HISTORICAL LANDMARKS Dr. James Ramirez
What were the major school reforms Dr. Ramirez and others worked on to improve education
for Latino/a students?
Jim Ramirez: Perseverance and Service
Research compiled by: Jason K., Vanessa M-G., Jailene T.
South High Magnet School, founded in 1901, is located at 4519 S. 24th Street in South Omaha. Dr. Ramirez graduated from South High in 1952. While attending South, Dr. Ramirez faced a lot of discrimination. Across the country, teachers and administrators would push Mexican-American students into the working world instead of attending college. As a result of the advice he received from his counselor, Dr. Ramirez worked in the packing plants after high school. Despite these challenges, Dr. Ramirez went on to take night classes at college for eighteen years to earn his bachelor’s degree, and he eventually earned his Ph.D. Dr. Ramirez did not like facing discrimination at South nor did he like being pushed out by the counselors. Because of his experiences, he decided to stay in Omaha and to help the community and improve education.
Although not personally involved or aligned with the Chicano Movement, Dr. Ramirez and activists of the Chicano Movement had parallel goals for improving the community and education. He thought that it would be better for the school to have more Mexican-American teachers and bilingual education. He wanted more Mexican-American teachers to work in schools throughout all of Omaha. He also wanted Mexican and Mexican-American history taught in the classroom because he wanted people to know where they were from. Dr. Ramirez helped the community by improving education because students were allowed to look at the world differently; they made their parents and themselves proud, had more self-confidence as individuals. and pride in their community. Dr. Ramirez’s experience at South High School motivated him to make improvements in education. His success in creating programs to support minority students and recruit both Latino and African American teachers and administrators demonstrated how he lived out his philosophy, “never give up.”
Because of his high school experience at South, he was motivated to fight for these changes, and he made the community a better place by not giving up.
Photo Courtesy of dataomaha.com
In the late nineteenth century through the twentieth century, the stockyards and the meatpacking industry grew rapidly in Omaha. One of the plants was Nebraska Beef, where Dr. Ramirez, his father, and many other immigrants from their community worked. At the plant, workers performed the dangerous tasks of driving the animals, slaughtering them, butchering them, and packaging the meat.
The growth of the plants would not have been possible without industrialization and the growth of the railroads, which made transportation faster. The railroads were important to the meatpacking plants because they transported the meat; newly invented refrigerated rail cars were also vital for the packing industry because the meat had to be kept cold. Many immigrants were coming to the United States for jobs. In Omaha, the immigrants mainly worked at the meatpacking plants and the railroads.
After graduating from South High Magnet, Dr. Ramirez started working in the meatpacking plants with his father because counselors and teachers had told him college was not really for him, a common message to students of color. Working at Nebraska Beef, he realized he did not want to be working there his whole life like his father. He wanted to go to Omaha University (now known at UNO), but he was told people like him, meaning Mexican-Americans, did not belong in college; therefore, he kept working at the packing plants. This experience is significant to Dr. Ramirez because if he had not worked at the meatpacking plants, he would not have realized how hard his father workednor would he have been inspired to make something more out of himself. He kept working in the daytime and going to school in the nighttime. His experience being pushed out of schools and working in the meatpacking plants made him want to help others so they would have more options than he did.
Photo By: Gabriel Gutiérrez 2015
This document is a statement of purpose produced by the Mexican-American Advisory Committee, chaired by Dr. Ramirez, for the Chancellor of UNO in 1972. The Committee was formed to address problems common to minority students at the time, such as low enrollment rates, discriminatory advising, and a lack of minority representation in the faculty. The document was made to express the Mexican-American Advisory Committee’s goals. The committee planned to list what the Mexican-American community needed. Then, they created programs to help address those needs and make sure that the programs worked. By joining together with the University, Dr. Ramirez was able to achieve his goals of getting more minority teachers in the school and helping his community through the education of the students. This document shows that Dr. Ramirez was more about action instead of just talking. Dr. Ramirez thought education was important and that Mexican-Americans were treated poorly and denied opportunities in schools. Dr. Ramirez changed the university by putting more Mexican-American teachers and administrators in the school, which made the university friendlier to Mexican-American students and gave them more opportunities in education.
Photo: Statement of Purpose, Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Mexican-American Affairs. Courtesy of University of Nebraska Omaha Archives at the Univerity of Nebraska at Omaha Criss Library.
Even after the 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Mexican and Mexican-American students continued to be subjected to racial discrimination, vocational tracking, punishment for speaking Spanish in the classroom, and courses that ignored or glossed over their place in the history of the United States. In addition, there was a dearth of Mexican or Mexican-American teachers or administrators. The Chicano Movement took up these issues in the post-Brown era.