In the late 1990s, Nadine and Patsy Córdova made history in Vaughn, a small town in central New Mexico. They had been teaching at the local junior and senior high school for over 17 years when they were suspended for refusing to stop teaching Chicano History to their students.
The Córdova sisters had learned about the Chicano movement as adults. They read about the struggles Mexican Americans faced — and the fight for labor rights, land and a political identity in the U.S. during the 1960s and early 1970s. The movement changed how Patsy and Nadine thought about themselves and their history. And they wanted to share that with their students. “To me, I see knowing your history and being proud of your ancestors is like your suit of armor,” Nadine says.
But, the school administration saw it very differently. School officials claimed the Córdova sisters, especially Nadine, were teaching “racial intolerance” and promoting “a militant attitude” in their students. Eventually Nadine and Patsy were fired from their jobs, but the sisters were determined to fight back. They contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and filed a lawsuit against the school district. In an out-of-court settlement, the sisters received $520,000 and the option to be reinstated to their jobs.
Even after this legal victory, Nadine remembers how difficult the experience was. “All the accusations and all the hateful things they say about you, when you know you’re doing a good job and you know you’ve given so much. Because teachers give so much.”
Now, almost three decades later, a first-year English teacher in Denver, Colorado found himself in a situation very similar to the Córdova sisters: In May of 2022 Tim Hernández’s contract wasn’t renewed at North High school after teaching Chicano History and Literature to his students.
“I started speaking out about it. I went to the press and I said ‘I’m not sure what we can do about it. But I do think that we’re not the first, nor the last, nor the only Chicano, Black, Indigenous, Asian teachers who are forced out of the classroom,'” Tim says.
In this episode of Latino USA, we present a conversation between Tim and Nadine — living more than 400 miles apart — where they talk about their shared experiences, why Chicano History is still relevant for kids, and the lessons they’ve learned.
Featured illustration by Alex Charner.