Arcadia Hernández López, pioneering bilingual educator, daughter of Francisco R. Hernández and Arcadia Garza Hernández, was born in Sabinas Hidalgo, Nuevo León, Mexico, on December 21, 1909. The Hernández family emigrated from Mexico to escape the violence of the Mexican Revolution and arrived in San Antonio, Texas, about 1913. López attended Navarro Academy, Lanier Junior High School, and Main Avenue High School (now Fox Technical High School) in San Antonio and later enrolled at Our Lady of the Lake University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education and mathematics in 1934. Afterwards, she earned a master’s in education from the University of Texas at Austin in 1938 and a doctorate from Nova University (now Nova Southeastern University) in Florida in 1976. In 1942 she married Johnny Deleon López. The couple had no children and divorced in 1968.
As a native Spanish speaker, López first became passionate about bilingual education while attending San Antonio’s public elementary schools. Due to her lack of English-language skills and the “sink or swim” English-only approach used by educators at that time, she was repeatedly held back and was even classified as “mentally retarded” by school administrators. She later described the experience as “being lost in a jungle, where I did not understand the teachers, and the teachers did not understand me.”
After receiving her master’s degree, López returned to San Antonio where she worked for the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) for forty-six years; thirty-three as an elementary school teacher at Navarro Academy and Barkley Elementary and thirteen as a supervisor and bilingual programs coordinator. In 1964 López volunteered for an experimental bilingual education program that allowed teachers to briefly utilize Spanish during their normal lessons. After the performance of Spanish-speaking children in her class vastly improved, she was asked to oversee bilingual programs for the entire school district. In this capacity, she developed innovative new lesson plans, curriculum models, and multimedia learning systems for use in bilingual classrooms. After her retirement from SAISD in 1980, López became director of the bilingual training program at Our Lady of the Lake University. She held that position until 1984. She also worked as a consultant for numerous school districts and education agencies, authored textbooks for major publishers such as Harcourt, and petitioned the federal government to adopt nationwide bilingual education guidelines.
During her career, López earned numerous awards and accolades for her work in education. These included the 1980 Woman of the Year Award from Ladies LULAC, the 1993 Ford Salute to Education, the San Antonio Light’s 1990 Woman of the Year, the Headliner Award from the San Antonio Chapter of Women in Communications, and a lifetime achievement award from the San Antonio Association of Bilingual Educators. She was inducted into the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989. In retirement, López spent much of her time volunteering at St. Paul Catholic Church in San Antonio. She was a leading member in the Texas Association for Bilingual Education and also served on the board of directors of the San Antonio Learning Center and Jefferson Outreach, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of senior citizens. In 1992 López published an autobiography entitled Barrio Teacher that covered the many difficult periods of her life such as fleeing revolution in México, the confusion of being an English language learner, and living through the economic crisis of the Great Depression.
López died at her home on January 16, 2007, and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in San Antonio. In her will, she donated $700,000 to the Department of Bilingual-Bicultural Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio to establish the Dr. Arcadia López Endowed Scholarship that aids undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students pursuing certification degrees in bilingual education.