From the ALA’s Banned Books Week timeline:
In 2012, under threat of violating state law and losing state funding, the Tucson (AZ) Unified School District voted to cut its Mexican American Studies (MAS) program. “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and numerous other books affiliated with the MAS program were found in violation, removed from the curriculum, and stored in district storehouses. Freire’s seminal work, published in 1968 and translated into English in 1970, challenges traditional relationships between teachers and students, calling for an educational environment where learners are not treated as empty vessels for information but rather are respected as active participants in the learning process.
In April, Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal sat down with racist Tuscon school board member Michael Hicks for some candid insight into the board’s decision that has to be seen to be believed. “My concern was a lot of the radical ideas that they were teaching in these classes,” Hicks said. “Telling these kids that this is their land, the whites took it over, and the only way to get out from beneath the gringo, which is the white man, is by bloodshed.” When asked about his specific observations of this pedagogy in action, Hicks admitted, “I chose not to go to any of their classes. Why even go? Why even go? I based my thoughts on hearsay from others.”
Following the firing of the Mexican American Studies director Sean Arce, the Zinn Education Project awarded Arce the Myles Horton Education Award for his leadership in “one of the most significant and successful public school initiatives on the teaching of history in the U.S.” As Zinn Education Project co-director Bill Bigelow said in the press release:
Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program gets it absolutely right: Ground the curriculum in students’ lives, teach about what matters in the world, respect students as intellectuals, and help students imagine themselves as promoters of justice. I’m thrilled that the Zinn Education Project is able to honor the work of Sean Arce by recognizing him with the first Myles Horton Award for Teaching People’s History. Mr. Arce has begun work that we hope will be emulated by school districts throughout the United States.
Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita, Language, Literacy, and Culture, at the School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst noted:
At a time when students, particularly students of color, are accused of being apathetic about education, Sean Arce, a teacher and director of the Ethnic Studies program of the Tucson Unified School District, refutes this claim loudly and beautifully. Given the widespread mean-spirited and false attacks on the program from right-wing politicians who have resisted even visiting the program, Sean Arce stands out as an educator who speaks truth to power. He has inspired young people to love, to pursue their dreams, and to work for the betterment and uplift of their communities. As one young man in the film Precious Knowledge so beautifully said, ‘This space saved me.’ Sean Arce’s work is a welcome antidote to the cynicism about young people and a testament to the power of education.
Racism is about power. About oppressing somebody through institutions, institutions of control. What we’re dealing with is institutional racism, the legacy of institutional racism. So Tom Horne sees Mexican American knowledge, history, our literature, as threats to Eurocentric knowledge. And because it counters that very source of knowledge and what we’re doing is trying to integrate more holistic and more comprehensive knowledge forms into our school system for the benefit for all of our students, he simply disregards it and again implements his fear-mongering and says that we’re racist. In no way would we replicate a paradigm that exists in our school systems in which particular groups of students are marginalized, because there are indeed racist practices and policies within our school system.
Racism is about control and marginalization and dehumanization of a group of people. In no means are we being that. Our pedagogy, our curriculum, is about rehumanization, about race as a social construct. And it’s about not replicating this paradigm. The real question we have to ask is, what type of power do certain groups of people wield against certain groups of people?
Huppenthal has compared us to Nazis, to Hitler Youth, which is also very offensive, and there’s a real distortion, a real twisting of historical circumstances. It’s horrific and what it is is the further dehumanization and demonization of Latinos in the state of Arizona.
In an effort to neutralize the radical opposition to the MAS ban, the TUSD has implemented a new multicultural program overseen by Maria Figueroa, which avoids the exploration of ethnic identity and cultural history that were the foundation of the former program, and the reason for its enormous popularity. The New York Times reports:
Instead of classes about historical realities and the everyday experiences of Mexican-Americans, once a hallmark of the department, Ms. Figueroa’s program will offer tutoring to Hispanic students who are teetering on the edge of failure. In place of discussions about race and identity, it will recruit mentors from among Hispanic business leaders and college graduates to talk to students.
Nevertheless, the ban has inspired a movement to defend marginalized histories from suppression and to expand intellectual freedom. As Arce points out:
Another promising result of this anti-Mexican, this anti-Latino legislation has been that it’s really organized our community. Our community is more assertive, politically active, organizing, getting out in the community. We are participating in electoral politics, getting people in office who are responsive to the needs of our communities. So in that sense we’re very optimistic. Our communities have been struggling with this for the past six years. People at the state level, people at the district level thought this issue was going to go away once our program was deemed as violating the law. But what has in fact happened is it’s had an opposite effect. Our youth are highly engaged, are highly committed to fight for social justice, to fight for equality. And that’s great. Typically youth of color are seen as apathetic in this country. They’re seen as not caring about education, not caring about political processes. But youth in our community have demonstrated that these are very important issues for them.
It’s tragic, yet at the same time, we’re very fortunate that we have such a close-knit community that youth and elders are able to organize together, to dialogue together. The youth are not future leaders, they are current leaders, they’re courageous. It’s just unfortunate we can’t say that about our public officials, or our school board, or local school administrators.
To counteract the effects of Arizona’s educational suppression, author Tony Diaz co-founded Librotraficante, which began as a bus tour donating hundreds of banned books to students in six cities and continues this year with the Librotraficante 50 States of Freedom of Speech campaign, billed as “The Largest Hispanic Heritage Month Observation in the Nation.” Diaz writes in the official press release, “Arizona banned Mexican American History. We decided to make more. Arizona officials confiscated books near and dear to our hearts from class rooms — we’re spreading them across the country.”
More from Librotraficante:
Arizona legislators tried to erase our history. So we decided to make more.
When Arizona House Bill 2281 was used to ban Mexican American Studies, we decided to take a stand. What started as the Librotraficante Caravan to Smuggle Banned Books Back to Tucson has blossomed into a movement. In March of 2012, we organized 6 cities, smuggled over 1,000 books donated from all over the country, and opened 4 Under Ground Libraries.
The Librotraficante movement is the tip of the pyramid. It stands on the base created by its parent organization Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, founded by novelist Tony Diaz. NP has been promoting Latino literature and literacy in Houston, Texas since 1998. In that time, we have worked with most of the authors whose work was banned by the Tucson ISD. The writings of our most beloved authors form the base of our movement.
Currently Arizona House Bill 2281 has been used to make only our history illegal; however, these anti-intellectual laws, like Arizona’s anti-immigration laws shall spread too. Although, right now only Mexican American Studies is outlawed, Arizona House Bill 2281 will pave the way to outlaw Asian Studies as well as African American Studies, not just in Arizona, but in other states as well.
We must not allow that to happen.