New Mexico is distinguished by being home to a vast Hispano History over every state in the United States of America. New Mexico’s official system of government started in 1598 with Spanish Explorer Juan de Oñate serving as our first governor. The first seat of government and the first government building in the United States is the Palace of the Governors located on the Old Town Plaza in Santa Fe. This building was built in 1610 and served as the home for many governors, generals, colonels, captains and their families.
For several years before statehood, the writing of the New Mexico Constitution began. The primary authors of the New Mexico Constitution were leaders who eventually became governors of our state of New Mexico, and they included Gov. Ezequiel CdeBaca and Gov. Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo. Larrazolo also served as our nation’s first Hispanic U.S. senator.
The writing of our state Constitution was a heavy and arduous task that took years of negotiation, debate and compromise. By 1911, our state Constitution was finally set and agreed upon, and by Jan. 6, 1912, the United States Congress admitted New Mexico as the 47th state in the union.
Our New Mexico Constitution includes two very distinct parts that were heavily litigated in the Martinez/Yazzie landmark case and resulting decision. Section 10 of the Constitution titled Educational rights of children of Spanish descent (says they) “shall forever enjoy perfect equality with other children in all public schools and educational institutions.” The other part is Section 8, calling for “teachers to be qualified to teach English- and Spanish-speaking students in the public schools and educational institutions.”
The Hispano Round Table of New Mexico is a coalition of over 50 Hispano organizations and over 50,000 members statewide. Our coalition includes organizations at the local, state and national level. They include organizations like LULAC, the American GI Forum, MANA, El Centro de La Raza, the Hispanic Bar Association, Hispanic Teachers Association, MALDEF, New Mexico ENLACE, the UNIDOS Project and many more.
In 1998, the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico negotiated a commemorative agreement to capture 400 years of statehood from 1598-1998. This agreement became known as the Hispanic Statement of Cooperation (HSOC). This agreement, with over 32 signatories, agreed to partner in four key areas: education, employment, economic development and cultural celebration. The agreement calls for “parity” equal to the demographics of our state’s population and in accordance with our New Mexico Constitution.
Since then, we have worked diligently in all four areas, and although some progress has been made to this date, we still have not accomplished our goal. This is why, in the year 2009, the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico strongly advocated for the creation of a New Mexico Department of Hispano Affairs. We advocated for this department because not enough progress was made toward our goals of the HSOC, and especially with regard to education and economic development parity.
We were very successful in getting the bill passed (in) the House 49-13 and passed (in) the Senate 35-7. Unfortunately, then-Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed our bill to create this much-needed department. In 2010, we were successful in passing the Hispanic Education Act primarily based on the data we presented during the 2009 legislative session. Still not enough progress was being made, and educational progress for Hispanos, Native Americans and other groups was not being met.
The Hispano Round Table of New Mexico and NM LULAC made national and international news when we called out these disparities in our many press conferences in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Our member organization MALDEF, or the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, responded to our requests to look into this matter. After much research into these disparities, MALDEF agreed to file this lawsuit in April of 2017 seeking to compel New Mexico to provide a sufficient education to English-language learners and at-risk students and injunctive relief under the New Mexico Constitution for students with disabilities.
The decision in Martinez/Yazzie v. New Mexico is the result of work over a century in the making since statehood and very intense work by the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, New Mexico LULAC and our HSOC signatories since 1998. As a result of Judge (Sarah) Singleton’s landmark decision on July 19, we look forward to finally seeing this work come to fruition in our beloved state.