Chapter 10: "Si Se Puede!"1Chicana/o Activism in San Diego 1965-2000
15. What did Chicanos do to improve education in San Diego in the 1990s?
In the late 1990s in San Diego collective activism on educational issues built upon work begun in 1987 when the Reverend Vahac Maradorsian, retired pastor and activist, and Dr. Alberto Ochoa, professor of education at San Diego State, invited parents to discuss the social conditions, the school system, and the low educational achievement of their children at Sherman Elementary School. Chicano students comprised 99% of the student body. The school ranked at the bottom of the 109 elementary schools of the San Diego Unified School District. The initial dialogue evolved into eight weeks of two-hour weekly sessions with more than ninety parents from the school. In the subsequent eight-week discussion with parents, fifty-four issue areas were documented and the parents issued a mandate to expand the discussions at other schools in the district.
The mandate provided the impetus for the creation of the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE). As envisioned by the parents and educators, the mission of PIQE was to "
bring schools, parents and community together as equal partners in the education of every child." The objectives of PIQE were to encourage and support low-income, ethnically-diverse parents of elementary and middle school children to take a participatory role in assisting their children "
by increasing the parent’s knowledge and skills." As conceived the PIQE was to develop and implement a model for increasing parent involvement in K-12 schools where parental participation had been difficult to achieve in the past. The tools were to be "
informal education techniques that have been promoted by Paulo Freire and others dedicated to promoting social change, such as using dialogue to build community and social capital, situating educational activity in the lived experiences of participants and raising participants’ consciousness about their situations and their own power to take informed action."
In 1990 the first Latino Educational Summit succeeded PIQE’s creation. Convened by the Chicano Federation the meeting brought together over 100 parents, educators, and students. They identified and discussed points of concern regarding the low academic achievement levels of Latino students in the public schools and colleges in the county. Two years later, some student attendees of the summit took a step toward "
turning around the grim statistics concerning Latino student achievement." They founded Izcalli, a year-round, free Saturday school for young Chicana/os. In opposition to cultural imperialism, the sessions provided youth with appreciation of indigenous Mexican/Chicano cultural heritage and utilized it as a foundation for improving the youth’s economic and social circumstances.
Izcalli’s founder, Victor Chavez, Jr. invoked the assistance of active or former members of the San Diego State University chapter of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA). Izcalli represented the extension of MEChA’s emphasis on education in a community context and "
giving back to the community." On campus MECHA sustained this emphasis. As they had done since the creation of MEChA at the historic Santa Barbara conference, Mechistas at SDSU, such as
- Tomas Carrasco,
- Lalo Alcaraz,
- Joe Lara,
- Carmen Chavez,
- Carlos Razo,
- Carmen Moffet,
- Cynthis Torres,
- and Eddie Torres,
organized annual high school conferences to promote interest in enrollment in higher education among high-school students. The Association of Chicana Activists (AChA), who began to hold conferences, specifically addressing the issue of access for young Chicanas, followed this lead. Like MEChA, Achistas, such as founders Guadalupe Corona and Silvia Bustamente, also countered the Euro-centric curriculum, promoted cultural resilience, and celebrated the spirits of resistance and independence by celebrating the Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day holidays.
In addition, with MEChA, they successfully mobilized to capture elected and appointed positions in the Associated Student Government at SDSU. Once in office students, such as
- Celinda Vasquez,
- Cesar Padilla,
- Memo Mayer and
- Jose Preciado
utilized the positions to articulate and advocate for the admission and retention practices and policies conducive to enhanced access and persistence in the university on the part of Chicano and other Latino students. Moreover, they mobilized against the violence against the undocumented workers, joining the marches, rallies, and demonstrations organized by Roberto Martinez, La Unión del Barrio and the Raza Rights Coalition for Chicano rights, as well as SDAG 187. As they protested, they literally and symbolically questioned the legitimacy of anti-immigrant advocates and implicitly re-asserted the indigenous roots of Chicana/os and Mexican undocumented workers, carrying signs that posed the question: "
Who’s the Illegal Alien Pilgrim?"
Sí, se puede" is Spanish for "
Yes, it is possible" or, roughly, "
Yes, it can be done."