I was really interested in science back in elementary school, so I checked out a book on chemistry from the public library. When my teacher announced independent reading time, I pulled the book from my desk and dug in.
What happened next might be the reason I’m planning today to become a lawyer instead of a scientist: The teacher noticed my book.
“You can read that?” she asked, sounding dubious. It was immediately clear to me she assumed I wasn’t smart because I had an Individualized Education Plan. But then it got worse: “You’re very smart for being Hispanic,” she said.
That racist episode when I was 9 or 10 galvanized my resolve to become something I didn’t even know how to name back then: an anti-racist. By that, I mean someone fully committed to dismantling the damaging racist stereotypes and policies that hurt and ultimately hold back far too many Hispanic, Black, Native American and other minority children.
Today, as I prepare for my junior year of high school, I’m deeply involved in Diversify Our Narrative, a national coalition of more than 6,000 students and educators who have decided to organize, mobilize and act to end racial injustices in our schools.
Among other things, we demand to be recognized and included in the long sweep of our education, from kindergarten through college. We demand to have teachers who accept us for who we are and believe in our full potential. And we demand that our ancestors and their contributions to this country be more than a footnote in textbooks.
We are not asking that our curricula be limited but that it be enriched and expanded so students can learn their own histories, meet their cultural heroes and confront societal wrongs like slavery, genocide and systemic racism so we can learn from them and grow from them.
These demands are not negotiable because denying them would be denying students a truthful, accurate education. Yet there are enemies to this cause, people who right now are spreading fear that students of all races and cultures can’t handle the truth. We can.
New Mexico is currently rewriting our state’s social studies standards based on guidelines that what we teach students will be inclusive, representative and true. Students like me and our educator allies intend to see that they are.
Education is the way students learn about the world. It shapes our lives and changes our ideas. That foundation must be built on fairness and truth.