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Voces Oral History Project Interview With Norma Cantú

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0:00 - Interview Preamble 0:21 - Early Life in Brownsville/Education/Higher Education

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Segment Synopsis: A 5th generation Texas, Norma Cantú grew up in Brownsville in the 1950’s. Education was important in her family, and Cantú’s mother used a connection from a friend to get Norma and her brother into a preschool. By the time she went to Webb Elementary, she was able to skip 1st grade. The school system was unfair: they would make Spanish-speaking students take every grade twice, causing many students to drop out. Following Webb she went to Annie S. Putegnat Elementary School. The school’s facilities were in poor condition. She skipped 6th grade and went straight to junior high. Then she went to Brownsville High, where teachers and students had to deal with overcrowding and lack of funding. She then went to Texas Southmost College to stay close to home and because she got a full ride. She then transferred to Pan American University at Edinburg, where she completed her undergrad in 2 years at the age of 19 with a double major in English and Government with an minor in Education. Her first job out of school was teaching at Brownsville High, where she had been a student just two years prior. Following this she decided follow her dream and apply to law school; she was accepted with a full ride to Harvard, becoming the first Tejana to attend Harvard Law School.

Keywords: Alfabeto; Anranchos; Brownsville; Brownsville High; Civil Rights Movement; Economic disparity; Harvard; Higher Education; Military; Pan American University at Edinburg; Poverty; The Valley; Webb Elementary; Women’s Liberation Movement

Subjects: bilingual education; Childhood; Discrimination in higher education; Diversity in higher education; Higher education; Higher education and state; Higher education institutions; Higher education providers; Hispanic Americans--United States; Hispanics (United States); Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); Minorities in higher education; Minority women in higher education; Norma Cantú; Pan American University; Spanish Americans in the United States; Spanish language--Usage; Spanish-speaking people (United States); Spanish-surnamed people (United States); Texas Southmost College; University of Texas at Austin; University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College; University of Texas--Pan American at Brownsville; youth

17:01 - Early Lawyer Career/MALDEF

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Segment Synopsis: After Harvard Law School, Cantú went back to Texas and worked in the Texas Attorney General's Office, in the Consumer Protection Division under Ann Richards. Specifically, she worked for the Nursing Home Taskforce where she and her colleagues fought for the rights of the elderly who were subject to abuse in retirement homes. Following her time at the Attorney General's office, Cantú and her husband moved to San Antonio. She then began working for MALDEF as an education lawyer. Cantú worked on important cases including Plyler v.s Doe, in which the State of Texas argued that they had the justification to exclude immigrant children from public education. MALDEF won that case.

Keywords: Albert Kauffman; Ann Richards; Chicana rights group; Consumer Protection Division; Education Lawyer; MALDEF; Plyler v. Doe; San Antonio; Segregation in education; Texas Attorney General's Office

Subjects: Al Kauffman; Ann Richards; Consumer Protection Division; Hispanic Americans--United States; Hispanics (United States); Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); LULAC; M.A.L.D.E.F.; MALDEF; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund'; Plyler v. Doe; San Antonio; Spanish Americans in the United States

22:09 - The Road to LULAC v. Clements

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Segment Synopsis: Cantú sets the scene for the case of LULAC v. Richards (later Clements), introducing the lawyers on the case and their respective roles. She explains some important events and court cases leading up to LULAC v. Richards. The team of lawyers received advice from higher education officials, forming a plan centered around third party reports saying the State of Texas disproportionately distributed higher education funds across economic lines. She also cited an investigation of the State of Texas made by the US Department of Justice regarding segregation of higher education; as part of the settlement, Texas promised to invest in minority heavy colleges, but then failed to do so.

Keywords: Adams v. Bell; Albert Kauffman; Disparities in Education; Edgewood v. Kirby; El Paso; Jaime Chahin; LULAC; LULAC v. Clements; LULAC v.Richards; Raza Unida; Rosie Castro; San Antonio; US Department of Justice

Subjects: Adams v. Bell; Albert Kauffman; Ann Richards; College students—Education; Discrimination in higher education; Diversity in higher education; Edgewood v. Kirby; Higher education; Higher education and state; Higher education institutions; Higher education providers; Hispanic Americans--United States; Hispanics (United States); Jamie Chahin; Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); LULAC v. Clements; LULAC v. Richards; M.A.L.D.E.F.; MALDEF; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Minority women in higher education; Raza Unida; San Antonio; Spanish Americans in the United States; Supreme Court; Texas Legislature

29:05 - LULAC v. Clements

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Segment Synopsis: Cantú and her colleagues carefully built their case against the State of Texas. They chose the name “Border Initiative” and framed the case as a class action lawsuit. While Cantú was doing her own research, she found racial undertones involved in the allocation of higher education funds across the state. The Texas Attorney General's office argued that higher education was not a fundamental right. Ultimately a federal judge ruled that State of Texas’ funding format was unconstitutional on the basis of denying students right to a public higher education, but it was not proven that the state acted with intent of racial discrimination.

Keywords: Border area; Confederate memorabilia; discrimination; Joaquin Cigarroa; Laredo; Latino civil rights; South Texas Border initiative; Texas State Attorney General; Texas Tech; UT Austin

Subjects: College students—Education; Colleges; Degree-granting institutions; Discrimination in higher education; Diversity in higher education; Higher education and state; Higher education institutions; Higher education providers; Joaquin Cigarroa; Laredo; Legal Defense and Educational Fund; LULAC v. Clements; LULAC v. Richards; M.A.L.D.E.F.; MALDEF; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Minorities in higher education; Postsecondary education; Public Institutions; Public universities and colleges; South Texas Border Initiative; Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; Texas Tech University

44:02 - Legislative Action/Supreme Court/Aftermath

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Segment Synopsis: In response to the ruling of unconstitutionality, before the case was heard at the Supreme Court, the Texas legislature under Ann Richards acted to request a settlement proposal from the border region. This unified the border communities as they came together to decide how much each area needed for higher education. The state approved at total of $660,000,000 to go towards investing in higher education along the border. It was after the allocation of these finds that the case was seen in front of the Supreme Court, where they LULAC lost because the region had already been awarded that money. In the years following, that money was put into master's and doctoral programs as well as the creation of medical schools and other professional schools in cities such as Laredo and Corpus Christi. However, Cantú sees threats to public higher education funding in Texas today.

Keywords: Ann Richards; Appeal; Border Initiative; Corpus Christi; El Paso; Kingsville; Laredo; LULAC v. Clements; LULAC v. Richards; MALDEF; San Antonio; South texas border initiative; Start Up Money; Supreme Court

Subjects: Ann Richards; College students—Education; Colleges; Degree-granting institutions; Discrimination in higher education; Diversity in higher education; Higher education; Higher education and state; Higher education institutions; Higher education providers; Hispanic Americans--United States; Hispanics (United States); Kingsville (Tex.); Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); LULAC; LULAC v. Clements; LULAC v. Richards; M.A.L.D.E.F.; MALDEF; Minorities in higher education; Minority women in higher education; Public Institutions; Public universities and colleges; Racism in higher education; San Antonio; South Texas Border Initiative; Supreme Court; Texas Higher Education

56:23 - Noteworthy Accomplishments/Anecdotes/Department Of Education

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Segment Synopsis: Cantú reflects on her career as MALDEF lawyer, citing specific cases and their impact on the state and Latino communities as a collective. She speaks on some of the testimonies during LULAC v. Clements and tells a story about her first time in Austin at the capitol during Vietnam protest. Cantú talks about the sociopolitical climate when she was at Harvard. She also goes into more detail about higher education funding discrepancies, the future of higher education in Texas, and working within the federal Department of Education.

Keywords: Adams v. Bell; Affirmative action; Anna Maria Martel; Austin; Brownsville; Census; David Lopez; Doe v. Plyler; Dr. Henry Cisneros; Harvard; Joaquin Cigarroa; Latino community; LULAC v. Clements; MALDEF; Reynaldo Garza Law School; Texas Capitol; Texas Rangers; Ulanda Garza; Vietnam; Voting right act of 1964; White v. Register; Women's rights

Subjects: Adams v Bell; Anna Maria Martel; Dr. Henry Cisneros; Hispanic Americans--United States; Hispanics (United States); Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); LULAC; MALDEF; Plyler v. Doe; Postsecondary education; Public Institutions; Public universities and colleges; Reynaldo Garza Law School; Ulanda Garza; Vietnam; Voting Rights Act of 1964; White v. Register