Texas to consider Mexican-American textbook critics decry as racist

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The State Board of Education in Texas is expected to hear testimony next week from critics of a new textbook for Mexican-American studies who say the tome is riddled with mistakes and perpetrates demeaning stereotypes.

A school bus is parked in front of the border fence at the United States-Mexico border outside Brownsville, Texas, August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The book’s publisher, run by an evangelical Christian and self-described Republican patriot, argues it is academically sound and is being targeted by those advancing a liberal political agenda.

A decision by the Texas State Board of Education to approve the book could have wide ramifications. The conservative board is responsible for buying 48 million textbooks a year, and volumes that win its support often are marketed by publishers to school districts nationally.

The textbook being considered at a hearing on Tuesday in Austin, titled “Mexican American Heritage,” was the only one submitted after Texas put out a request for a book to be used in a proposed high school elective course on Mexican-American studies.

One of the few liberal members of the board, Ruben Cortez, said in a statement this week that the book “describes Mexicans as lazy, alleges that Mexican culture does not value hard work and that Mexicans bring drug and crime into the country.”

He commissioned a body of academics, mostly professors of history, to examine the book. They said in a report this week it was filled with errors and did not meet state standards.

“We have a web of racist assertions that are built in passages, that are built on multiple errors. This is a textbook that is a polemic against the Mexican-American community,” said Trinidad Gonzales, a history instructor at South Texas College who was on the book review team.

One passage regarded as biased concerned views employers have had of Mexican workers.

It reads: “Stereotypically, Mexicans were viewed as lazy compared to European or American workers ... It was also traditional to skip work on Mondays, and drinking on the job could be a problem.”

Cynthia Dunbar, chief executive of Momentum Instruction which published the book, said in a phone interview the criticism is unfounded.

“There is absolutely no context, motivation and no agenda to in any way do anything negative or detrimental to Mexican-Americans or Mexican-American history,” said Dunbar, a former Texas state school board member from 2007 to 2011 who is now based in Virginia.

She is listed as a contributor to the book, which was written by two people whose credentials are not listed.

The state board likely will make a decision later this year whether to approve the book.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Marguerita Choy