Mary Gonzalez

Representatives of the state legislature discuss the future of Texas at the LBJ Library Wednesday evening. The parties discussed the issues facing the legislature in the 83rd session and answered questions from the audience and a reception followed.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

The issue of public education policy dominated the conversation Wednesday evening at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library where a panel of four members of the Texas Legislature addressed prominent issues facing Texas.  

Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, was the first to spark the debate of public education when the moderator, Brian Sweany, senior executive editor at Texas Monthly, inquired about how she felt in her first session as a representative.

“I think what surprised me is that we haven’t addressed public school finance,” Gonzalez said. “We have asked the governor to make it an emergency item.”

Both Gonzalez and Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, addressed their concern about the dramatic cuts from public education during the previous session. 

“I agree there needs to be a complete overhaul on education,” Gonzalez said. “We need to bring technology into the classroom and a curriculum that engages students.”

While Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, admitted that he was for restoring some of the cuts, he also said that money and government is not the answer, placing emphasis on a comprehensive reform.

“What I’m saying is we need to focus more on alternatives rather than solely looking into money.”

After Gonzalez visited high schools in the El Paso district and informed them of the $5.4 billion cut, she said she could see the look of awe in their faces.

“Why would they want to engage in a system that they feel has let them down?” Gonzalez asked. 

Audience members were also part of the discussion. Joanne Richards, former assistant dean of the College of Pharmacy, said students have different interests, motivations and excitements.

“So the question becomes how do you provide excitement and curiosity and teach them things they don’t want to learn?” Richards said.

Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, also sat on the panel. Texas Monthly and the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs hosted the event. 

All four representatives said there was a change in tone from last Legislation when Sweany asked about partisanship. Strama and Villalba said legislators started a new tradition of wearing purple on Thursdays, as a symbol of harmony.

“My good friend Ron Simmons came up with the idea,” Villalba said. “There was a desire to come together and we all want to make this state stronger and better.”

College of Education junior, Daniella Torres, participates in a trivia game at Celebracion de Independencias in the Student Activity Center Thursday evening. The event celebrated the nine Latin American countries that gained their independence in September.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

Students celebrated the independence of nine Latin American countries Thursday night with music, food and an address from a Texas representative during the fifth annual Celebracion de Independencias.

The celebration was hosted by the Student Events Center’s Mexican American Culture Committee, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. and Lambda Theta Phi Fraternidad Latina, Inc. At the event, various organizations provided cultural information about each country and offered free tamales, rice and beans to students who went to three or more tables. State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, spoke on the importance of education and political involvement in the Latino community.

The Latino Leadership Council also provided voter registration sheets for the event. Belize, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua all won their independence during the month of September. Most became independent in the early 19th century, while Belize became independent in the late 20th century.

“We are here to celebrate and recognize our countries of origin and their independence,” Gonzalez said. “We have to remember the power of community, the power of revolution and the power of resistance. This reminds us we have a revolutionary history. The legislative session begins in January, so think about the bills y’all want to offer. I’ll offer y’all bills or, better yet, fight bills.”

Gonzalez said the contacts she made in Latin American organizations as a student at UT were some of the first donors to her political campaigns.

“This celebration brings the community together as ‘familia,’ for you to think what you are doing for the world and what your organization is doing for the world,” Gonzalez said.

Mexican American Culture Committee chair Yadira Ramos Luna said the celebration was planned with performances by local Latin American musical and dance groups.

“All the organizations that said they would be here came even though it rained and were really accommodating,” Luna said. “I had to cancel some of the performers, but Marimba Tropical came out and played a few songs outside when it was raining before taking everything down.”

League of United Latin American Citizens’ UT chapter secretary Karen Grimaldo said this was her second time at the independence celebration.

“League of United Latin American Citizens is a political organization [that] focuses on changing policy,” Grimaldo said. “We like to come to these events and meet people and other Latino groups. We are looking forward to a similar event for Dia de los Muertos, with the music and dances.”

Celebrated in November, Dia de los Muertos commemorates ancestors and life with various celebrations and traditions.

Printed on Friday, September 14, 2012 as: Festival celebrates independence