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The Story of Latinos and Education in American History


Abdin Noboa-Rios

The 2014–2015 academic year marked the first year that American, preK–12 public school enrollment became majority nonwhite, with Hispanic/Latino as the largest minority. Population shifts have continued to occur, with Latinos now representing 28% of public school students.

American public schools are in trouble, with national achievement reaching new lows and progress for nearly two-thirds of all 4th and 8th graders below proficiency levels and stagnant for years. According to the Nation’s Report Card, students of color rank lowest, with Latinos and African Americans consistently at the bottom.

To understand the history of Latinos in particular, The Story of Latinos and Education in American History goes back in time to recreate the story. In this book, Dr. Noboa-Ríos relates the dark legacy before and after Plessy, as well as the post-Brown challenges that linger. For a better and more balanced future for the nation, America’s challenge is to ensure that Latino students excel. Understanding how and why this dark history has occurred is imperative to rectify the situation.

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In repositioning Latino history and its impact today, I am reminded of actor-comedian John Leguizamo’s personal search for identity from an interview with Time magazine (2017) which described his one-man play at a New York theater as self-reflection. He talked about how important the play was for him as a primer on the “history of a people of Latin descent in the Americas.”1 As portrayed, it is a “comedic lament for the pain of knowing” how his people’s contributions have been minimized in U.S. history. During the interview, he deeply reflected by saying: “If I would have read in a textbook as a kid that 10,000 [Hispanics] participated in the Civil War and Cuban women in Virginia sold their jewelry to feed the patriots, people wouldn’t feel so confident to disrespect me.” He then concluded by saying, “I wouldn’t feel as victimized because … this is my country, too.”2

Upon reflection, he confessed: “I’m writing this for me, because this is how I take care of myself, with how invisible we Latino people are in the media.” He shared the fact that others may feel similarly, almost like a kind of healing as Latino* vignettes should be shared. The play is more of a plea for Latinos to understand their role in this country’s history, as an important part←1 | 2→ of the story that needs to be known and more fully internalized before it can be fully celebrated.

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