Writer & Producer: Veronika Kondratieva
Other Side Drive Producer: Shannon Williams
Editor: Adam M. Cook
Do you know your family’s history? Or is there an untold story waiting to be revealed?
This happened to professor at the University of Utah, Dr. Enrique Aleman Jr. As a 13-year-old boy, the Kingsville native was flipping through pages of his mother’s high school yearbook and couldn’t help but notice that his mom, Lupe Aleman, was several years older than her classmates. To his puzzled look, she briefly explained that she was discriminated as a child and was part of a court case.
This story resurfaced many years later, but at this time Aleman’s mother had passed away, never revealing the entire story to him. He said the unfortunate circumstances motivated him to do research about his mother’s past.
“I never knew about it growing up and I didn’t find out about it until after she died. Once I found out about it, I always wanted to go back and find out that history. I wanted to find out as much as I could about the story of how it even came to be.”
– Dr. Enrique Aleman Jr.
Aleman, an experienced researcher, was motivated to produce Stolen Education because of his desire to educate the public about Texas history.
“I really enjoyed doing this historical documentary. To me it’s just a different way to do research and different way to learn about our historical past.”
– Dr. Enrique Aleman Jr.
Stolen Education depicts 1950 Driscoll, a small town that buzzes with excitement over the first day of school. Caring parents hold the little hands of their delighted kids who skip by their side.
But a group of eight Mexican-American children don’t share the same enthusiasm about entering the first grade. Why? Because they have already finished their first year of school and are forced to return.
The reason for this unusual scene is that these kids were segregated by race in school and had to attend first grade for three years because of a claimed language barrier. The fact that they were American citizens and that their fathers served in World War II didn’t deter school officials from treating these children unfairly. Not only were they racially discriminated, but they were also physically punished for speaking Spanish, which took away part of their culture and identity.
This unjust treatment of kids in the public school system led to a landmark federal desegregation court case in 1956, in which eight of the children who were being retained had to testify.
Even though school segregation was outlawed in 1954 as a result of Brown versus the Board of Education, which ordered the integration of Mexican and Black students into white schools, school districts across the nation often wiggled around the law. School districts designed new ways to segregate schools and continue to provide an inferior education to students of color.
The gentle voices of eight and nine-year-olds resulted in the elimination of the first grade retention policy and changed educational history in Texas as well as the entire country.
Now, six of the eight children are still living and they are brought back together in a powerful documentary by Aleman. It took Aleman about a year-and-a-half to track them down in order to conduct the interviews.
In Stolen Education, Aleman brings the audience to present-day Driscoll and provides an exclusive insight into the city’s history through conversations with the kids that testified in court, some of whom are now in their sixties and many others who were involved in this education policy.
We also learn about how these inferior education practices influenced these people’s lives. Some were pushed out of the educational system all together, while others continued to go to school and became educators themselves in the hopes of making a difference.
All of the students developed strategies to cope with the situation and went on to live meaningful and productive lives as strong members of their communities and our nation. However, remembering the events that took place many decades ago, the pain still mirrors in their eyes.
Aleman hopes to reveal to the audience an almost forgotten history of Texas as well as the country. He also thinks that his movie emphasizes and promotes communication within one’s family.
“This is a part of Texas history and US history that is often not talked about. I hope people will learn something about where we come from as a state. Hopefully, people will learn that we all have that type of family history, hopefully they will learn to sit and talk and cherish the time they have with their family members.”
-Dr. Enrique Aleman Jr.
With Stolen Education he lifts up a curtain and sheds light on prejudices from the past and shows how they are relevant today.