Alternative spring breaks offer college and high school students an opportunity to do community service, explore history, or travel abroad on mission trips. In March, 2018, Mexican-American teenagers from Texas visited historic civil rights sites in their home state to help them understand their own stories better and to draw parallels to social justice issues today.
(Locator: Dallas, Texas)
This spring a group of west Dallas teenagers spent their well-earned school break immersed in Mexican American civil rights history.
Forty middle school and high school students, along with their adult leaders, left behind their usual spring break activities and got on a tour bus to travel across Texas. The first ever Mexican-American Civil Rights Tour was organized by leaders at the Wesley-Rankin Community Center in west Dallas and funded by a generous grant from The United Methodist Church's National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry.
The core goal of the tour was to introduce students to activists from the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, to hear the firsthand accounts of their experiences protesting unequal treatment and injustice.
Arturo Gonzalez, panel speaker: "It was courageous students that said, 'You know what? This is enough. We're gonna do something about it.'"
Tour organizers wanted students to better connect the protest events they were learning about with the broader historical context. Students learned that many of the injustices that compelled these activists into action were not new.
Arturo Gonzalez, panel speaker: "Crystal City was a very, very racially divided community."
This also prompted students to consider how so many of these issues are still relevant today.
Arturo Gonzalez, panel speaker: "And I was right in there with 'em."
The tour included examples of cultural pride, peaceful assembly, and activism as expressed through education protests, court cases, music, art and politics.
Gabriela Alvarez, high school senior: "All the women on this tour, like they had a very big part to play. And everything we're learning was civil rights. So it's a lot to live up to and I'm very proud of them, especially in the time period that they were in, for being so courageous and so brave."
Some tour participants possessed only a basic knowledge of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement sparked by their ancestors.
Shellie Ross, Wesley-Rankin Community Center: "Our kids don't know their story. Along the way it seems as though textbooks in schools just are not teaching a full range of history that includes all people. And as we're trying to teach kids some vision and are trying to find their future, it seems that their history has something to do with that."
Adult organizers believe that if kids don't understand their own history it will be hard for them to advocate for justice in their own communities.
Shellie Ross: "The more they can understand that, the more they can understand who they are, who they should be, and more embrace their identity. This is all just parts of identity."
Many of the Chicano civil rights leaders were impressed with the students' willingness to take time during their school break to discover important aspects of their heritage. They encouraged students not to be ashamed of their names and their culture and empowered them to create movements for equality of their own. Students took seriously the challenge to become the next generation of activists in their communities.
José Oviedo, high school senior: "I would like to speak out. That's what I would like to do to share. I would like to speak out (and) teach others that didn't know about civil rights."
Alexandra Ortiz, college student: "I think that the first step is going around and telling these stories to anyone who will listen, to anyone who I feel would also be inspired by these stories."
Shellie Ross: "History breaking. It's not gonna be repeated this time. And that gives us hope."
A grant from The United Methodist Church National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry sponsored a bus trip in 2017 which made stops in Little Rock, Arkansas; Memphis, Tennessee; Atlanta and Selma, Alabama.
Learn more about the United Methodist National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry.
Contact Shellie Ross at the Wesley-Rankin Community Center in Dallas at 214 -742 -6674.