Social justice advocates reunite in Portales

By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers

PORTALES — They fought for social justice. Decades later, they told their stories so Portales won’t forget.

More than 100 people remembered Portales’ history and spoke out Sunday against how minority Portales residents were treated during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Portales resident Dolores Penrod, a member of the Democratic Women of Roosevelt County and Voices of Democracy, helped organize The Struggle for Social Justice in Roosevelt County last Sunday at the Memorial Building.

“It was all of us working together that got the job done,” Penrod said. “We were called insurgents and rabble-rousers, names we should bear quite proudly. That’s what we were known as. We’re here to tell the story of the events that happened.”

Penrod recalled how one resident spoke out against Portales public schools when she learned her son would be spanked for speaking Spanish on the junior high school playground.

The boy was suspended from school, but he was not spanked and eventually received attendance credit despite the suspension, Penrod said.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Santa Fe stood up against the school’s action, Penrod said.

Bob Wood, a Portales district school board member during the early 1970s said he has seen little change, and gave two examples: the Headstart program and bilingual education.

In May of 1970, New Mexico’s attorney general said bilingual teaching was not required in public schools.

Frank Sanchez stood at Portales school board meetings in the 1970s and said administrators told him they couldn’t find any Hispanic educators to teach Spanish.

Frustrated, bilingual students joined together in a lawsuit against Portales Municipal Schools.

The court sided with the plaintiffs and mandated the implementation of bilingual education, according to a Yale Education Website.

After the courts ruled in favor of bilingual education, “All of a sudden they found nine teachers who could teach Spanish,” Sanchez said.

However, Wood said bilingual education was instituted before students sued Portales schools.

Opinions regarding language and diversity have changed over the last 30 and 40 years, Portales schools Superintendent Randy Fowler said.

Being bilingual is now seen as a strength, he said.