On Thursday, March 31, 2011, University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) students participated in a planned walkout, showing solidarity and protesting the proposed budget cuts to public education in South Texas. The reductions in general fund revenues, including scholarships, shifts the financial burden to the students in the form of increased education costs. In the economically depressed Rio Grande Valley, that could limit access to higher education for first generation college students from low-income families. These budget cuts are being felt throughout the Valley. At UTPA, the statewide budget cuts have their Mexican American Studies program on the chopping block.
The Rio Grande Valley is home to 2 million people, 90% of whom identify as Mexican-American or Latino. Of that 2 million people, thousands are migrant and seasonal farmworker youth, many of whom are not able to attend school regularly, falling behind in their studies due to long work hours and migration. Farmworker youth also have lower school enrollment rates than any other group in the United States, and more than half of them will not graduate from high school as a result of poor attendance and the economic pressures associated with farm work. Adding this financial burden to those youth who do manage to complete high school will almost certainly end those students’ journey to academic success.
More than 80% of the population at UTPA is Latino. So what are they telling their students about self-worth by cutting the Mexican American Studies program?
According to UTPA’s Mexican American Studies website, they are dedicated to providing students with a well-rounded education that empowers them with a better understanding of the Mexican American experience. Since UTPA is a Latino Serving Learning Institution, such preparation is essential to students pursuing a variety of careers. Furthermore, it is especially important for individuals who want to work effectively in and with Mexican-American and Latino communities.
University of Texas-Pan American is the alma mater of Noemi Ochoa, Texas regional coordinator for the Children in the Fields Campaign and Norma Flores López, Director of the Children in the Fields Campaign; but, more importantly, it is home to the Children in the Fields Campaign UTPA Youth Council, young activists fighting for farmworker children’s rights. These alumnae and students are former farmworker youth who are proud of their history and culture.
Living up to their tag line ‘Nuestra Educación es Nuestra Lucha (Our Education is Our Fight),’ UTPA students did just that, they fought for their education. At eleven o’clock yesterday morning alongside their classmates, they walked out of class.
“The walkout was very motivational and the speakers were amazing! The crowd was filled with students, as well as families, along with our communities’ Hispanic activists,” said Children in the Fields Campaign UTPA Youth Council member Beatriz Medina. When asked about the meaning of the day, she noted, “It was amazing to see our generation stand up for what is right and try to make a change in our university. It was also very neat to see many local news channels broadcasting the event; I think it was a very good way to express how the student body feels about equality in the United States and keeping the Mexican American Studies major here at the University of Texas-Pan American.”
The Mexican American Studies club organized the walkout and rally to purposefully take place on César Chávez’s birthday, since he fought for so many rights for Latinos. In his honor, students let their voices be heard and they fought for their right to keep the Mexican American Studies program at UTPA.