Thursday, January 19, 2012

Arizona's 'banned' Mexican American books

First, the Tucson school district came for the Mexican American studies
program. Now, it's come for its books

Roberto Cintli Rodriguez 

A book 'banned' by the Tucson school district in Arizona

A book 'banned' by the Tucson school district in Arizona
Cover detail from one of the books on the Mexican American studies program
'banned' by TUSD. Photograph:

In the aftermath of the suspension of the Tucson Unified School District's
Mexican American studies department, TUSD has confiscated and continues to
confiscate MAS teaching materials. Besides artwork and posters etc, that
includes books. This move came in response to an unconstitutional measure,
HB 2281, which was specifically created to dismantle the highly successful
MAS-TUSD department.

Amid a massive backlash, TUSD officials have backpedaled, claiming that the
confiscation of the books that took place after the 10 January MAS
suspension does not constitute a banned books list. While TUSD claims that
only seven book titles were ordered boxed and carried off, the fact is that
the confiscation – in some cases, in front of the students – involved more
than the seven titles. But the seven books that are "not banned" (but merely
"confiscated") are:

Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic
500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez
Message to Aztlán, by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement, by F Arturo
Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuña
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelow

The MAS-TUSD curriculum comprises some 50 books. All have been or are being
removed or confiscated from every classroom; teachers are being told to turn
in the books that have not been "confiscated". This might strike the average
person as odd: it's as if the presence of these books inside classrooms
constitutes a distraction or bad influence. Apparently, students should not
be able to even see those books in the classrooms.

Officially, the 50 books (listed at the end of the independent Cambium
report ( which
actually gave the MAS-TUSD program a big thumbs up and recommended that it
be expanded) are not banned. But it could be said that their apparent status
is now that of "undocumented books".

As a result of the banning of the MAS program, there has been much unrest.
One action involved a walkout and march from Cholla High School to the TUSD
headquarters, a distance of five miles. When the marchers reached TUSD
headquarters, they were met by several bureaucrats, including administrator,
Lupita Garcia, an opponent of the MAS program who oversees the district's
ethnic studies programs. She unabashedly told the students that racism has
nothing to do with color and that Mexico is where Mexican studies is taught,
not America!

This was, of course, inaccurate: what was suspended by HB 2281 was Mexican
American studies, not Mexican studies. When students asked why European
studies has not been banned, nor any other area studies discipline, the
administrators had no response. And regarding the issue of this being
America, apparently this administrator believes that Mexican Americans don't
belong in America (as she presumably meant the United States).

In a development typical of Arizona, the students who walked out on
Thursday, protesting the elimination of the district's Mexican American
studies program, have – without a hearing – been directed to perform
janitorial duties this Saturday: an amazing message, right out of Newt
Gingrich's playbook (he has been campaigning in the GOP presidential
nomination race, proposing the idea that students should be hired as
janitors to teach them a work ethic). Apparently, TUSD administrators are
paying attention.

The further message of this punishment, then, appears to be that the state
and the district do not want students to study Mexican American studies, but
they do want them to clean toilets. Perhaps, Gingrich should consider
relocating to Arizona, where his message is being fully embraced.

While the issue of which books are banned, or "not banned" but confiscated,
continues to be sorted out, more unrest can be expected. Widespread
condemnation has been swift – to the point that TUSD officials are not only
claiming that they do not have a banned books list but even that they have
not eliminated MAS; they are simply in the process of "improving" it.

Rodriguez, Dr. Cintli, can be reached at or:

* Please free to link to the Guardian and write a letter to the editor as
many letter writers think the same as the opponents of MAS in Arizona. Also,
since I'm off the grid, please feel free to post on FaceBook, Spacebook or
any other book. Thanks 

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