The La Raza Student Union hosted a Cinco de Mayo Celebration in HS-101 on May 7 with a screening of a documentary film and panel of students enrolled in ethnic studies classes.
The student panelists, ranging from high school to the graduate level, shared their personal experiences of how ethnic studies affected their lives and the challenges they faced along the way.
“I got to see future versions of myself in the panel. The panelists put their heart into it,” Middle College High School student Marisol Contreras said.
La Raza studies professor Agustin Palacios additionally addressed the history of Cinco de Mayo at the event.
“(Cinco de Mayo) is not about what happens later, with the beer corporations just taking over and hijacking the holiday as a beer holiday, as a day to wear sombreros and get drunk,” he said.
The film shown, “Precious Knowledge,” follows the struggle of students and faculty at Tucson High School who fight to continue the Mexican-American Studies Program at the high school level after HB 2281 was signed into law in 2010.
The law prohibits schools from offering ethnic studies courses in the state of Arizona.
Biology major Jabari Williams said, “The thing in the movie that made me think was the fact that the Arizona senators denied that there is an issue of race in America.
“They said racism didn’t exist and that if you support ethnic studies in schools that your racist and anti-American.”
Contreras said the video and panel inspired her to take a stance for what is fair.
“We can’t let the struggle of our people not be heard. We need to show we’re not treated equally and looking back and seeing nothing has changed is heartbreaking,” she said.
“If we have to learn U.S. history, why can’t we learn our own? You only get that one side. It’s a shocker.”
“Taking La Raza courses opened my heart to do better. I have this opportunity as a MCHS student but other schools don’t have the opportunity to take those classes,” Contreras said.
Palacios said the same debate on whether ethnic studies should or should not be offered in California is at the state level.
“Given our population here in the Bay Area, it’s a shame that we don’t have ethnic studies classes already in our high schools as part of their curriculum,” he said.
Palacios said the importance of ethnic studies courses is students having the opportunity to learn about their own culture and gain a “sense of self.”
“On one level it’s about seeing themselves represented in the curriculum,” he said.
“Students get the opportunity to see their life story represented in a way that is empowering to them and doesn’t repeat the old story that Latinos don’t make it because they’re dumb and lazy, but in fact exposes them to the history of inequality, of institutional racism,” Palacios said.