Learning about my cultural heritage has now been outlawed in Arizona, where I was born and raised.
On Jan. 10, the K-12 Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) board voted to abide by an outrageous state law that in effect bans Ethnic Studies. A judge had ruled at the end of December that the law applies to a popular Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, also known as Raza Studies, offered in the Tucson school district. The board caved in to state schools superintendent and Tea Partier John Huppenthal and the right wing rather than join students, teachers, and community groups in challenging the law. The days following its decision saw the confiscation or censorship of works by many acclaimed authors, including Dr. Rodolfo Acuña, Sherman Alexie, Winona LaDuke, Junot Díaz, and William Shakespeare.
TUSD students, 60 percent of whom are of Mexican descent, are literally refusing to take this sitting down. On several days over the past few weeks, they have left their seats in the classroom and walked out by the hundreds. They have marched in protest to the TUSD offices, held their own ad hoc ethnic studies teach-ins, and formed a new group for organizing, UNIDOS (United Non-Discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies). And a defiant book-smuggling operation called Librotraficante will caravan forbidden educational fruit to Tucson students in March — including Viva la Raza: A History of Chicano Identity and Resistance, by my Freedom Socialist Party colleagues Yolanda Alaniz and Megan Cornish. These are the same sorts of tactics adopted by student movements of the 1960s and ’70s to win ethnic and gender studies originally, which made the hidden history and contributions of people of color and women visible in the academic landscape for the first time.
The highly effective MAS program is credited with lowering Arizona’s high school dropout rate and increasing college enrollment. These remarkable achievements should have motivated state officials to expand the program. Instead, they are bent on destroying it. Could this be the case precisely because this history is so full of social and political lessons for today?
Along with Stephen Durham, my running mate as the FSP’s presidential candidate, I believe education should not only teach students of all colors their history, but it also should teach them to be critical thinkers who can analyze the source of their oppression and arm themselves with the intellectual tools to end it. This is the “threat” that makes Huppenthal the enemy of MAS. Fortunately, the students are showing a savvy and vitality that, with strong community support, may prove to be more than a match for him and his little gang of anti-immigrant, anti-enlightenment bullies.
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Freedom Socialist Party write-in candidate for vice president Christina López is the organizer for Seattle Radical Women. She has been active for immigrant rights since her teens, when, as a member of the Chicano student group MEChA, she campaigned against passage of a racist English-only law in Arizona. Her running mate for president is Stephen Durham, organizer for the New York City FSP branch based in Harlem.
For more information on the Ethnic Studied ban in Arizona, visit Librotraficante.
The Durham/López campaign launches this week with a candidate Web video, position statements, Facebook at www.facebook.com/VoteSocialism2012, Twitter @VoteSocialism, and featured articles in the Freedom Socialist newspaper. With the help of volunteers, the FSP will be spreading the news and ideas of the campaign widely. The Freedom Socialist 2012 Presidential Campaign Committee is planning for college and other speaking engagements, Skype presentations, fundraisers, and more activities around the country.
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Freedom Socialist 2012 Presidential Campaign Committee
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