After 43 years of teaching, 17 spent in room 307 at Bravo Medical Magnet High School, Carlos M. Jiménez is retiring.
Soon after becoming a history teacher, Jiménez began teaching Mexican American studies. After having to teach the class with a sub-par book for years, he decided to write his own.
Mentored by people like Sal Castro, a Mexican-American social studies teacher who led immigrant students in a districtwide walkout in 1968, and having worked alongside Jaime Escalante, the Garfield High School math teacher who was the subject of the movie “Stand and Deliver,” Jiménez was an inspiring figure for his students.
“Mr. Jiménez is an incredibly knowledgeable intellectual of U.S. history,” says Edgar Guevara, a UC San Diego student who took the class. “He’s a passionate teacher who wishes to see his students succeed not only in the classroom, but in their future aspirations and goals as well. Mr. Jiménez inspired me to enter the educational field as a future academic and, hopefully, a professor.”
Boyle Heights Beat spoke to Jiménez about his career, his inspirations and what he hopes for future students. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
BHB: I know you wrote a book about Mexican-American history, which you’ve used to teach Mexican American Studies at Bravo. Why was it an important thing for you to do?
CJ: When I was at Belmont in 1976, Mexican American studies had been recently added as a class. The problem was the textbook, if you even want to call it that. It had very little content of the subjects that my students were really interested in. It had a page and a half on the Zoot Suit years, a column and a half on the Mexican Revolution.
After two or three years of struggling with the bad textbook, I just decided that I could do it myself. By the time I was at Garfield High School in 1985, I had a manuscript that I could use as a textbook for students. In ‘91, I approached a publisher and asked them if they’d be interested in publishing “The Mexican American Heritage” textbook. They said yes. Through the years it did really well. There were 500 schools that were using it at one point. That book has been out of print since 2001. Now that I’m retiring, I’m not too sure if there’s going to be an updated edition to the book, but it’s been a good run since ‘92.
BHB: Your Mexican American studies class at Bravo High School is unique. Can you describe the format?
CJ: The class is Mexican American history, starting from the indigenous cultures through the Spanish arrival and the war with the United States, putting the border where it is, immigration issues, the Mexican Revolution, the heavy immigration into the United States around that time.
The second half of the first semester we cover what’s called Chicano Studies, which is what they call the stories of the Latinos in the United States. To switch things up second semester we learn about the history of American pop culture. That includes the history of American music and history of American cinema.
The students also pick a topic they’re really interested in, and they write a book of their own. We celebrate the end of the year with a book fair. It’s a fun class.
BHB: Why do you feel it’s important to have a class like this in a neighborhood such as Boyle Heights?
CJ: I feel that’s it’s really important that Latino students know about their own heritage, because in their regular classes, that stuff is usually left out. My standard line is that kids in California know more about pyramids in Egypt than they do about Mexican pyramids. To me, that doesn’t make sense for a state that used to be a part of Mexico. They know more about the French Revolution than they do about the Mexican Revolution. I just think that’s wrong.
If they’re going to ignore it in the regular history classes, at least there’s one class were we don’t ignore it. I think it does change the way the kids look at themselves. For the non-Latino kids, I think it’s important for them to learn about their own friends and neighbors and classmates who happen to be Latino.
BHB: With the anniversary of the East L.A. Blowouts, the 1968 protests by Chicano students, what are some of the big things you’ve seen in LAUSD’s school system since then?
CJ: One of the biggest complaints in ’68 when the Chicano kids blew out was that they were not getting a challenging, college-prep curriculum and that teachers had very low expectations of them. It was industrial arts for the boys and home economics for the girls. Most of the faculty was non-Latino, predominantly white. The kids were one ethnicity, predominantly Latino. The kids even called it like a plantation mentality.
That has changed dramatically. Most schools now, no matter what part of Los Angeles, do have rigorous academic course offerings available for the kids. I think now the faculty in LAUSD reflects the diversity of the students.
I think that if the Blowouts are the cause, Bravo is the result. One would not have happened without the other. What they demanded has been implemented and LA Unified is a better place because of it. It’s nice to see that there’s recognition of that now on the 50th anniversary.
BHB: What do you want LAUSD students today to take away from the Blowouts?
CJ: If they learn about the Blowouts, it should make them more appreciative of the better educational opportunities that they have now. I think that if students don’t know about how bad things once were, they can’t appreciate what they have now. I mean, at one time Latino kids were segregated because of race. They couldn’t go to the more elite schools because those were for white students only.
If a kid doesn’t know that at all and they’re here at a school with a very rigorous curriculum and high expectations, the kid might take those opportunities for granted.
BHB: I know you’re retiring this year. What do you hope that your students have taken away from being in your class?
CJ: I hope that my intentions in doing the class and writing the book and teaching over all these years are fulfilled. I hope that the kids are more proud of their own heritage, knowledgeable of it and their history, proud of how they got to be where they are, indigenous and Spanish blood mixed together in whatever percentage they might be, some bilingual, bicultural. Those are things kids should be proud of, not something they should be embarrassed by or ashamed of in any way.
All photos by Alex Medina.