Sonadores...Cambien el Mundo—Dreamers...Change the World

by Amanda Frank ’14

For the past decade, Latino students from 25 high schools in Western Washington have gathered at different college campuses for the annual Latino Youth Summit, where students learn about educational and career opportunities as well as health and wellness. Evergreen hosted the 10th annual Summit on November 15, 2012.

This year’s event featured keynote speaker Sean Arce, former head of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, which became a major news story in 2010 when Arizona politicians tried to eliminate the program and make it illegal to teach any ethnic studies programs in the state. Arce shared his experience as an MAS educator to a packed gymnasium of students, staff, faculty and volunteers at the summit, as well as a full house of Evergreen students at a campus presentation.

The MAS program, which began in 2005, has helped significantly improve performance by Latino students in standardized tests, retention and college placement rates, embracing students’ diverse identities and using relevant topics to engage and empower them. But former Arizona superintendent of public instruction and the state’s current attorney general, Tom Horne, citing the notion that programs like this “fostered racial resentment and solidarity among members of a single ethnic group,” led the effort to eliminate the MAS program, writing Arizona House Bill 2281, passed by the Arizona legislature in 2010, which made it illegal to teach any ethnic studies in the state.

“This ability to remake or recreate their schooling experiences offers Chicanas/os the opportunity to realize and/or strengthen their humanity,” Arce told the students at Evergreen, explaining why programs like MAS were important. He and several of his fellow teachers formed to fight the law and retain these programs. He has traveled around the United States creating awareness of the ethnic studies ban and gaining support.

The Latino Youth Summit is sponsored by the Hispanic Roundtable of Olympia, which brings together agencies in Thurston and Mason counties who serve Spanish-speaking communities. The Roundtable first heard of the ethnic studies ban from Evergreen’s student group Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), who presented on campus what they learned about the controversy at the national MEChA conference in Tucson in 2012. Paul Gallegos, Evergreen’s special assistant to the president for diversity affairs and 2012 Summit host committee chair, brought it to the attention of the Roundtable.

During the Summit, students viewed "Precious Knowledge," a 2011 documentary centered on the controversy. Gallegos saw "Precious Knowledge" as an important message for students and teachers: to be proud of their identity, proud of their culture, and know that it is important to know their identity, to learn it, and that it be taught in school. “Part of our work is reaching out to the kids, but the other part is about reaching out to our peers, to our colleagues in education,” Gallegos says. “We need to prepare the institutions to welcome them, to celebrate their culture with them, and to teach them effectively.”