Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000 Page: 8
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Preservation, Purpose, and Passion
A small town's ethnic history and culture is being preserved by the efforts of students, administrators,
and a determined teacher who understood the need to save the memories and stories of the community's unheard voices.
The passion in Frank Guajardo's
voice is what first made an impression
when listening to him talk about his work
to preserve the small-town, South Texas
culture in Edcouch-Elsa (two communities
with a combined population of about
8,000) and to provide opportunities for the
young people who live there. The passion
became laced with disappointment when
the 35-year-old Guajardo spoke about his
role as an educator in this poor, rural area
of the state that lies 15 miles north of the
Texas-Mexico border, where 98 percent of
the student body is of Hispanic origin. The
listener is forced to race in order to keep
up with Guajardo as he explained how after
obtaining a master's degree in history
from the University of Texas at Austin in
1989 and completing doctoral coursework,
he came back to South Texas to teach, only
to be discouraged with strict educational
guidelines that "punished students of color"
and a curriculum that had little relevance
to their lives.
Chagrin turned to activism when
Guajardo discovered that other educators
in the area were experiencing similar feelings
of isolation and disappointment. Despite
daunting odds - 91 percent of the
parents of the students at Edcouch-Elsa
High School do not have a high school
diploma - Guajardo had an idea. "I
thought that we could develop our own
educational program, one that would let
these students understand their culture,
appreciate its value, serve the community,
and learn skills that they could use in the
future. The objective was to create a program
that could bridge the gap between
the educational system and the real
world." Armed with his own youthful enthusiasm
and a gut feeling that this was
an achievable goal, Frank Guajardo became
the driving force behind the Llano
Grande Research Center, an organization
that used oral histories as the vehicle for
achieving its goals. That work has evolved
into a minor industry in Edcouch-Elsa -
one that Guajardo is quick to point out is
"not on the backs of the workers, as was
the case with previous generations. We
want our young people to use their minds
and skills to support themselves - not
Uuajardo knew that the citizens of
this area had interesting stories to tell of
life in South Texas -tales that involved
the migrant trek and laboring in the field,
the establishment of the farming industry,
working in packing plants, marriages,
births, deaths, and bringing up their families
in an area that offered few luxuries.
But no one, up to this point, had placed
any value on these personal histories of life
in South Texas, and Guajardo knew that
his own students -kids whose families
had for generations lived in this community
- were generally unaware of their
own past. Guajardo began with the idea
that these stories - told by Hispanics,
Caucasians, men, and women - were an
important part of not only the local and
regional history but integral to his student's
lives as well, and that this history was
worth preserving and understanding.
Guajardo thought that expanding the students'
understanding of their own past
HERITAGE * 8 * SPRING 2000
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000, periodical, Spring 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45390/m1/8/: accessed September 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.