In the past year, Texas has become a favorite target of highly partisan, emotion-fueled school censorship and book-banning campaigns. Long assumed to be a Democrat stronghold, South Texas is now a battleground region, and young people, particularly Latina/o youth, have once again become the target of fear and concern. As of 2021, people of color made up 95% of the state’s growth, with Latinos being the largest non-white group. This means that half of Texas youth under 18 are Latino/a.
As noted by political scientist Regina Branton, Latina/os tend to vote Democrat in the early immigrant generations when their experience of exclusion is fresh. The growth of Latina/o youth does not bode well for conservatives, especially if they are eligible or eventually become eligible to vote. The same is true for their parents. At a 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference meeting, Trump called any legalization program a “suicide mission” for his party since this could give political edge to Democrats.¹
To counter the political effects of a growing Latino population in Texas, the Conservative movement and propagandists are using at least four strategies: 1) limit the growth of the Latina/o voting population through inhumane and restrictive immigration policies, 2) swarm Latina/o adults with political ads and mass disinformation to activate the more conservative end of the Latina/o political spectrum, which can be moved by conservative Christianity, homophobia, anti-Blackness, the distrust of government, and the inter-generational fear of communism, 3) continue to use procedural rules, politically-motivated redistricting, and voter suppression to extend white minority rule in the state for as long as possible. And more recently, 4) commandeer the educational system to criminalize even modest attempts at diversity, equity, and inclusion. The goal here is to maximize the possibility that conservatives can woo young Latina/o, black, and Asian-American voters, while shielding the predominantly white children of conservative parents from information that might help them question their own parents’ home-grown, and often very real, indoctrination.
When I taught at a community college in Baytown, TX, children of conservative parents often told me: “Mr. Lara, I may not agree with everything we discuss, but I appreciate that in this class, I at least get to say what I think.”
“You don’t get that at home?” I would sometimes ask and receive a slow and careful nod as if an angry and ever-present parent was watching them.
This ever-present surveillance is quickly becoming a reality. The Freedom Foundation of Texas (FFOT), a far-right political group that has set out to make war with historical truth and critical thinking, is alarmed by a growing acceptance among youth of what they believe to be horrendous ideas: collective care and social safety nets, otherwise known as democratic socialism. The FFOT website cites, not surprisingly, victimsofcommunism.org to note that 50% of young Texans believe that the government should provide work for people who can’t find a job or that 39% of Gen Z’ers say there should be a universal basic income. A more credible Gallup poll from 2018 suggests that 51% of millennials feel positively about socialism, a percentage noted since 2010.
Rather than view these shifts as an example of growing empathy among youth, the right wing sees them as an existential threat to what they believe is the core of the US soul, laissez-faire capitalism, or what they call “freedom.”² In a clear response to the mass support that youth gave to the Bernie Sanders campaign, the George Floyd protests, anti-racist education, the freedom and dignity of LGBTQIA+ people, and the mutual aid movements of the pandemic and the Great Texas Freeze, the political right has re-dedicated itself to casting all philosophies of collective care outside the pale of permissible thought, particularly in a field that they still largely control – Texas public schools.