Why Tucson Matters

by Betsy Gomez

Last year, the state of Arizona passed HB 2281, a controversial bill that resulted in the termination of the highly praised Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Independent School District. The program was ended despite an independent audit that advocated for its continuation.

Last week, TUSD released a list of books that would be removed from classrooms and put in indefinite storage. The banned books included contributions from a virtual who’s who of Mexican American and Native American authors and artists:

Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Rodolfo Acuña
Rethinking Columbus: The next 500 Years, Bill Bigelow
Critical Race Theory, Richard Delgado
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire
Message to AZTLAN, Rodolfo Gonzales
500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, Elizabeth Martinez (ed.)

These aren’t the only books that TUSD has banned. The American Indian in Children’s Literature blog has a more comprehensive list of the banned books, including responses from some of the authors. Sherman Alexie’s response via Twitter is telling:

With the ban on ethnic studies, Arizona is now officially practicing American Apartheid.

When CBLDF announced earlier this week that it had joined a coalition of national organizations in writing a letter against Tucson’s censorship of books by Mexican American and Native American authors, some of you may have been wondering why CBLDF joined this particular fight. The list of banned books doesn’t include comics, so why did CBLDF sign on?

The fact is, any school system that is willing to ban books based on the ethnicity of their creators is just as likely to ban comic books for the same reason. If images of works by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, or other Chicano artists can be banned (as was done with the removal of 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures), it doesn’t seem so far fetched that works by the Hernandez Brothers would become part of TUSD’s censorship spree.

CBLDF and the coalition it joined in defense of the banned books aren’t alone in their protest. Jeff Biggers at the Huffington Post wrote an article about a teach-in staged at schools across the nation, citing the letter that CBLDF signed. Participating schools taught lessons from the banned MAS program. Biggers spoke to a former MAS teacher about the teach-in:

“The national outpouring of support has been amazing and this website, this movement of solidarity, is proof of this,” said former Mexican American Studies literature teacher Curtis Acosta. “It is humbling to think of the hard work that our friends across the country have produced to keep our story and program alive in the minds and hearts of so many people. I believe the tide is turning due to the deplorable enforcement of the law by our district. Now it is clear what the agenda was truly about — banning books, censoring teachers, rolling back the decades of civil rights and equality all to appease the desires of egocentric politicians. The love and respect from fellow educators and citizens will lift the hearts of our students during these dark days. Now they will know that they are not alone.”

You can read the rest of Biggers’ article here. University of Arizona assistant professor Roberto “Dr. Cintli” Rodriguez, PhD, wrote a fascinating analysis of the censorship here.

Censorship is a slippery slope. If one book can be banned, then any book can be banned.

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Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF.