This really changed the attitude of a lot of Latinos about the system.: Becoming Minnesotan

José Trejo and family, 1985. Minnesota Historical Society.

We Are Here

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Essential Question

We Are Here: What does it mean to this immigrant group to be here in America?

Contributions: How is America better off because of this group of immigrants?

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Background Information

Child immigrants often have a difficult time in school, especially when they don’t speak the language and are placed directly into English speaking classrooms with no additional help. They often begin to fall quickly behind. Many schools have taken steps, with encouragement from immigrant communities, to provide assistance and services to immigrant children to help them succeed in school.

To learn more about Latino history and culture, visit our Latino Community page.

  • Chapter 1

Download José Trejo 6
3:11 Minutes | 3.06Mb


Narrator: José Trejo (JT)

Interviewer: Lorena Duarte (LD)

JT: The biggest thing I got involved while I was at the Chamber [St. Paul Chamber of Commerce] in the Latino community was the lawsuit that was filed against the St. Paul school system for not educating Latinos.

LD: And when was this?

JT: 1976. Here’s what happened: in 1975 or thereabouts, we had already been talking about bilingual education. It was a new concept at that time, and, you know, people were opposed it, and all that.

LD: Sure.

JT: We started working on that, and then we found out that Latino children who were tested in English were not passing the tests, so they were relegated to special education classes, which was, you know, not correct.

LD: Right.

JT: They were not really learning what they needed to learn. So some parents began to complain, about what happened. We went to explore the possibility of what we could do to work with the St. Paul school system. Now, up to that time, I had already worked with the St. Paul school system on other programs. We went to them and went to a board meeting, and we presented a request for $25,000 to do an evaluation of Latino students to see if they had been properly placed and to generate some programs within the school system that would help the Latino children catch up. Okay? That was our proposal. We were willing to just have the cost paid for, because we needed to bring in outside experts and that was going to cost us $25,000. We made the presentation and we were turned down. At exactly the same time, a group of Highland High School parents came to the school board and made a presentation for a ski program for students for $28,000, and they got it.

This galvanized the community. People just were irate. That galvanized the community. Everybody got together and a lawsuit was prepared. And it was filed, the lawsuit was filed, and then a group of people, Latinos, went to the school administration and served the lawsuit. They didn’t want anybody else to serve it, just themselves. I was not part of that group, but they served the lawsuit. I was elected as a spokesperson for the whole thing. I was not at the Spanish Speaking Council yet. The lawsuit was filed. The school system decided to fight it. It dragged on for three years. And then we won. We won everything! It ended up costing them far more than $25,000 we were asking for to work with them to do it. This really changed the attitude of a lot of Latinos at that time about the system.

Related Glossary Terms


Adjective: Having the ability to speak two languages.


Noun:  An idea; an understanding; a generalization.


Noun: A study or test of something.


Verb: To shock or stimulate into sudden activity. (galvanizes, galvanizing, galvanized)


Adjective: Very angry.


Noun: A suggestion or plan.


Noun: To remove or dismiss to a less important place. (relegates, relegating, relegated)

special education

Noun: educational services designed for students with learning difficulties, mental health problems, or other disabilities.


Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
nid: 2195