Arcadia Hernández López

(1909-2007)

Bilingual Education Pioneer

Poder del Pueblo

THEME

Education

THEME

Arcadia Hernández López devoted her life to teaching children on San Antonio’s Westside and, in the process, transformed the field of bilingual education. She was born in Sabinas Hidalgo, Nuevo León, Mexico, on December 21, 1909. Her parents, Francisco R. Hernández and Arcadia Garza Hernández, fled the violence of the Mexican Revolution and arrived in San Antonio in 1913. 


As a child López struggled with English-only classes, describing her experience as “being lost in a jungle where I did not understand the teachers and the teachers did not understand me.” However, she persisted in her studies, graduating from Navarro Elementary and then Main Avenue High School. She went to Our Lady of the Lake University and graduated with a degree in education and mathematics in 1934. She then completed her Masters degree in Education at the University of Texas at Austin in 1938. She returned to the Westside, teaching at Navarro Academy and Barkley Elementary for thirty-three years. She married Johnny Deleon López in 1942, and divorced him in 1968. The couple did not have any children.


In 1964 López would begin her work as one of the city’s first bilingual educators. She began participating in an experimental program teaching some of her normal lessons in Spanish. Her Spanish-speaking students were so successful that the San Antonio Independent School District invited her to oversee bilingual programs for the whole district. She continued this work for thirteen years, creating innovative lessons, audiocassette tapes and films. This work would impact hundreds of other bilingual educators, who had few resources or materials to draw from during this time.

"This place we called home was hardly livable, but we made do. It was a two-room structure in a horribly rundown condition in a row of similar dwellings. They were strung together to save space, so as to rent to more people. The corral, or complex, occupied about one-third of a square block, fronting on the first block of San Luis Street and hugging South Laredo on one corner and South Concho at the other corner...[the corral had] three flush toilets and two showers...When I started school, I used the opposite wall to write the words I was learning at school."

— Arcadia H. López, "Barrio Teacher," p. 14

"If I have influenced a person or two to continue their struggle for self-fulfillment, if a few can say truthfully, 'I am a better person because of her,' then I will have lived a worthwhile life.”

— Arcadia López, interviewed by Maria Nora Olivarez 

 

“How much I have lived, seen, and felt. My eyes have focused on the beauty of this world. My ears have listened to its music. My heart to its poetry. My being has sought the grandeur of the human spirit and it has sustained me in need. My hunger and thirst for knowledge and skills are an endless quest.”

— Arcadia López, in the Prologue of Barrio Teacher