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Mailbag: History of Mexico must stay at OCC

September 18, 2010

A popular class at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa might be on the fringe of extinction. The "History of Mexico" course may not be available in the upcoming semester.

Some might call it a ploy against Mexican American students. I see it more as a matter of survival inside a campus feeling the onslaught of the economic recession. Latin American Studies is the weakest link in a department dominated by Western History tenured professors.

The cost of closing the "History of Mexico" class greatly outweighs the cost of hiring a part-time professor assigned to teach it.

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For those who are unfamiliar with this subject, this course isn't just about finding out how the Aztecs dominated Mesoamerica during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, or how a few thousand Spanish "conquerors" and a local indigenous alliance defeated a powerful Aztec empire, or how a miniature dog has evolved from a favorite Aztec meal to an iconic figure in Hollywood.

There is more to it. History of Mexico is an introductory course, in which students are asked to learn academic material beyond Mexico's own boundaries. How do open-market policies fit in this country? Has the North American Free Trade Agreement brought wealth or devastation to Mexico's economy and society? What are the repercussions of this agreement in the United States? And what role, if any, does NAFTA play in the immigration debate?

Many Americans do not realize that Mexico is our second trade partner.

Mexico President Felipe Calderon's strong stand against organized crime has triggered a major war between drug cartels, and Mexican law enforcement authorities.

This war has resonated along American border towns, and has raised concerns about the danger of these dreadful criminal organizations reaching into American territory.

All of us want our political leaders to stay focused on the drug war and other issues related to Mexico.

If our local leaders have ample knowledge of Mexican history, culture and economics, they are in a better position to make coherent decisions.

In this context, history courses on a particular region or a country are intended to facilitate information to students, as well as provide them a forum to engage in class discussions and analysis.

Having these courses in colleges and universities pays off in the long run, whereas cutting them might imperil our future leaders' ability to understand deep-seated social and economic issues that, ultimately, are closely related to us.

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