There is a meme going around that shows two versions of Latinos: one is a group of college grads and the others are protesters. The image reads that the graduates’ actions (of going to school) speaks louder than the protesters. The idea being that we should keep our heads down, do the work, and our success will speak for itself.
It’s an admirable thought, but it’s wrong.
It’s wrong because it ignores our history. U.S. Latinx history proves that we achieve justice only when we fight for our rights. And Latino access to quality education is specifically tied to community protests where community members agitated, disrupted, and demanded civil rights from systems of power. Trust that these things were not just given to us because the status quo felt benevolent. Rather, we demanded it. We fought for it. I want bring this up because, without any attempt of being hyperbolic, we are headed for a time where we will all need to fight for our rights. We all need to accept that protest is a valid form of bringing about change—and support those protesters rather than allowing people to divide us into “good” and “bad” Latinos.
I know that it’s so easy to believe that the system has always done right by us. Many of our families who came here because of the opportunities available to them have instilled that belief in us. And we may easily buy into the idea that with hard work we will succeed. But this ignores the reality that there are systemic forms of oppression that exist specifically to hinder our advancement in society. One need only look back at Latinx history to see this play out:
- The Chicano civil rights movement proves that we had to demand equal access to education-it wasn’t given, it was fought for–some even bled for it.
- Mendez v. Westminster is further proof of the fight our communities had to endure in order to ensure our children had access to education.
- It doesn’t end there–look at the on-going struggle people are fighting in states where they’ve banned ethnic studies.
- Or the hard-won fight in Texas that successfully stopped the publishing of a highly racist text-book focused on Mexican-Americans.
- And of course, the highly maligned policy of Affirmative Action, which is a necessary tool that helps right past wrongs and balances the scales for many of us.
The right to quality education has never been a right granted to our communities–it is an on-going battle. Yes, Latinxs in higher Ed speaks volumes. Earning a college degree or J.D. will change the course of your life, your families, and your communities. And you are right to pursue this goal–not to prove to those in power that you are worthy of respect, but because you deserve a quality education and a high quality of life. Those are your inalienable rights, but if they are infringed then you also have the right to demand action through protest (and that goes for any rights of ours that is denied).
Latinx education is possible because of people willing to lay themselves on the line for us. Let’s acknowledge and celebrate our history—and be prepared to repeat it in the coming days!