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July 13, 2000

Mexican culture to be taught in Texas colonias

By Judith Torrea


AUSTIN -- Texas A&M University, in a joint effort with the Mexican government, has begun a six-week educational program to teach children living in poor Texas communities along the U.S.-Mexican border about their Mexican roots. The program, backed by a $50,000 federal grant, is being offered in six communities: Progreso, La Joya, Montealto, San Carlos, La Sara and Sebastian.

Even though 98 percent of the children residing in the colonias are descendents of Mexicans, "there are few who know that their ancestors were Mexicans, what a rich culture we have or what their parents suffered through to get to where we are now," said Juanita Maldonado, director of the Progreso Community Center.

The colonies, unincorporated settlements lacking basic services such as water, electricity and sewerage, have grown rapidly in the last five years.

The 4,000 citizens of Progreso are outnumbered by the inhabitants of the surrounding colonies, as some 500,000 people live in colonies along the border.

Like 85 percent of colonial residents, eleven-year-old Jose Contreras is a U.S. citizen and speaks a Spanish laden with English words.

The program "is very entertaining, and when I go back to my house I teach my nine brothers how to make piñatas," the boy said.

Contreras has also learned many games such as "la oca," which is similar to snakes and ladders, as well as how to play with a "balero," a cup-and-ball toy.

"The children are very poor and of Mexican descent and they are very knowledgeable about advanced technology, but they're still losing touch with their roots," said Jose Leonardo Flores Gonzalez, one of six teachers who has come from Mexico to develop the program.

Flores Gonzalez, 33, a physical education teacher born in the city of Guadalajara, is in charge of the program in Progreso.

He is teaching 60 children about Mexican folklore and history and giving them a taste for handicrafts.

"It's very enriching to see that the children don't want to leave at the end of the day. That motivates me very much," Flores Gonzalez said.

The teacher said he wanted "the children to learn to value themselves as individuals, that they don't feel discriminated against because they're Mexicans."

"Only three children could tell me anything about Mexico ... the rest believed that Mexico was a village where there are no roads or restaurants," Florez Gonzalez added.

If "these children educate themselves, they're going to have a double advantage, knowing two languages and two cultures, and that is valued in the international labor market."