Arizona's Attack on Chicano History and Culture Is Against Everyone

When you make more laws, you end up making more lawless.

Raza Studies at the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) - providing literary and historical perspectives on the large Chicano population (they are 60 percent of the TUSD student population), classes that have proven to advance students' learning, and would be legal in most states of the union - is now a criminal enterprise in Arizona.

And this is happening as we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who helped open up a national dialogue on the unheard and how to hear them.

In 2010, Arizona House Bill 2281 outlawed these kinds of classes for purportedly promoting "resentment toward a race or class of people" or "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" or "advocate ethnic solidarity." State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal - a darling of the Tea Party - declared TUSD's Chicano Studies in violation, even against the findings of an independent audit that cost the state $170,000, after a state administrative law judge ruled in December in favor of HB 2281.

You make more laws, you make more lawless.

Huppenthal then threatened to cut around $15 million to TUSD, prompting a school board vote of 4 to 1 to eliminate the classes as of last Wednesday, January 11. Students were greeted at their classrooms that day to find Chicano studies had vanished. And according to a TUSD spokesperson, books by distinguished Chicano, Native American and African American authors and academics such as Rudy Acuna ("Occupied America"), and including renowned historians like Howard Zinn ("A People's History of the United States"), are "to be cleared from all classrooms, boxed up, and sent to the Textbook Depository for storage."

Huppenthal at the time claimed Raza Studies promoted "group think and victim hood."
Yet to Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez, a professor and activist in Arizona, and whose books on indigenous thinking, what he calls "corn-based" philosophy, are among the many to be banned, says Chicanos are not victims if they fight back and push forth the liberating pedagogy that includes everyone.

"The struggle to defend Raza Studies has for the most part been student-led, and their resistance has been amazing," Rodriguez said. "This is an attack specific to Chicano studies, but at its core this act of censorship is a black eye to the U.S. educational system. It is a black eye to the very idea of education because the state and TUSD are attempting to determine what is valid knowledge - what is acceptable and what is unacceptable knowledge. This dangerous precedent gives the message that students are free to learn everything except what the state finds objectionable. This should be a concern to every human being anywhere."


Let's be clear--adequate educational criteria needs to include several important aspects: 1) that information provided be factual and verified; 2) that this knowledge include varied perspectives and ideas; 3) that it be grounded in the historical record as well as vibrate with the experiences and stories of all peoples; 4) and that the content is real and relevant from a literary and educational standpoint to all students.

In such a classroom, even the Tea Party's views would be heard and debated. Why not the Ku Klux Klan's and Hitler's positions? But these should also be enriched with other views that challenge these and add to a student's treasury of learning--those of Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, Maxine Hong Kingston, Elie Wiesel, Leslie Marmon Silko... and many others.

A thriving educational environment allows reality into the curriculum and won't mediate or censor the truth. It is not about the idealized beliefs of a small minority, which the Tea Party is no matter how you look at it. The state has no right to determine what are the "right" ideas and which perspectives to cut out. Teachers who dare to expand the knowledge base of their students by continuing these classes and teaching from these texts can presumably be removed, perhaps even jailed.

That's worse than "group think," that's tyranny.

I can categorically state that Chicano Studies, like any ethnic studies curriculum in the country, is not exclusionist or anti-white. I know because for at least thirty years I've visited hundreds of classrooms in public and private schools as one of the leading Chicano writers and activists in the United States. I know because some forty years ago, I was one of the Chicano students who helped fight for Chicano Studies, for more Chicano teachers, and for other vital segments of the population--be they women, African American, Native American, Asian, Disabled, Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender, the poor and working class--to be understood and accepted in our schools.

None of these classes were "given" to anyone. The struggle to achieve the opening up of our schools had to be organized, planned, and implemented. Hundreds of people and many minds were brought to bear. More than a few lost their lives in these battles. As we all know, U.S. courts got involved in desegregation and other civil rights issues as a result. And Congress and state legislatures had to create meaningful policies to make our schools - all schools - the best for anyone.

Of course, we have a long way to go. Books are still banned throughout the country. Chicano Studies classes are actually nonexistent in most U.S. schools. Drop out rates continue unabated. But we can't take Arizona's example and return to a situation we left a long time ago, and for good reason. We move forward, and that brings in more and more people as we gather up more cultures, histories, stories, and traditions.

Keeping Chicano culture, history and writings out of our schools is simply wrong, especially when Spanish-surnamed people are now 50 million strong, when the United States is already among the top five Spanish-language countries, and when in twenty years this population is slated to become the largest of any.

Outlawing Chicano Studies is to outlaw the truth--and when you do that, there will be a lot of people who will eventually become lawless.