New Report Shows Latino History is Left Out of U.S. History Textbooks

By Irene Sanchez
Xicana Ph.D.

When I began teaching Latino studies, I wasn’t surprised when I picked up a U.S. history textbook to see how many times Latinos were mentioned in the book. That school year, the U.S. history books were brand new in our district and as I combed through it to see if there was anything in there that was useful to what I teach, I found in the index about 13 pages where “Hispanics” were mentioned. I put it down and I have never picked up that book again.

A new report from John Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and UnidosUS looks at representation of Latinos in U.S. History Textbooks. The report found that 87% of essential topics in Latino history were not covered adequately and if they were mentioned at all the space they received were five of fewer sentences. They also found that key moments in the past 200 years of Latino history only one was mentioned, the appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court according to their press release.

This textbook report doesn’t name the textbooks they reviewed, but what I do know as a Latino Studies high school teacher for the past 6 years is that U.S. history textbooks are based off of U.S. history texts that sought to put certain people in a positive light. These people were the robber barons who funded a lot of early scholarly works. The robber barons funded scholars that would promote their version of events. Later, one of these scholars was Walter Prescott Webb who was a professor of history and former president of the American Historical Association. Webb at one point wrote a book praising the Texas Rangers. Many historians since then have challenged Webb’s version of events.

The book I teach my students points out these facts. In the section “The Historian as an Agent of Social Control” Rodolfo Acuña writes in his book Occupied America that these “founders of American industry” wanted to clean up their image and funded revisionist history. He then writes how racism and fear through use of stereotypes are important to have control over groups of people. Who writes the history that our U.S. history textbooks in schools are based on needs to be acknowledged.

Acuña continues on how the Texas Rangers brutalized Mexicans at the border during the Mexican American War. Although corridos and other storytelling methods often documented Mexican stories and versions of events in this time period, none of these Euro-American historians would’ve even considered to include history outside their point of view that supported their mass killing and violence as well as justification for their taking of land and life under manifest destiny. Anything that would’ve challenged their perspective would have never made it in a history book and so the lies continue…

Last year as I taught my students about the Zoot Suit “Riots” I always question the use of the word “Riots” attached to the name of an event where Pachucos, mainly Mexican, but also African American and Filipino were beaten, assaulted, and stripped of their clothing by white U.S. servicemen in Los Angeles almost 80 years ago in June 1943. During these events U.S. servicemen freely roamed the streets of Mexican neighborhoods to get any Pachuco or Pachuca they could find. Police officers often stood by to watch without intervening and when they did, they arrested the Pachuco youth. The media criminalized Mexican youth of this time period including young Mexican women, many of whom were assisting in work in factories during WWII.

I tell and show proof to my students that Pachuco style was part of Mexican youth challenging norms and affirming their culture and representing where they were from with uniqueness and style in society that constantly denied them equal rights and opportunities. One day my student comes in and tells me in U.S. history they were learning about the “riots” and told me how she challenged her white male teacher’s opinion that all the Pachuchos were gang members as if this would justify them being racially targeted and attacked. I told her she was right and she went back the next day and challenged the teacher with the facts from the sources I presented before he waved her off. Moments like these during the past 6 years have occurred often.

This exclusion of Latino history begins long before children enter kindergarten. It is hard to right the wrongs of the past when for hundreds of years the stories of Communities of Color have been excluded DELIBERATELY. I need you to know this exclusion is deliberate and based in racism and white supremacy. If we are to change any of this in our textbooks in K12 we need to follow history to where it has originated, to these textbook companies and to the scholars who walk the halls of the ivory tower to the funders of their research who paid to have it written. We need to start there with the truth of U.S. history and how this spills over into other parts of our education system to question maybe this history is related to how many of our students graduate high school, go on to college and get the opportunity to be in a position of power to be able to make decisions over curriculum that is in our schools.

To challenge this we need to ask, how many people, not just Latinos, but how many people are out there willing to challenge these things so that more accurate and diverse stories/histories are included? How many Latino teachers are there? How many Latino administrators are there? Superintendents? School board members? And we need to know even if they are there, that even if there are Latinos in these positions, are they questioning or challenging these things? Are they supporting teachers who seek to make these changes in our schools and in their curriculum development? The textbook report states, The Institute team has found that district-designed curricula too often reflect good intentions but result in imbalances that do not serve students well”. In my experiences I have seen this as well. We can’t change things with good intentions. We can change things with honesty and courage though.

Start with acknowledging who has written U.S. history, who has funded those who have written history and ask questions then you will find why we are deliberately excluded to this day. Reports and studies will tell us part of the reality that some of us teaching or in academia already know, but we need to fully acknowledge the racism behind this exclusion in order to move forward with a clear vision of what is needed in these times.

If you like what you’re reading, please support this Xicana, Mama, Teacher & Writer. Share, like, follow me on social media, and drop some support here. I am currently one of two inaugural educator fellows with California Revealed and the CA History Social Science Project where I am digging in archives to make inquiry sets I researched on Latino history accessible to K-12 teachers. I am serving on the Huntington Library’s Teacher Advisory Panel for 2022-2023. I am also currently working with UCLA History Geography Project on curriculum related to Latino history for the IE Stories Project (Inland Empire-Riverside and San Bernardino region of Southern California). I have previously been a teaching fellow with the Pulitzer Center and a member of the Teacher Advisory Council with the National Humanities Center. For more information see

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