A Los Angeles history conference Saturday turned into a scathing review of current events as scholars tied the Los Angeles school board's efforts to oust Supt. Ruben Zacarias to what they said was the historic disregard of the city's Latino roots and people.
Addressing a symposium on the Mexican history of Los Angeles at El Pueblo de Los Angeles monument--the city's birthplace--academics with different scholarly and ideological orientations said that Zacarias' probable ouster reflects the continuing exclusion of Mexican Americans from decisions that shape the city's identity.
"Our community's needs are being postponed once again. History is being decided now," said UCLA historian Juan Gomez-Quinones, one of three panelists in a session addressing history, power and the economy of Los Angeles.
The other panelists, political analyst David Ayon and David Hayes-Bautista, director of UCLA's Center for the Study of Latino Health, also linked the school board turmoil to their presentations on Latino political and economic power.
Ayon likened the school district crisis to an earthquake fault line that could split the district. There is, Ayon said, a "structural disparity" in the district, since the majority of students and parents served are Latino, but there is only one Latina member of the seven-member school board.
The school board, Ayon said, "has activated the fault. They have opened the breach and could wind up breaking up the district, or breaking up Los Angeles. That's how serious fault lines can be," he said, suggesting that budding support among Latinos for splitting up the district could grow from the current crisis.
Hayes-Bautista said Latinos in Los Angeles are too often defined by poverty.
He cited several areas in which Latinos demonstrate what he called "middle-class values." Latino males are more likely to have jobs than non-Latinos, for instance, and Latino households are more likely to be composed of married couples with children than non-Latino households, he said.
Hayes-Bautista said there is a "Latino social paradox, with middle-class values and behavior, but minimal education and income." To address the paradox, he said, leaders should focus on encouraging the community's positive values rather than being discouraged by its poverty rates.
"People say we don't know how to teach Latino children whose parents are not middle class, but in the '50s, over half of the Anglo parents in California were high school dropouts, one-fourth were in poverty and most had recently arrived in the state. That did not stop us [from educating their children] then, but we've forgotten that now," he said.