"We were the first ones" : oral histories of Mexican heritage women pioneers in the schools of rural southeast Georgia, 1978 - 2002
Beck, Scott A.L.
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For most of the past two centuries, the rural South has been home to a population almost entirely composed of European and African Americans. However, during the last decades of the twentieth century a new population arrived as increasing numbers of Mexican heritage people found work and settled in the rural South. Many were drawn to rural southeast Georgia by migratory agricultural work in Vidalia onion production and subsequently settled in the area when they found year-round wage labor in the fields, chicken plants, and small industries of the region. With each year more Mexican heritage people have been drawn to and have settled in southeast Georgia. As a result, the demographics of the Vidalia area are dramatically changing. The Mexican heritage presence in the schools and communities of this region presents new challenges and opportunities for local educators and their students. This dissertation examines the life stories of ten exceptional Mexican heritage women who were pioneers, twice-over, in the schools of the Vidalia onion region. The women were among the first Mexican heritage students in the local schools. Later, each of the women returned to the local schools to work as bilingual and bicultural educators, most often as paraprofessional teacher aides and tutors. Usually they were the only Latinos and only Spanish-speakers on the staff of the schools that employed them. Through an interpretation of these women’s longitudinal experiences as double pioneers in the schools of southeast Georgia this dissertation documents how their lives, identities, and work have been shaped by a number of significant and recurrent themes: the trials and gauntlets they faced in their pasts; particular turning points that allowed them to escape migrancy and become educators; the promise of their present lives; controversial issues regarding power, race, class, and gender; and ideas for a better future. Based upon these themes, this dissertation concludes with a number of recommendations for educational policy and practice and proposals for future research regarding Mexican heritage education in the rural South.