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Guest Voz: Study finds certain college texts largely ignore Latino contributions

By Drs. Jessica Lavariega-Monforti & Adam McGlynn


LatinaLista — On May 11, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a bill targeting the teaching of ethnic studies. Under the new law, any school district will lose ten percent of its state financing if it offers classes “designed for students of a particular ethnic group, advocates ethnic solidarity or promotes resentment of a race or class of people.”

Dr. Jessica Lavariega-Monforti

The bill’s primary objective was to stop the Tucson district from teaching Mexican-American studies. When this bill goes into effect, it means that student learning of Latinos’ roles in U.S. history will be reduced in the high school curriculum — the same as can be found in college textbooks, thanks to a new study.

Assistant Political Science professors Jessica Lavariega-Monforti and Adam McGlynn of Texas-Pan American decided to see just how much coverage Latinos got in U.S. government and politics college textbooks. Their findings are revealed in a new study titled “Aquí Estamos? A Survey of Latino Portrayal in Introductory U.S.Government and Politics Textbooks” published in the journal PS.

Lavariega-Monforti and McGlynn studied 29 introductory U.S. government and politics textbooks to analyze the extent of coverage college textbook publishers gave to the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the country.

Their findings are a call-to-action for faculty, the textbook publishing industry and students who want accurate and inclusive information at the college and university level.

(Editor’s note: The following is a condensed version of the full report by Professors Lavariega-Monforti and McGlynn)


The majority of undergraduate student learning takes place outside of the classroom through course readings, assignments, and research. This is especially true for introductory courses in which faculty must expose students to a sea of information that is both miles wide and deep.

Seeking to survey as many topics as possible, faculty often forsake depth of coverage in favor of breadth of topics. Therefore, the introductory textbook takes on a vital role in a student’s education. In many cases, the textbook is the primary instructional tool and the source of the majority of student learning.

Textbooks thus become agents of socialization as limited classroom time leads to students taking the majority of what they read in textbooks at face value. The portrayal of people, groups, and events in textbooks serves to mold how students view the world around them and the people with whom they interact.

Nowhere is this truer than in introductory U.S. government textbooks. Because government is the child of politics, we cannot understand one without the other, and the discussion of politics is often colored by one’s point of view.

In discussing Apple and Christian Smith’s work on the role of politics in textbook creation, Wallace and Allen explain that “race, class, gender/sex and other biases have been widespread in mainstream textbooks, and what is determined as ‘legitimate’ knowledge does not include the historical experiences of and cultural expressions of labor, women, all racial/ethnic groups, and others who have been denied power.”

As such, we have undertaken a comprehensive study of these texts to analyze their discussion and treatment of Latinos/as.

Although Latino/a politics have been important in urban and border states for many years, the community’s national emergence as a political power has been swift, and behind that rapid ascension is a long history of people, groups, and events that have led to the prominent role now held by Latinos/as in U.S. politics.

Even when there is coverage of Latino/a issues in textbooks, that coverage can often only tell part of the story and may provide an inaccurate description of Latinos/as.

They identify one major shortcoming of these texts to be their focus on panethnicity, which sacrifices the discussion of the different historical experiences of Puerto Ricans as compared to Mexican Americans and Cuban Americans.

Because these historical experiences often serve to shape the political opinions, behaviors, and partisanship of these groups, their absence perpetuates misconceptions about the groups in both historical and political contexts.

The discussion of Latinos/as is limited to an extremely small percentage of the materials covered in all of the U.S. government and politics textbooks surveyed. Very few of the textbooks in this study mention the Brown Power or Chicano Civil Rights Movement.

Discussion of the history of sociopolitical segregation of Latinos across country-of-origin groups is basically nonexistent, and the progress and contributions made in the United States by both U.S.- and foreign-born Latinos is ignored.

Additionally, discussion tends to be confined to the civil rights chapters, leaving many students with the impression that Latinos/as are not a significant group in U.S. government and politics more broadly.

Lastly, and maybe most troubling, is that immigration is the most common topic discussed in reference to Latinos/as, and that half of the textbooks we analyzed portray immigration and immigrants negatively. Textbook authors and publishers must address this situation and work to remedy it.

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  • Linda
    May 16, 2010 at 11:57 am

    I was watching CNN the other night when the reporter read directly from texts used in one of
    those AZ “ethnic” history classes. It was hateful stuff. I’ve heard and seen examples before of how radical some of the hispanic illegal immigrants are, but this was the most blatant example since the Mexican flag was raised in that CA town several years back. There is clearly a hatred for Americans, white people in general, that is being taught in these classes. Millions of other immigrants have managed to come to this country, learn the language and the history, the culture, and not complain and whine that they are not better represented. All immigrants keep their cultures alive in their own way, but assimilation into their new country is very important to keep us strong and unified, rather than divided. It is this lack of desire to assimilate that has Americans so up in arms. The constant rant that a big chunk of this country belongs to Mexico doesn’t help either. Another thing adding to the fire is this “fastest growing minority group” verbage that is mentioned anytime Latino issues come up. The American people know that the rise in numbers of Latinos is directly because of people coming here illegally by the millions, and cranking out baby after baby. Please, if you are going to come to this country, do it legally like everybody else. Once legal, ASSIMILATE!! And please, don’t teach hatred in public school classrooms under the guise of “ethnic teachings”.

  • Chicano future tense
    May 16, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Native American,Chicano,Black,Asian studies are American studies!!
    With this new anti-ethnic studies law being passed in Arizona it seems apparent Arizona has declared de facto cultural and social war on Chicanos,Chicano college,university,high school,jr.high and elementary school students.I wouldn’t blame Chicano students at all for fighting back and opposing such state sponsored racism and xenophobia by organizing demonstrations,strikes,staging “sit-ins”,”walkouts” and other forms of protest to demonstrate their opposition,anger and frustration to this fascistic legislation which along side racial profiling adds banning Chicano history from being taught in the state’s schools!..”Basta Ya!”
    The last thing racists and xenophobes in this country want taught in college and high school textbooks is the true history of America.They fear their future generations would reject,damn and internalize the sins of their forefathers-the historical shame and guilt from the foul deeds committed by them in the name of national policies such as “Manifest Destiny” and “the Monroe Doctrine”..all which served to justify and legitimize robbery,theft and forms of genocide on a hemispheric scale.
    Native Americans were robbed of their lands,Africans sold into slavery,Mexicans robbed of half their territory,Japanese- American citizens put into concentration camps and Chinese being excluded from the USA by racist immigration laws..all in the name of some manufactured “War on__”..(fill in the blank) or another,depending on the times..
    Racist and xenophobic Americans are scared to death of true ”American” history being taught to their kids..after all who could possibly feel pride in a legacy of cruelty,theft,murder and robbery except another fascist psychopath?
    That is why most college,high school and primary school textbooks are nothing more than sanitized “whitewashed” revisionist histories designed to bury fraudulent,illegal and immoral historical events which would have a debilitating effect of calling into question, weakening and undermining the moral foundation,legitimacy of their US Empire’s past,present and future actions.
    True American history if taught would give students an entirely different perspective and interpretation of our current wars being waged in Afghanistan,Iraq …and next in line Iran…all in the name of “the war on terrorism”
    “American History”-the biggest dirty little secret buried deep under ground where to be seen..out of sight ..out of mind..

  • Orlando
    May 24, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Chicano future tense:
    In an earlier post you wrote something that really charmed me:
    “Latinos also have the responsibilty of making it clear to all Americans..we are not anti-white..nor anti-american..we are pro freedom and democracy for all.”
    That’s what we need to hear: that Latinos are in it for all of us, not just for their own ethnic bloc.
    But then you come out with this anti-American rant. OK, so the United States has a lot of black marks on its history. What nation doesn’t? And what are we supposed to do about it? I try to live a good life and to do my part for a better world. What do you expect me to do about things that happened before I was even born? And then you damn the country into the future as well?
    Although I can’t deny that the historical events you point out are true (although you offer no solutions), one thing I totally take opposition to is the idea that Americans are xenophobic. That’s complete nonsense — the U.S. is the most multicultural, welcoming nation in the world. But we have our limits. Rampant overuse of the R- and X-words has just about stripped them of meaning.

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