The Fourth of July is time to celebrate with a tasty BBQ with family and friends. As Latinos, we mark this anniversary of the signing of The Declaration of Independence, and we need to remember that we, too, are entitled to the civil rights it guaranteed to all Americans: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Yet somehow, Latinos have had and continue to have to fight for equal rights–at work and in school. So how about we add to our commemorations a celebration of our Latino forefathers and mothers who fought against discrimination and segregation and for better working conditions, fair wages, fair immigration laws, voting rights, and equal education?
Since the early 1900s, Latinos have been organizing, planning, and fighting for a better quality of life that was due to them under the U.S. Constitution, while enduring police brutality, arrests, and ridicule. But after this long and hard fight, hard-working, honest Latinos refused to settle for second-class treatment, especially when it comes to education. Even though Latinos are at the top of the list when it comes to placing education as a priority, we are denied the high-quality schools, the opportunities, and the college-prep classes offered to our non-Latino friends.
Some Latinos Refused to Settle
In 1945, Mexican-American parents parents sued several school districts in California because of the segregation of Latino kids. They won on the argument that segregation violates children’s constitutional rights.
In 1963 thanks to a grant from the Ford Foundation, the first bilingual education program was offered at Coral Way Elementary in Miami.
In 1968, Chicano high school students in Los Angeles held walkouts to protest unequal treatment by the school district. They suffered in retaliation, but eventually these walkouts brought school reform and an increase in college enrollment of Chicano kids.
In 1970, the U.S Department of Health, Education, and Welfare issued a memorandum saying students can’t be denied access to educational programs because of an inability to speak English.
In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lau v. Nichols that students’ access to, or participation in, an educational program can’t be denied because of their inability to speak or understand English.
In 1974, Congress passed the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974 to make bilingual education more extensively available in public schools.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan appointed Dr. Lauro Cavazos, a Tejano, as the Secretary of Education. Cavazos was the first Latino cabinet member.
In 2006, student supporters of immigrants’ rights and equality boycotted schools and businesses in Los Angeles, Houston, and other cities.
In 2006, hundreds of thousands of Latino immigrants and others celebrated May Day as a Day Without Immigrants, boycotting work, school, and shopping to demonstrate the importance of immigrants’ contributions to the American economy.
The work of these brave Latinos shows that progress may take time but with dedication and support in numbers, it does happen. In 2003, Latinos were pronounced the nation’s largest minority group, and we remain the largest minority group in the country. We have the manpower to keep the struggle for equality moving forward, and we should. Now, let’s have fun celebrating our rights and freedoms on this Fourth of July.
Monica Luna Gonzalez
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