Tucson School District Blocks Renowned Chicana Author’s Visit

by Betsy Gomez

Since ending the acclaimed Mexican American Studies program, the Tucson Independent School District has done little to ameliorate the outcry about censorship that has arisen in response. TUSD’s latest move is unlikely to help them win any friends: the school district recently rejected an offer to read from award-winning author Ana Castillo. Castillo offered to read at schools throughout Tucson free of charge and to pay for her own travel in an effort to help the community heal from the rift that resulted from the school board’s decision to end the MAS program and remove books from classrooms.

Jeff Biggers wrote about this latest development for the Huffington Post, comparing Castillo’s treatment to that of Matt de la Peña, another author who recently read at Tucson High School. Biggers’s article reveals that some students and educators feel as though the classroom atmosphere has been poisoned by the censorship of the MAS program:

According to Tucson High School literature teacher Curtis Acosta, whose now outlawed Mexican American literature courses drew praise on CNN for their healing role in the aftermath of the tragic Tucson shooting last year, TUSD Assistant Superintendent Abel Morado turned down Castillo’s extraordinary opportunity over concerns that the national media would accompany the author.

Despite the fact that the New York Times recently profiled author Matt de la Peña’s visit to Tucson High School, Morado applied a different standard to Castillo and her host teacher Acosta, a former Mexican American Studies teacher under unparalleled scrutiny and district/state surveillance. Last week, in fact, according to a Tucson High student that preferred to remain anonymous, Arizona Department of Education representatives made an unannounced visit to former Mexican American Studies classrooms, “looking over people’s shoulders” and largely disrupting study with comments and note-taking.

Acosta called the denial of the author’s visit “odd and hypocritical due to the exact similarities to Mr. de la Peña’s visit, I am not sure how the situation is any different except for the fact that I was a former MAS teacher asking for permission, since I am sure that Dr. Castillo being Chicana could not be the reason. Certainly TUSD isn’t going down the route of banning women writers.”

When TUSD refused Castillo’s offer, the community stepped in, creating a series of events in protest of the censorship and featuring Castillo. Biggers talked to Acosta about the development:

“I am pleased to say that where TUSD failed to appreciate the opportunity for an American Book Award winning writer to teach and share her own writing expertise with our students, our community has not faltered. Save Ethnic Studies, Tucson-Pima Public Libraries, Casa Libre, Antigone Books, and other community members have been busy creating a wonderful literary experience for our students and all of Tucson for Cinco de Mayo weekend.

“On Friday May 4, students will get to meet with Dr. Castillo privately receive books paid for by local sponsors. This will be followed by a free public reading and Q & A at 6:30pm with Ana Castillo at the John Valenzuela Youth Center 1550 South 6th Avenue, South Tucson.

“Save Ethnic Studies will be having a private reception at 8:30pm that evening following the reading to raise funds for our continued legal challenge of HB2281 and to revive Mexican American Studies.

“On Cinco de Mayo, there will be another opportunity for people interested in supporting Mexican American Studies, the lawsuit, and the student-plaintiffs. We will be having a casual breakfast and meet-and-greet with Ana Castillo from 9am-10:30am at Raices Taller before Dr. Castillo presents a private workshop for students and teachers who have been sponsored by donors for a three hour writing experience focusing on memoirs of school days.

“This is an affirmation that TUSD has it wrong and that this community is firmly behind MAS and there should be no shame in our history, our culture, our stories, or our writers and artists.”

You can read the rest of Biggers’s article here. CBLDF joined a coalition of Free Speech advocates in signing a letter in protest of the dissolution of the MAS program and the subsequent removal of books by Chicano, Latino, and Native authors from Tucson classrooms. You can read CBLDF’s coverage of the Tucson book ban here, here, here, here, and here.

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