Jonna PerrilloJul 18, 2022
Educating the Enemy
Teaching Nazis and Mexicans in the Cold War Borderlands
University of Chicago Press 2022
Educating the Enemy: Teaching Nazis and Mexicans in the Cold War Borderlands (U Chicago Press, 2022) begins with the 144 children of Nazi scientists who moved to El Paso, Texas, in 1946 as part of the military program called Operation Paperclip. These German children were bused daily from a military outpost to four El Paso public schools. Though born into a fascist enemy nation, the German children were quickly integrated into the schools and, by proxy, American society. Their rapid assimilation offered evidence that American public schools played a vital role in ensuring the victory of democracy over fascism.
Jonna Perrillo not only tells this fascinating story of Cold War educational policy, but she draws an important contrast with another, much more numerous population of children in the El Paso public schools: Mexican Americans. Like everywhere else in the Southwest, Mexican American children in El Paso were segregated into "Mexican" schools, where the children received a vastly different educational experience. Not only were they penalized for speaking Spanish--the only language all but a few spoke due to segregation--they were tracked for low-wage and low-prestige careers, with limited opportunities for economic success. Educating the Enemy charts what two groups of children--one that might have been considered the enemy, the other that was treated as such--reveal about the ways political assimilation has been treated by schools as an easier, more viable project than racial or ethnic assimilation.
Listen to an interview with the author here and read an interview in Time and a piece based on the book in the Boston Review.