EDUCATION ON THE BORDER: The myths and realities of teaching on "La nueva frontera"
Alice Quiocho, Maria Luiza Dantas, Dennis Masur, Lorri J. Halcón, y Carlos von Son.
The Border as Boundary
Unfortunately, relations between Mexico and the United States, always respectful, have occasionally been fraught with controversy, resentment, and animosity while simultaneously maintaining a mutually beneficial and symbiotic economic and political relationship, a connection that cannot be easily changed or ignored. Indeed, animosity persists within both countries as stereotypes flourish and generalizations about each other exist that are difficult to eradicate. These myths create a border region that is subject to the misconceptions and socioeconomic-political forces that create an ambiance of negativity and prejudice. Carlos
Fuentes, one of Mexico's most respected writer and critics, makes the following observation:
What is the basis of the anti-Mexican phobia, particularly in California? During a recent visit to Los Angeles, I heard the same arguments over and over. Mexican workers, it seems, are the principal causes of the state deficit. Supposedly they receive excessive social benefits, do not contribute to the state economy, and over-burden it with educational and health expenses. They are also the reason for unemployment in California, and, last but not least, they introduce drugs (Fuentes 1997, p. 174).
Unfortunately, these myths also profoundly shape the quality of, and access to, educational opportunities for both neighbors.
Fuentes, who has written extensively about Mexican and American relations, has captured the essence of the Mexican image in the United States as that of scapegoat for all that ails California and other border states. When there are problems with employment, drugs, and education, Mexican immigrant becomes an easy target with few Americans analyzing the roles they themselves play in creating the situations over which they lament. Mexicans come to the United States because the economic system demands a cheap labor force and immigrant workers fill that need. They come looking for something better, for themselves and their families-in search of the American dream-albeit, as Urrea (1996) notes, with a twist:
I would like to say one small thing on their behalf. They are trying to bring the United States the best they have to offer. They come here not to have babies, though they'd be fools to miss the opportunity. They come here not to lounge around enjoying welfare benefits, though in every group there are people who make the best of a sucker-play. They come here to make their best effort, to work-to work hard-to better themselves, to enjoy a better world, to get educated, and to prosper. It's the American dream writ large. They're just writing it in Spanish (Urrea 1996, p. 19).
Mexicans who emigrate give their all in search of a fair deal-seeking no more than what other immigrants sought before them, "an honest day's pay for an honest day's work."
The personal and professional experiences reported by Border Pedagogy Conference (2001) participants reinforce the commonly held assumption that when individuals cross the border, they are, in fact, looking for a better life. As such, in our opinion, these immigrants deserve the opportunities to achieve one. If they emigrate to the United States to offer their labor, and they work hard at it, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect while they are here. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. This was made public recently (August 3, 2002) in an article written by Sifuentes, and published in the North County Times:
"What I'm doing here is speaking in the name of those farmworkers who need help from all of you," said José González, who came from Mexico to work in the North County's strawberry field at age 16 and is now a local farmworker advocate. …he said that many of the problems that he faced when he was a farmworker remain: lack of adequate housing, lack of adequate sanitary conditions and lack of legal resources when employers violate labor laws (p. 1).