Donde estan?

College students aren’t receiving their recommended daily allowance of  American Latino Political History, according to a “page by page” study of 29 college textbooks.

The authors cite considerable research suggesting that, in introductory courses, textbooks are reflections of what students are taught. And since for many students, poli sci 101 (as a general education requirement) will be their entire study of government, these students are unlikely to learn much more about how Latinos fit into the U.S. political system.

* * * *

They conclude with a call for textbook authors and editors to rethink their treatment of the ethnic group.

There are two ways I can see this complaint.  One is that the complaints are directed to a lack of coverage for Latinos in American political history.  The other way of seeing this is that the complaints are about a lack of coverage for Latinos in textbooks relating to modern political science.  (The concern could also be directed at both.)

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of complaints that disenfranchised groups aren’t represented in historical accounts.  I would like to humbly submit the following thesis:  Disenfranchised groups aren’t a big part of history because they are disenfranchised and generally lack the power to be movers and shakers on the political scene.

There are of course exceptions.  Sometimes the peasants get uppity, and you get things like rebelling gladiators, guillotines, or marches on the capitol.  Such things get coverage in textbooks.  But that might not be good enough for certain parties.

Many of the texts discuss César Chávez, but for most that’s about it for sustained discussion of Latino civil rights leaders or movements. The Latino civil rights movement is portrayed as “a few random events, not as part of an overall movement,” the article says. Key figures like Dolóres Huerta rarely appear. Only three of the textbooks studied explained terms such as “Chicano” or “Brown power.”

As for modern political science… that’s not really my field so I don’t know whether there’s more to say about distinctly Latino contributions to the modern political landscape other than the obvious: immigration, bilingual education, and agriculture worker issues.  Presumably there is more to it, but I’m not really privy to what goes on in the sort of general ed polisci classes that the authors are concerned with, and I don’t know how much detail can really be crammed into a single semester or 10-week quarter.

There are serious problems with measuring the absence of something in a study.  There are a lot of things in this universe that are absent from a number of different contexts.  In cases like this, I’d like to see specific, concrete proposals about content that can be weighed on its merits, rather than generalized complaining about a lack of coverage.  Then we can know whether something is really missing or simply isn’t of great enough quantity or importance to warrant inclusion.


  1. I find this article insulting. To use the term “uppity” when describing “peasants” in an article about the absence of Latino presence in college textbooks is offensive. The author also seems to be demonstrating a faulty reading of the article cited: nowhere in that article does the study refer to “political history”; it is referring to “introductory texts” in “political science 101” classes. Either way, the failure of textbooks to include much reference to a major US ethnic group is a serious (although unsurprising) problem, and to intellectualize it and reduce it to vague statements like “there are a lot of things in this universe that are absent from a number of different contexts” is seriously missing the point.

  2. As I said elsewhere, if you seek to see yourself as apart from others, you can’t be surprised when you encounter divisiveness.

  3. Genevieve says:

    I wish I still had my college American Government text, so I could double check. If I remember correctly, the class was similar to a high school civics class. It went over a few important political events (Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact), the Constitution, Federalism, the three branches of government. I think there was a small section on the current political process and lobbying( I think this was the professor’s pet area). There really wasn’t a place for Latino or any other ethnic groups effect on politics in the US.

    Looking back it was a pretty crap course, but it was an intro class at a state university.

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    Anna: “To use the term ‘uppity’ when describing ‘peasants’ in an article about the absence of Latino presence in college textbooks is offensive.”

    Joanne, was being subtly clever. Her references to uppity peasants were to (a) Spartacus’ revolt, (b) the French Revolution, and (c) Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March of Washington. In all three cases, the general sentiment (today) is on the side of the peasants, so to find this offensive is really stretching.

    Her point was that until the peasants *do* get uppity, you don’t read about them in history books because there isn’t much to read.


    1141-1143: Peasants ground under heel of aristocracy, tilled land.
    1144-1146: Peasants still ground under heel of aristocracy, till land.
    1147-1150: …

    There isn’t *much* to do with this.

    Peasant revolts can be interesting historically (consider the Whiskey Rebellion), but a *lack* of peasant revolts just doesn’t provide much material with which to work.

    -Mark Roulo

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Joanne didn’t write it.

    I did.

    But thank you for noticing my attempt at wit, Mr. Roulo. 🙂

  6. Michael E. Lopez says:

    The author also seems to be demonstrating a faulty reading of the article cited: nowhere in that article does the study refer to “political history”; it is referring to “introductory texts” in “political science 101? classes.

    Since I’m the aforementioned author, I suppose I should respond to an accusation of faulty reading.

    I’m guilty. I assumed that a political science textbook might have as part of its material some amount of political history. I also presumed that a complaint about coverage of Cesar Chavez, who I understand to be dead these last 16 or 17 years, in the context of political science, could be adequately described as a complaint that concerned itself with political history.

    If you are a political historian, and object to my maligning your field by associating it with political science, please accept my apologies. In my own defense, I can only claim that I was unaware that political science students studying the political science of the past did not consider themselves to be learning political history.

  7. Myself, i’m offended that there is no mention of blue-eyed, Black haired, left handed, Germanic-Irish hybrids in my PoliSci textbook……

  8. Bill Leonard says:

    Are the contribution of Hispanics of all persuasions somehow more important than those of Americans of German descent — the most populous “minority” in the country as recently as the early 50s — or those of Italian-Americans, or Polish-Americans — hell, consider Irving Berlin, Benny Goodman and Artie shaw, among many others, including George Burns — or… well, hell, name your favorite minority.

    Frankly, most of this smacks of the grievance-mongering that seems to pay a pretty good wage to those so engaged.

    I think it’s time to move on.


  9. I always find it sad that so many are willing to take something as unique and special as an individual and shoehorn it into a category.

  10. Walter_E_Wallis says:

    Any coverage of Chavez needs to mention that he was raised to secular sainthood not by the workers, but by the Liberation Theology priests who saw in him a good front – a man crippled by the short handled hoe and ignored by the labor contractors.
    Once the L/T priests convinced the Teamsters to leave the farm worker field, Chavez lost his halo, requiring workers to participate unpaid in his frequent raids on Sacramento or lose their union membership and job; and his attempt to get UC Davis to drop any studies of farming automation that would reduce manual labor requirements.
    When union membership is mandatory, the worker has two beasts on his back.

  11. BadaBing says:

    I’ll bet they don’t have problems like this in Japan, which will still be around long after the US implodes. That’s provided that the Japanese demographic meltdown somehow reverses itself. The point is that human nature being human nature, multiethnic nations don’t last very long.