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Biden designates Texas 'Mexican school' as national park

President Biden on Monday signed legislation designating the Blackwell School in Marfa, Texas, as part of the National Park System, capping off a long effort to protect one of the last “Mexican schools” left standing.

The designation will protect a 1909 adobe schoolhouse and a 1927 classroom on the site, where Mexican American students were taught from 1909 until the end of de facto segregation in 1965.

“As a nation, we must face the wrongs of our past in order to build a more just and equitable future. The ugliness of the segregation era had many impacts that we have failed as a nation to adequately acknowledge,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement. 

“This new designation will help us tell a truer American story, and ensure this important and painful chapter in our nation’s history is preserved and remembered for the generations to come,” Haaland said.   

From 1889 to 1965, Hispanic students were segregated from white students in Texas under a mantra of “separate but equal.”

“The promise of equality for Americans of Mexican descent in our country’s southern borderlands has long been a hollow one,” said Gretel Enck, president of the Blackwell School Alliance, the group that promoted the need to conserve the school site.

“Despite the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo promising them full rights as American citizens, Mexican Americans in this region were regularly excluded from commingling with white peers at barber shops, restaurants, funeral homes, theaters, churches, and schools. The Blackwell School is a tangible reminder of this era when ‘separate but equal’ dominated education and social systems,” Enck said.

Although there were no laws officially segregating Hispanic students, the de facto segregation policy led to the creation of so-called Mexican schools.

On one hand, the schools represented an opportunity for Mexican American students to receive a formal education. On the other, the segregated institutions attempted to stamp out Mexican American identity and engaged in overtly racist practices while often delivering a lower-quality education than their white-serving counterparts.

Blackwell is among the last Mexican schools still standing six decades after the policy ended.

In 2006, three alumni of the institution — Joseph Cabezuela, Lionel Salgado and Jessi Silva — joined with other alumni after hearing the remaining Blackwell buildings were scheduled for demolition.

The alumni recalled a racist practice at Blackwell where students were told to write “Mr. Spanish” on slips of paper, which were then put in a coffin used in a mock funeral for the Spanish language.

To raise awareness for the site, the alumni held a ceremony to dig up Mr. Spanish and formed the Blackwell School Alliance, kicking off the efforts that culminated in Monday’s presidential designation.

“Given some of the painful memories of discrimination and segregation that linger in this three-room schoolhouse, alumni would have been well within their rights to let it crumble into ruin. After all, that has been the fate of many such segregated schools and other difficult pieces of American history,“ said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association.

“Instead, the students of Blackwell committed themselves to preserving their school so future generations could learn from the complex history contained behind its century-old adobe walls,” Pierno said.

Legislatively, Biden’s signature is a capstone on a bipartisan, bicameral effort to designate the site.

In August, Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) introduced the bill in the Senate that was followed by a House companion bill introduced by Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) and former Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas.).

“This national park site will be a testament to the resilience of Mexican American communities in our country’s borderlands, and the immeasurable impact they have had on the United States of America. The Blackwell School belongs as a national park site because Mexican Americans belong here in our country,” said Pierno.

Source: The Hill

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