“States should, when appropriate, take measures in the field of education to encourage knowledge of the history, traditions. language and culture of the minorities existing within their territory.”
– The United Nations: “Declaration of the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.” (December, 1992)
The implementation of the Arizona law HB 2281 has now permitted the banning and elimination of the Mexican-American Studies Program at the Tucson School District. The use of selective discrimination did not eliminate the District’s African-American or Native-American Studies Programs. This Mexican-American Studies ban includes the outlawing of certain courses, books, authors and ideas that the state of Arizona and the Tucson School Board believe are dangerous and “un-American”. This book-banning and censorship is reminiscent of the repressive 1950′s McCarthyist period when any dissenting ideas, writers and books were black-listed. With the disbanding of Mexican-American Studies at the TUSD, students are now forbidden to voluntarily take courses that pertain to Chicano history,culture and literature, nor discuss in a classroom setting the ideas of other ethnic authors that enhance a student’s pride, self-esteem and their development of a broad and positive world outlook. State Superintendent of Education John Huppenthal threatened the Tucson School District with the loss of millions of dollars in funding if they did not carry out this undemocratic purge of ideas and educational courses. The cowardly Tucson Board voted 4-1 to capitulate to this racially-charged and unjust demand to eliminate Raza Studies rather than wage a legal and just battle in court. The newly banned books and writers in this witch hunt include essays, stories and poetry by nationally known Chicano and Latino authors. Other works that were banned include the 20 year-old award winning book “Rethinking Columbus” which features an essay by award-winning Native-American writer Leslie Silko, and the Brazilian writer Paolo Freire. Even William Shakespeare has been designated as “subversive” by Arizona officials as his play “The Tempest” was also banned by this inquisition of the Arizona Reich. What is so dangerous about these writings and ideas that have caused such fear among Arizona’s officials? “Rethinking Columbus” presents a different perspective on the exploration of the Americas by Columbus and the subsequent colonization by Spain, while Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” has long been used in universities and educational programs as a proposed methodology on how to educate poor and disenfranchised people. Shakespeare’s crime according to Arizona’s inquisitors is that “The Tempest” dared to depict the harsh colonial treatment of Native-Americans by English settlers. Other banned books were “500 Years of Chicano History in Photos”, “Chicano: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement”, “Occupied America”, and the poetry of various authors. Even the coming-of-age story “House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros is on the forbidden list. The danger that Arizona officials perceive in these works is that young people will actually learn to think critically and view the world and their lives in an all-sided manner. This is an attack on academic and artistic freedom as this book-banning edict by these authoritarian officials is a narrow and elitist attempt on their part to decide what is good for people’s minds and what is not.
A racist campaign of undemocratic laws, harassment and censorship.
This new ideological onslaught against universal ideas, cultural and literary legacies, and the facts of history, is a consciously planned attack against the basic human rights of Chicanos in Arizona and theirright to freedom of speech, thought and artistic creativity. This present anti-Latino campaign being waged by Arizona officials is comprised of three parts: political, legal and ideological. Politically, the repressive law SB 1070 that allows the continued racial profiling, harassment and intimidation of Latinos is strongly supported by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and will soon be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite objections to a part of this law by a lower federal court, the unlawful practices condoned by this law continue to be carried out by Arizona police authorities led by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The ideological aspect of this anti-Latino campaign is the law encompassed in HB 2281 which was approved by the state legislature and recently upheld by an Arizona court. These political and legal provisions have allowed the banning of the Mexican-American Studies Program and the ideological and systematic censoring and purging of courses, books and ideas by the state’s schools chief John Huppenthal and the Tucson school board. All of these actions are part of a pattern of political, legal and ideological persecution that is being unleashed upon the state’s Latino population. This state-sponsored discrimination is both physical and mental as it prevents the democratic and free movement of people as well as their right to read freely and to think and critically discuss the validity of different ideas and perspectives. What is next in this repressive campaign by the officials of the Arizona Reich, forcing people to wear armbands with Mexican flags on them and the burning of books which they disapprove of? Much of this blatant state-wide violation of civil rights, racial discrimination and mind control, has not been deterred by the authorities of the federal government nor cited as a violation of federal civil rights statutes. Thus, the traditional white supremacist oligarchy of Arizona feels free to do whatever it wants to in order to impede the progress of Latinos and keep itself in power by maintaining the economic, political and ethnic status quo.
This attack against democratic rights is fueled by a change in demographics.
The underlying root of this wave of repressive actions and atmosphere
in Arizona are the demographic changes that have occurred in that state as the
The clash of opposing ideas must be proven correct in the real world.
The physical attempt to ethnically “cleanse” Arizona is now being followed by an ideological cleansing of ideas, cultural concepts and historical facts. Historical amnesia and the white-washing of objective facts are being mandated by state officials with the outlawing of certain historical works in the schools in order to maintain an outdated colonial and national-chauvinist perspective.The criminalizing of certain ideas, literary content, the method of critical analysis and of different points of view by state officials, are all part of an effort by them to impose a distorted and undemocratic perspective of society and of the world on the people of that state. These methods were previously utilized in fascist Germany during the 1930′s to enforce a national-chauvinist world view on Germans and during the period of apartheid in South Africa in order to subjugate blacks in that country. Any attempt by government authorities to divide and control people is always made easier by denying them any knowledge of their identities and history. The government of Arizona cannot outlaw and eliminate ideas forever as people want to know the truth and history has shown that they will struggle fiercely to achieve this yearning. This is a struggle that is intensifying between the old-world view of Arizona’s officials and their state-enforced ideology, and the progressive ideas and broader perspectives that they are attempting to castigate and ban. To determine which of these two opposing ideologies and world views are correct can only be proven in the real world by hard facts, people’s experience and by their social practice. This is the only criterion of truth and not the anti-democratic methods used by these inquisitors of the Arizona Reich. We must never be afraid to engage in an open clash of ideas and facts as it is through this type of ideological struggle that correct and truthful ideas will eventually flourish, while toxic and distorted ones such as those of Arizona’s regressive power structure will ultimately perish as they do not correspond to people’s present-day lives and concrete needs, and are objectively on the wrong side of history. As the old saying goes, “facts are stubborn things”, and they will not disappear despite desperate attempts by Arizona officials to remove them from history.
This repression of basic human rights will ultimately create resistance.
What is occurring in Arizona is another chapter in the long road of human history and its lessons that it teaches us. Throughout this extensive history that stretches from exploited Roman slaves to feudal serfs, and tocertain oppressed national minorities of today, there is an on-going historical law which states that whenever people have been repressed, the result has eventually been resistance on their part and a progressive step forward. While the white-supremacists of Arizona are in political ascendance at the moment, it is only a temporary phenomenon that cannot last as it is built upon a weak foundation of injustice and fear. On the other hand, the forces of progress in Arizona are temporarily weak and lacking sufficient political power, but they will eventually rise up and break free from this repressive situation. This will not happen spontaneously and requires planning and organization. To counter this anti-democratic campaign in Arizona, there is a need for national and state Latino civil rights groups to unite with community and student organizations, university intellectuals and labor groups, into a united front of resistance. This should be broadened out even further by allying with other minority and progressive organizations. The unifying objective must be to defend and expand the democratic right to know and study one’s history, culture and language, and the right to physically move about freely without the threat of police harassment and punishment. Unless such a united front resists this growing campaign by Arizona’s white supremacist power structure, then all ethnic studies programs and socially relevant books and works of art will ultimately be banned by these same Arizona officials and others similar to them. We either come together and fight back or we will be picked off one-by-one by well-funded bigots such as these. Giving up is not an option as people have a right to self-determination. The sparks of resistance need to be fanned and turned into a strong movement that will cause this unjust system to crumble. This banning of courses, books and ideas in Arizona is but a temporary defeat, as Joe Hill, the fabled labor organizer once stated as he lay dying, “Don’t waste time mourning, organize!”