Junot Diaz and Other Global Writers Condemn Arizona’s “Racist” School Curriculum Law

Tuesday at the Edinburgh World Writers' Conference, writers from all over the world—including Pulitzer Prize novelist Junot Diaz—issued a statement condemning Arizona's House Bill 2281, the law that allowed for the banning of books at Tucson Unified School District  and the dismantling of TUSD's Mexican American Studies program.

 

We, the undersigned writers attending the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference have learned, to our dismay, that the state of Arizona has passed House Bill 2281, which among its other provisions, specifically prohibits, in the public schools, books ‘designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group’. This is being used to ban Latino studies and the dissemination of books written by and about the Latino community. In future this legislation could be used to target any ethnic group and its literatures.

We abhor this racist law and the infringement of the rights of readers and writers. This is a clear case of censorship, which we oppose, and we call upon readers and writers in the US and all over the world to demand the overturn of this law. House Bill 2281 is not just the beginning of a dangerous trend – this is a drastic assault on civil liberties.

Edinburgh, 21 August 2012

Andrey Astvatsaturov

Nick Laird

Ben Okri

Junot Diaz

James Robertson

Ewan Morrison

Xiaolu Guo

Theresa Breslin

Kapka Kassabova

Nicola Morgan

John Burnside

Aonghas Macneacail

Denise Mina

Chika Unigwe

Ian Rankin

Janne Teller

Alan Bissett

Margo Lanagan

Alan Gibbons

Michel Le Bris

Kyung-Sook Shin

Patrick Ness

Kim Thúy

Preeta Samarasan

China Miéville

Bernado Atxaga

Matthias Politycki

Jackie Kay

Keith Gray

Sophie Cooke

Owen Sheers

Carlos Gamerro

Manu Joseph

Garth Nix

Melvin Burgess

Kamila Shamsie

Ali Smith

Yiyun Li

Xi Chuan

Kirsty Gunn

Dag Solstad

José Rodrigues dos Santos

As the US DOE’s Office of Civil Rights Files a Complaint Against TUSD, Tensions Continue to Mount

Last week the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights filed a complaint against the governing board of the Tucson Unified School District, the latest in a series of events that continue to gain national attention, from book bans to Daily Show appearances of TUSD board members.

Photo: Fernanda Echavarri

Here is what the Arizona press is saying about the complaint, as well as a local news segment:

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is investigating TUSD's treatment of Latinos at Governing Board meetings.

A complaint filed against the district alleges that it discriminated against Latinos by attempting to limit their participation at board meetings that have been of particular interest to the Latino community.

It has also been alleged that the Tucson Unified School District discriminated against minority individuals with limited English proficiency by failing to provide them with access to district board meetings, the district's website and board policies. The Tucson Unified School District confirmed Friday that it received the complaint, but said it had been forwarded to outside counsel for review, as is district practice with these type of complaints.

The district had no further comment, said TUSD spokeswoman Cara Rene.

Further details about the allegations, to include who filed the complaint, were not available as the investigation is ongoing, the U.S. Department of Education said Friday. According to the Three Sonorans blog, the complaint was filed by the nonprofit Civil Rights Center Inc., which is headed by Silverio Garcia Jr.

Efforts to reach Garcia on Friday were unsuccessful. Phone numbers associated with Garcia were disconnected and a website connected to the Civil Rights Center of Phoenix did not work.

The tension continues to mount at TUSD, so much so that Three Sonorans founder DA Morales, a fervent critic of the TUSD board, made his first public comments in front of the TUSD board. The video is below, but we shared the following words that Morales said at the end of his remarks:

"You guys are going to go down in history, you know what's going to happen, we've seen this history before, the Office of Civil Rights comes in, this is like the Deep South. And you guys are in charge of it, and you guys are going to go down."

Marjorie Ann Mendez is Coming to Arizona: A Guest Post by Matt Mendez #Librotraficante

GUEST POST By Matt Mendez of Librotraficante.com

I am waiting for Marjorie Ann.  My wife, Marlo, is 7 months pregnant with her. Our soon to arrive daughter is named after her grandmother, my wife’s mother who died just before the start of Marlo’s senior year in high school. I never had the chance to meet the elder Marjorie, but I’ve gotten to know her through the stories Marlo and her family tell. For example I know Marjorie was a free spirit who fearlessly loved her children. Who at Marlo’s high school basketball games, where Marlo was an all-district power-forward, often grabbed the unused pom-poms of bored cheerleaders and led fellow parents in a cheer, and if no other parents joined her, she cheered alone. It was important to Marjorie that Marlo know what unconditional love looked like. When Marjorie died in August of 1994, from colon cancer, the details of her final days are harrowing but again reveal a woman of bravery and grace.

Marjorie’s story is an example of how every moment in a person’s life can create lasting meaning. I have learned from Marjorie’s experiences, but if Marjorie’s life had been made into a book and taught to students of the Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program in Tucson’s Unified School District (TUSD), her story would more than likely be banned because Marjorie was Mexican-American.  

On January 10, TUSD suspended the MAS program and in at least one classroom had books, written primarily by Mexican-American authors, physically removed while a class was in session. In a press release TUSD explained that the books used in the former MAS program had not been banned but instead moved into storage and claimed the “stored” books were available in most of the district’s libraries. TUSD also claimed the curriculum taught in MAS will not be lost but instead added to the general curriculum.

TUSD’s untenable position of inclusion by removal is the doing of current Superintendent for Public Instruction John Huppenthal and his predecessor Tom Horne. Despite TUSD’s weak statement to the contrary the only plausible goal of ARS 15-112, the state law banning ethnic studies, is to suppress the Mexican-American population in Arizona by diluting its history and delegitimizing the native voices of the state. As Native-American writer Sherman Alexie recently pointed out (his works also banned by TUSD): “Let's get one thing out of the way: Mexican immigration is an oxymoron. Mexicans are indigenous…I'm also strangely pleased that the folks of Arizona have officially announced their fear of an educated underclass. You give those brown kids some books about brown folks and what happens? Those brown kids change the world.”

According to the law banning MAS, courses and classes must not promote the overthrow of the United States government. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people. Be designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

In other words, Huppenthal and Horne believe that the MAS program was creating an army of Mexican revolutionaries bent on overthrowing the government. That works of fiction by, Sandra Cisneros, Dagoberto Gilb, Manuel Muñoz and Luis Alberto Urrea (just to name a few), that a coming-of-age story about a young girl in Chicago and of men looking for work and love, of young men discovering their sexuality California’s picking fields and of a boy growing up in the streets of Tijuana, stories as meaningful and instructive as Marjorie’s, are somehow a threat to national security. 

I find it hard to believe that either Huppenthal or Horne actually believe an armed rebellion is marching their way. Instead what Huppenthal and Horne really fear is democratic change. Tom Horne, now Arizona’s attorney general, has been a hardliner against immigrants and immigration for years, accusing “Illegals” of voter fraud and accusing the Obama administration of pursuing the “illegal” vote when the justice department challenged Arizona’s voter ID law. “I think the motive is that the more illegals that vote, the better the Obama administration thinks it will do.”  Huppenthal and Horne are not working to stave off revolution but cynically fomenting a culture of fear in Arizona, fear of immigrants and, as Sherman Alexie accurately points out, of an educated underclass in the hopes of keeping their political power.

Revealingly, neither Huppenthal nor Horne are native Arizonans or from the Southwest—for that matter neither is Governor Jan Brewer (California) or Sheriff Joe Arpaio (Massachusetts). John Huppenthal is from Indiana and Tom Horne from Canada. While both men have lived in Arizona for a number of years, it is clear that neither of them has truly assimilated into the indigenous culture of Arizona. They do not, or do not want to, understand what it means to live on the border. La Frontera is not just a line separating two countries but a space where both cultures coexist. A space where Huppenthal and Horne are the ones actively “promoting resentment toward a race or class of people.”

In 2010 93.6% of students enrolled in the MAS program graduated from high school while a comparison group had only an 82.7% rate. This gap in graduation rates has been consistent since 2005, according to TUSD’s Department of Accountability and Research. Higher graduation rates among MAS students means higher graduation rates for Mexican-Americans, meaning more Mexican-American students will be eligible for and attend college. The success of the MAS program and the changing demographics of the state, of the entire Southwest, mean that soon our governments will reflect this new and better-educated majority. This change will not be the realization of Huppenthal and Horne’s deranged fantasy of government overthrow but instead a democratic choice made by voters who will insist representatives understand the wishes and desires of the people they serve. 

While I am waiting for my daughter to be born I am not waiting to make the schools she will attend better. Like the elder Marjorie I am shaking my pom-poms, working with groups like Save Ethnic Studies, UNIDOS, and the Librotraficantes to end the ban of the Mexican-American Studies program and bring the books by our historians, cultural critics, and literary greats back to our classrooms. When Marjorie Ann Mendez is born, I want her to live in an Arizona where she is not a second-class citizen. Where her culture will proudly be represented in schools like it will be in her home.  I want her to be free to learn about our heritage, our history and our stories just as freely as she will learn about her family, especially the grandmother for whom she was named.

Matt Mendez is a writer and aircraft mechanic. He lives in Tucson.       

TUSD Board Member Adelita Grijalva Speaks: “We Are Banning Books in This District”

It appears that the Tucson Unified School District's decision to no longer teach Mexican American Studies and prohibit certain books from even being taught (essentially a book ban) continues to find resistance from the community.

Two weeks ago, The News Taco reported a detailed piece about a student protest in TUSD against the decision to drop the program. This weekend, the YouTube Channel of The Three Sonorans ran a video of TUSD board member Adelita Grijalva (daughter of US Congressman Raúl Grijalva) sharing her thoughts about the board's decision.

Adelita Grijalva acknowledges that she told the board that "We are banning books in the district."

El Gallito Rebelde And The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Take On HB2281

On Monday, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights expressing "grave concern" over

 the Arizona Revised Statute §§ 15-112 that subsequently banned the TUSD MAS program. In the letter the Congressional Hispanic Caucus urged the Office for Civil Rights to investigate due to "the language of the statute and its targeted application against the MAS program."

Things just got a bit hotter. Today, El Gallito Rebelde Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez announced on his Facebook page he will be joining the Congressional Hispanic Caucus "in protesting Arizona's book ban today." Everyone knows when El Gallito gets involved, he will not stop until he sees results. 

We strongly urge Superintendent John Huppenthal to consider reinstating the MAS program and end this blog with a quote from the CHC letter:

"We believe that A.R.S. §§ 15-112 is bad public policy and fundamentally flawed. Using the law to attack the MAS program, with its proven educational successes, will only serve to exacerbate the already harmful anti-Latino sentiment in Arizona. Arizona is sending the wrong message."