Valley woman fought discrimination as a child and won

There are scars behind Carmen Galbreath's smile.

Even though the Brownsville woman has a lot to be thankful for, a healthy family and successful career in the valley, there's a childhood memory that continues to haunt her.

"They would spank us on our hands and make us stand next to the chalk board for half a day, if we spoke Spanish."

Carmen recalls horrible memories of attending elementary school in the small town of Driscoll.

She was among several other students who were moved from the Mexican only school and integrated with the white population.

Once there, she says Mexican students were forced to stay in first grade for longer than just a year.

"My oldest sister was detained 3 years, the second one was detained 2 years because they didn't speak English. The whole class was detained, not because of their grades but because they were non-English speaking."

Driscoll Elementary is located more than a hundred miles from the valley. In those classrooms is where people remember being forced to remain in the 1st grade for years just because of their ethnicity.

It was 1957, but Carmen remembers it like it was yesterday.

The embarrassment she endured if she dared speak Spanish in class.

Even though she was only 7 years old, she knew she had to speak out in order to save herself from being in the same position as her older sisters.

She testified as part of a federal civil rights lawsuit against Driscoll ISD.

"They kept asking me questions about why they were all in the same grade. I kept telling them that they were detained. They asked why and Itold them why," says Carmen.

"In this case, they put the children on the stand.The district said the reason they were detaining them was because they only knew how to speak Spanish. The attorneys put them on the stand to prove they knew how to speak English," says Enrique Aleman, Jr.

Aleman, Carmen's nephew didn't know what his mom and aunts had suffered until after the death of his mother 10 years ago.

He has since made it his mission to tell their story with a documentary including several of the students who were kept from advancing in grade level.

His mother Lupe, Carmen's sister, took the brunt of the oppression.

She was in lower first grade, then low first and high first.

Her formidable years in elementary school stolen. Lupe didn't graduate high school until she was 20 years old.

Many of the children involved never spoke publicly about it until now.

"The documentary is to validate that history and it's empowering for people and value the history that's in our own community," says Aleman.

The Corpus Christi screening of the documentary is the first in South Texas.

The audience is astounded by the treatment of the students, except for those in attendance who actually lived through it.

"I think it was meant to discourage from very early on, they didn't agree with Brown vs. Board of Education case which made them close the only Mexican school and integrate so since they were forced to integrate they segrerated within the school," says the director.

Several South Texas educators are interested in sharing the film with their students.

"Some of the similar issues with access to bilingual education, also some teachers don't have high expectations of our kids. So I think people can relate to it," says Aleman.

It was a time painful to remember, but Carmen and the others who as children stood up against an entire school district are now proud to tell their story of sacrifice and resilience.

"We went by the school and I got really teary eyed."