Q&A with “Stolen Education” director

Wren Murphy, Diversity Beat Reporter

Enrique Alemán Jr., director of the film “Stolen Education,” hosted a question and answer session to inform students about his film and the history of Hispanic people in the U.S. education system.

Alemán, professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, connected to campus digitally at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 25 in the Dakota Room. The Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Latin American Student Association hosted a screening of Alemán’s film on Sept. 20 in the Lewis and Clark Room.

 “I try to take advantage of these events,” said Aubrey Hendrixson, a recent graduate of SDSU and current Native American student recruiter. “I’m Mexican but I can still grow my own knowledge … I’m just trying to stay informed, and Dr. Flo does a good job of bringing diverse events about Hispanic people and other groups to campus.”

Florencio Aranda III, often called Dr. Flo, is the Latino retention adviser. He said the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Latin American Student Association selected the movie because it was related to education and Hispanic students and they felt that university students could relate to the struggle to pursue education. However, getting Alemán to do a question-and-answer session was an added bonus rather than the initial intent of showing the film.

“We had to get the rights to the movie and that’s when I got in contact with Dr. Alemán,” Aranda said. “He said, ‘Why don’t I take some time out of my schedule and talk to your students and members of the community.’ It was really wonderful. So really it was Dr. Alemán who initiated it. 

“Stolen Education” is a documentary that sheds light on segregation in the Driscoll Independent School District in southern Texas.

Eight Mexican American students brought a case against the school district claiming that they were being denied equal access to education several years after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

The school separated white students and Mexican American students into separate first and second grades. Mexican American students were placed into three years of first grade—a “beginner’s” level followed by “low-first” and “high-first.” Even if Mexican American students did not skip or get held back a grade, they would graduate at 20 or 21, instead of at 18 or 19 like their white classmates. 

“You can imagine going to high school and having class with kids who are three, four years younger than you are,” Alemán said in the film.

Alemán became interested in this topic because his mother, Lupe Alemán, had been a lead plaintiff in the court case at nine years old. But, he did not hear his mother talk about the court case often, and he stated that making the film was a way to learn about what his mother had gone through, as his mother died in 2002.

 The school claimed this segregation was to help Mexican American students learn English. However, one Mexican American student, Linda Pérez, was placed in the segregated first grade to learn English, despite speaking English as her first and only language. 

The federal court ruled that the school district had unlawfully segregated students based on race. While this type of segregation was prohibited, the Texas State Historical Association states that more lawsuits filed in the 1960s were necessary to force Texas schools to provide equal access to education.

For the documentary, Alemán traveled to Driscoll and interviewed former students, some of the plaintiffs, the current Driscoll superintendent and relatives of teachers and school board members who worked at the school during the lawsuit. Before the film, none of the plaintiffs of the case had spoken publicly about the court case.

 The question-and-answer session and movie screening are part of Hispanic Heritage Month. Multiple organizations across campus are hosting events to celebrate the month, which lasts from mid-September to mid-October.