Remember Us in Tucson: The Battle Over Ethnic Studies in Arizona

photo courtesy AlterNet / Javier Gonzalez

A close friend and comrade of mine is an educator in Tucson, Arizona. As the battle over multiethnic education wages on, she repeatedly demands, “Remember us in Tucson!” It is imperative that we keep Arizona on our minds; these efforts against ethnic studies are wrapped up in the other major struggle of the southwest: immigration. SB1070, the staunchly anti-immigrant bill, recently reached its one year anniversary; Huffington Post reporter Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto discusses its beginnings as a Tea Party stimulant and its recent defeat, due in part to the economic toll it has cost Arizonians already. DeFrancesco Soto also lists the anti-immigration bills that have been introduced to Arizona in 2011; she states, “The targeting of immigrants from 2010 grew into an assault on their sons and daughters.” To this end, the vehement effort to end ethnic studies comes as no surprise.

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Mexican-American Studies declared illegal in Arizona

My heart is heavy today after reading this Times article by Marc Lacey about the criminalization of Mexican-American studies programs in Arizona and the horrifying news that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from the same state, has been shot.

…Mr. Acosta’s class and others in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American program have been declared illegal by the State of Arizona — even while similar programs for black, Asian and American Indian students have been left untouched.

“It’s propagandizing and brainwashing that’s going on there,” Tom Horne, Arizona’s newly elected attorney general, said this week as he officially declared the program in violation of a state law that went into effect on Jan. 1.

Although Shakespeare’s “Tempest” was supposed to be the topic at hand, Mr. Acosta spent most of a recent class discussing the political storm in which he, his students and the entire district have become enmeshed. Mr. Horne’s name came up more than once, and not in a flattering light.

It was Mr. Horne, as the state’s superintendent of public instruction, who wrote a law aimed at challenging Tucson’s ethnic-studies program. The Legislature passed the measure last spring, and Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law in May amid the fierce protests raging over the state’s immigration crackdown.

In statements like, ‘They are the ones resegregating,’ Horne comes off as ignorant and resentful, but his dismissing of multicultural or multiethnic programming as divisive ‘resegregating’ is hardly original.

The NYT article points out a trend in which rights we gained in the 1960s and 70s are being reversed by increasingly conservative gestures: “A discrimination suit against Tucson’s schools in the 1970s prompted a settlement in which an African-American studies program was created. Later, other ethnic-studies programs were added.” Kudos to Lacey (the author) for ending the article with an open-ended, and worthwhile question, posed by Augustine F. Romero (director of student equity in Tucson schools): “Who are the true Americans here — those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?”

— Kate Wadkins