Biden Designates ‘Mexican School’ in Texas a National Park Site — Here’s Why That’s Important

Lead Photo: Credit: Stella/Getty Images
Credit: Stella/Getty Images
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On Monday (October 17), President Biden designated the Blackwell School in Marfa, Texas – a town 200 miles southeast of El Paso – as part of the National Park System. In doing so, Biden has protected one of the last surviving “Mexican schools” in the United States.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, “Mexican schools” were segregated schools available to Mexican American students to attend from 1889 to 1965. They were viewed as substandard in comparison to school for white children. “The buildings generally were older and dilapidated…and school equipment was inadequate. The teaching staff lacked training, credentials, and experience,” wrote TSHA.

Blackwell School first welcomed Mexican American students in 1909 when its adobe schoolhouse was built. The school stayed open until 1965, despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional 11 years prior (Brown v. Board of Education).

“As a nation, we must face the wrongs of our past in order to build a more just and equitable future,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement. “The ugliness of the segregation era had many impacts that we have failed as a nation to adequately acknowledge. This new designation will help us tell a truer American story and ensure this important and painful chapter in our nation’s history is preserved and remembered for the generations to come.”

Gretel Enck, president of the Blackwell School Alliance, has been working with his group for 15 years to urge the U.S. government to conserve the school. “The promise of equality for Americans of Mexican descent in our country’s southern borderlands has long been a hollow one,” Enck said in a statement. “The Blackwell School is a tangible reminder of this era when ‘separate but equal’ dominated education and social systems.”

The decision to preserve Blackwell School was a bipartisan one. This past summer, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) introduced the bill in the Senate. That was followed by a House companion bill introduced by Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) and former Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas).

“This national park site will be a testament to the resilience of Mexican American communities in our country’s borderlands, and the immeasurable impact they have had on the United States of America,” Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement. “Blackwell School belongs as a national park site because Mexican Americans belong here in our country.”