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Oppression and Agency

Teaching the History of Chicano/Latino Americans in Minneapolis Public Schools
October 29, 2018

Portrait of Jimmy Patiño.

Portrait of Jimmy Patiño.
Photo by Jacob Van Blarcom, CLAgency student.

For most K-12 students in the United States, learning about American history revolves around one narrative: the story of white European settlers who colonized the land and established the United States of America from 13 colonies. Many don’t learn the full story, which consists of a multitude of perspectives from various ethnic and cultural groups.

Teaching the history of a nation from a single perspective neglects the experiences, hardships, and triumphs faced by groups that don’t fall within the majority. Associate Professor Jimmy Patiño recalls, “If I would have had the opportunity as a high school kid to take a Latino/a history class and understand my context better, it would have changed my life… I would have heard the stories my grandparents told me, that I didn’t see in mainstream American history books.” 

Full Coverage Curriculum

Patiño is the only Chicano historian in the state of Minnesota. While most of his career has been dedicated to researching Chicano/Latino social movements and immigration, UMN colleagues and administrators from the Minneapolis public school district approached Patiño a couple years ago with a project unlike anything he had done before: to design a new curriculum covering Chicano and Latino history for Minneapolis public high schools.

Several of Patiño’s colleagues in the African American & African studies department and Asian American studies program were already working with the Minneapolis school district to create their own tailored history courses. The district has repeatedly reached out to College of Liberal Arts faculty in an effort to be inclusive of the histories of ethnic groups that have been excluded from the traditional American history curriculum.

Piloting Critical Thinking

Patiño’s curriculum took eight months to develop and fits into one semester-long class. The course covers Chicano history from Indigenous societies that existed before the arrival of the Europeans to the present day. Once the curriculum was written, Patiño led training sessions for teachers and facilitated discussions around potential barriers to implementing the new curriculum in their classrooms. 

One topic that the teachers discussed was how many students feel anger or sadness when learning about the mistreatment and discrimination of their ancestors. When students are introduced to histories that include oppression and violence, it can be challenging for them to process the injustices that have affected their communities. This can take a deep emotional toll on the students, Patiño says.  

Recognizing this hardship, Patiño advocates for a balance of covering the history of oppression, but also, and perhaps more importantly, reiterating the agency minority groups have. Throughout history, oppressed groups have joined together to proclaim their rights and call for justice. With hardships came great triumphs for these groups. 

Ethnic Studies for All

Patiño asserts that teaching from a Chicano and Latino perspective is crucial to understanding the history of the United States. “It helps us think critically and confront the things that weren’t so great about the history of this country,” he says. Patiño believes that learning about history from a diversity of perspectives is not only important for students of color but for all students. 

“Ethnic studies serves as a way to rethink and expand the tools the students have. It is not just accepting information but asking questions like: Who did it come from? What biases come with this perspective? Who benefits from this? Who doesn’t? It’s not just about learning something different but thinking critically about how you receive information.

“Latinos have been in this country since its beginning. I want people to know that everyone benefits if you are willing to confront things that are difficult and consider that some people are suffering. If we learn about it, we can do something about it.”

Developing this curriculum has given Patiño a direct connection between his deep knowledge of Chicano history and his community. Going forward, Patiño hopes to continue his outreach with Minneapolis Public Schools and implement ethnic curriculums as a statewide K-12 education requirement. Additionally, he aspires alongside his colleagues to conduct research on his pilot curriculum to gain insight into the impact ethnic studies courses have on students of color.

Patiño’s work will continue to challenge the standard American narrative and empower minority communities to learn and share their own history. “For me [this curriculum] is life-changing in terms of the experience it provides for the students,” he reflects. “It’s important for our society to educate a knowledgeable community that is able to analyze different perspectives and gauge the well-being of society through those perspectives.” 

This story was written by an undergraduate student content creator in CLAgency. Meet the team.