population and cultured thought. This is a party scared of a population that is changing, growing past their “Americana.”

What sort of reaction and feedback did you receive when you traveled to Austin to meet with Senator Patrick about the bill?

Ha!!  Well, to be honest, aside from a meeting with one of his staff members (will get to that in a second), nothing much but a Facebook post as a status about my group of Librotraficantes coming to his office. In his post, he says that we didn’t meet with him, as if we didn’t try to schedule a meeting (we did and since he couldn’t meet with us, we had to settle for his staffer). When we asked for a second meeting, she said, “We’ll let you know.”

In the meeting with his staffer, we asked what the purpose of the bill was and as she explained it, “I remember taking a class in Rock & Roll History”… and she goes on to say that she didn’t think that should have been a class, so she withdrew and that for her, that’s what this bill was about – focusing the law so that better classes and education could prevail. When we made the point clear that this bill, if passed, would serve to marginalize courses that do speak of race, class, and gender, she played naïve and said the senator didn’t have that in mind. When we spoke of AZ HB 2281 and the ending of the Mexican-American Studies K-12 program, she said that she didn’t even know about HB 2281. I didn’t buy it.  No one buys it. And even if it were true, then that speaks volumes as to the misguided attempt to micromanage college education.

I only bring up the term “micromanage” because that’s what Rep. Capriglione admitted it was.

Oh yeah, did I mention we went to his office, too – on invitation? He claimed that he could make us see why this bill, (his version) HB 1938, was in no way jeopardizing ethnic studies. He started off with a long diatribe trying to explain to us how he “gets” our position, how he understands our ethnic concern sort of speak. He explained how he is of mixed heritage, his father being Italian and his mother being a Venezuelan-born Columbian.  He said it as if to clear the air a bit, to make everyone understand his perspective. He said he has to make a move because his constituents in the North Dallas area are “concerned about the type of college education their children are receiving.” He even went as far as saying that he had a background in physics and engineering and that he didn’t have a good handle on books.

He explained the bill with a math analogy, “Say you have a calculus class and you had professors teaching trigonometry instead, right. Wouldn’t you want them to teach calculus?” I responded that using his analogy, then, that the bill would need to be much more direct, so that classes with a lens of ethnicity, of gender, and of class wouldn’t be removed. He brushed off my point and the points made by many others.

We came to talk, to find out what the intentions of these legislators were and, in fact, though we are grateful for the opportunity to speak with several senators and representatives (many of whom support us), it was Patrick and Capriglione who gave us the runaround. So you won’t hear us in your office, no importa. Then you leave me with no other choice than to be the loud, Ramon Ayala-playing vecino across the street and when the public comes to my door to find out what all the noise is about, I will inform them, intelligently. We are the new face of Americana.

How can people in our community join the fight to stop SB 1128?

Read, read, read. It’s what all rebels do. Sign every petition going around. Read all the articles. Log online and find out the timeline of the bills themselves. Keep informed. Attend the hearings for the bills. Call your state representative. Call your senator. Tell them to say NO to SB 1128 and HB 1938. Read the research they are using to write this stuff.  Here is a good start: look up the National Association of Scholars and the report they put out that Patrick and Capriglione used to create the bill.