Mexican-American Moderates and the Shaping of Federal Education Policy: The Case of the May 25, 1970 Memorandum

  • Guadalupe San Miguel Jr University of Houston
Keywords: Federal education policy, May 25, 1970 Memorandum, Mexican-American educators, school equity struggles


During the past several decades, historians have investigated various aspects of the Chicano movement. In most of these studies, the important role that moderate liberal activists have played in promoting significant social change during the same period has been slighted. By moderate liberal activists, I mean those who depended on the federal government to help solve the problems facing the Mexican-American community, trusted mainstream institutions and political leaders to eliminate discrimination, and, most importantly, rejected the politics of protest. Little is known about these individuals. Who were these men and women, and how did they contribute to the struggle for social justice and educational equality?

The following study examines the role that some moderate liberal educators played in promoting school reform during the height of the Chicano movement. It focuses on the drafting of the May 25, 1970 memorandum and the role played by Mexican Americans in shaping its development. This memorandum was the first major policy developed by the Office for Civil Rights to deal with the issue of discrimination against linguistically distinct children in the public schools. It clarified the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare’s (HEW) position on the responsibility of local school districts to “provide equal educational opportunity to national origin minority group children deficient in English language skills.” I argue that while Mexican- American moderates did not play a direct role in the formulation of this policy due to their exclusion from federal agencies prior to the 1960s, they did play a crucial role in its enforcement. Their involvement in the implementation of the memorandum was the origins of meaningful Mexican-American participation in the shaping of educational policies at the national level.