by Anna Alicia Romero • IDRA Newsletter • September 1997

Anna Alicia RomeroEditor’s Note: A dream becomes reality: Families from diverse backgrounds work together in a community to form an informed force of advocates for quality education for all children. For the past year and a half, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) – in collaboration with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), AVANCE, Parent Child Incorporated and other community organizations – has worked with a group of families who call themselves Families United for Education: Getting Organized [Familias unidas para la educación: ganando organizadas] (FUEGO). They have dedicated themselves to increasing parent leadership and empowerment in order to defend the rights of all students. This group has successfully coordinated citywide conferences and forums for discussing current educational issues. Having investigated some critical issues, the core members have participated in an ongoing discussion of how these issues impact their children and the public education system. In 1996, the group adopted eight fundamental guiding principles (see box on Page 16). In a recent interview by Anna Alicia Romero (A.A.R.), an IDRA education assistant, Grace Garza (G.G.), Sofia Olivares (S.O.), Sylvia Rodriguez (S.R.) and Aurelia Silva (A.S.) presented an overview of two of those principles: the education of immigrant children and bilingual education. Both issues are a part of the critical dialogue occurring locally, regionally and nationally. Below is an excerpt of that conversation.

A.A.R.: Do children from recent immigrant homes deserve a high quality education from public schools?

S.O.: I think that it should be like religion, you give it free to everybody. Are they [illegal immigrants] going to be dumb immigrants? …it’s better to have [them] educated…at least they’ll know how to read and write and everything. That should be our God-given right just like religion…

AS: If we’re a democracy, it [education] has to be for everybody. That’s the definition of a democracy…and when you pay taxes, then there should be representation…And if they’re not educating the children, then it’s taxation without representation.

G.G.: What hurts me the most, is that our government helps…other countries and when it comes to our own people, they shut the d_ _ _ door. Excuse me, but it’s true! I think it’s our duty because then, in turn, once they’re educated and allowed to come into our schools, we hope that they in turn will help the next person, their community or help us [other] individuals…. We as taxpayers should not voice that opinion of saying, “Keep them out” or “Do away with them.” No! …I want to be part of that group [policy-makers] that does include educating any child, every child.

SR: We should [educate immigrant children]. If they are here already, why don’t we just let them go to school? It would only help bring up our standards. Why does there always have to be someone at the bottom? And why do we always have to be at the bottom? …It doesn’t matter what race they are, if they are already here, why not educate them? They’re going to be part of the system sooner or later, why not educate them? I believe they should have a fair standing just like everybody else, even if you came over two, three, four generations ago. We all came over one way or another. It is supposed to be the land of the free.

A.A.R.: Should bilingualism and multiculturalism be welcomed and encouraged?

SR: We’re doing it here [at FUEGO meetings]. It reinforces my Spanish. We’ve encouraged other parents to be more active and we have a larger group of parental involvement because we use both English and Spanish. It takes a little longer [in meetings], but everyone understands.

SR: I think [bilingual education] is positive. It will only make them [limited-English-proficient students] learn English faster when they’re being taught in their home language. It gives them a very strong background. By having a strong background in their own home language, that’ll only reinforce their learning in English. It only makes sense…and it doesn’t show their true intelligence when they are taught only in English. But by all means, you need a teacher who can speak the student’s language. You’ve got to make sure that they have their proper credentials and that they do know how to speak Spanish or whatever language. Sometimes they [administrators] just grab anyone, a teacher from another class, just because it says in the budget that they need a teacher. And that hurts the kids… the kids lose a lot of learning time. You need to make sure teachers are certified. We need to be encouraged to speak English as well as our home language and never be punished for that. Our parents went through that and, consequently, because of that we did not learn, well in my case, the Spanish that I should have learned.

AS: Well, I went through a schizophrenia all my life… what happens is that in elementary, they tell you, “You’ve got to forget Spanish” and you just believe some of the myths. Well, when I was a first grade teacher, one of the things that parents would always say is that they did not want their children in bilingual education. So, one of the things I had to do is talk to them about how bilingual education would help their children. They would say things like, “Pues, mando a mi niño para que aprenda inglés, no para que aprende español [Well, I send my child to learn English, not to learn Spanish.] So, what you have to do is explain to them how the resources that they have will help them learn English and…that the background that they already have will help them learn English. If I were to say to…the children, “Well, you can only speak English,” I wouldn’t get very far with them. So, it’s very critical, especially at the elementary school level, to talk to parents because a lot of times they don’t understand what it’s all about.

A.A.R.: Is English necessary to succeed in this country?

AS: Well, how do you define succeed? I think that’s the key. What certain people see as success is not necessarily what everybody

else sees as success…I would like everybody to have access to [education], and I think that what is faulty with our system is that not everybody has access to…learning English as a second language in a natural, unintimidating way, and adults don’t have that either. So, I think we need to provide those opportunities for them to learn English in a very unintimidating situation. I’m 50 years old, and my generation, all the people that I went to school with, raised their children only speaking English because they felt that they would be more successful in school, and guess what? Now they’re…saying, “I should have taught them Spanish too”…

Important Principles for Education
Principios Importantes Para Educación

Editor’s note: The principles for education listed below were developed by parents and community members who are participating in the Mobilization for Equity project at the Intercultural Development Research Association.

  • Parents have a right to be involved in decision making at the schools their children attend.
    Los padres tienen el derecho de formar parte de los comités que toman decisiones en las escuelas donde asisten sus hijos.
  • Every individual will be respected regardless of class, position, education or manner of speaking.
    Cada individuo sera respetado sin importar su clase, posición, educación o manera de hablar.
  • Bilingualism and multiculturalism will be welcomed and encouraged in all parent events and educational programs in schools.
    El uso de varios idiomas y aceptación de distintas culturas sé promoverá en toda junta de padres y en Los programas educativos dentro de nuestras escuelas.
  • All children, especially children from economically disadvantaged, minority, non-English speaking or recent immigrant homes, deserve a high quality education from public schools.
    Todo niño, especialmente niños pobres, que pertenezcan a una minoría, y aquellos que no hablan inglés o que son de familias recien inmigradas, merecen una educación de alta calidad en nuestras escuelas públicas.
  • All public schools should receive necessary financial support to provide a high quality education.
    Toda escuela pública debe de recibir Los fondos necesarios para proveer una educación de alta calidad.
  • Parents should hold schools accountable for providing excellent education for all children.
    Los padres deben de exigir que Las escuelas se hagan responsables de proveer una educación excelente para todo niño.
  • Public monies should be used to create excellent public schools in all parts of town and all neighborhoods, especially in economically disadvantaged and minority areas.
    Los recursos públicos se deben de usar para crear excelentes escuelas públicas en toda la ciudad, especialmente en Lasáreas pobres y minoritarias.

Anna Alicia Romero is an education assistant in the IDRA Institute for Policy and Leadership. Comments and questions may be sent to her via e-mail at

[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]