By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
“If I am alien, where is my spaceship?”
This is how we feel right now in Tucson.
It’s a line in a poem from Cantos Al Sexto Sol (Wings Press, 2002). This is how we feel right now in Arizona. It is insane here.
First they have come for our bodies (to deport those of they can); now they come for our souls.
No matter what they do, they will never have our spirits. The last part, I believe, is a line from Aztlan Underground.
With Arizona in the spotlight, most of the nation has focused on the draconian anti-immigrant law: SB 1070. But what has to be clear is that this is the culmination of a 518-year ongoing and relentless war. Nothing less. The mood here is not anti-immigrant. It is anti-Mexican. The racial profiling law has little to do with legalities; it is about the expressed targeting of red-brown Indigenous peoples.
Law officers do not or will not target generic Hispanics or even Mexicans. Their profile is 100% Indigenous. That’s why American Indians in Arizona too understand precisely what this law is all about (Navajo Times, May 13); they are subject to this profile because the similarities are obvious: short, dark hair, dark eyes and red-brown skin. Spaniards or other Europeans are not at risk.
How do we know this? Look to the historic practices of the migra. Or let’s look at the practices of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. They have been racial profiling for years, and now, the governor has authorized all law enforcement to be able to do the same, under the threat of lawsuits, etc. For years, those of us with red-brown skin have lived this reality anywhere along the U.S./Mexico border. Nowadays, this anti-Mexicanism, under the veneer of anti-illegal immigrant fervor, is nationwide.
That is about our bodies. And I repeat, the targets are Indigenous.
In past years, they’ve gone after our tongues. In Arizona, in the year 2000, it was proposition 203 – a measure that virtually gutted bilingual education, on the belief that it is better to be monolingual, than to be bilingual. To this day, the question remains: what does language have to do with legalities and illegalities? (And truthfully, on these matters, Arizona is simply following California’s footsteps from the 1990s).
The latest salvo is HB 2281; this one is about our souls.
This new law is an attempt by Superintendent Tom Horne to eliminate Ethnic Studies. Specifically, Horne has targeted Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program, arguing that what is taught there, is outside of Western Civilization and should not be taught in Arizona schools.
This law has nothing to do with “illegal immigration.” If anything, it closely resembles the practices of the early European friars who deemed Indigenous knowledge to be Godless and attempted to both demonize it and destroy it completely. The burning of the books of our ancestors – Indigenous peoples of this continent – resides deep within our psyche. The philosophical foundation for Mexican American Studies in general is Maya-Nahuatl knowledge – derived from thousands of years of maize culture. Anthropologists refer to it as Mesoamerican knowledge. One part of it is: In Lak Ech – Tu eres mi otro yo – you are my other self (me). It is an ethic that teaches us that we are all part of each other and connected to each other. It is a human rights ethos connected to social justice and love of humanity and of all things living and non-living.
This is what Horne wants to ban, what he wants to eliminate. Could book-burnings and an Inquisitorial auto-de-fe be next? Of course. This is what he wants. This is what he demands. He has singled out Rodolfo Acuña’s book, Occupied America and Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed as examples of books that preach hate, promote segregation, anti-Americanism and the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.
After the law was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, metaphorically, an auto-de-fe was precisely what Horne came to conduct at TUSD the very next day. Hundreds upon hundreds of middle and high school students laid siege to the TUSD headquarters. When he failed to show his face, he then scheduled a press conference at the nearby state building a couple of miles away. The same students marched to the state building laying siege to that building. Eventually, 15 arrests were made (I was one of them).
Why are students willing to be arrested? Because the two books singled out are but the beginning. The new law – despite being in compliance per the TUSD legal counsel – authorizes the monitoring and censorship of books and curriculums to ensure they are in compliance with the law. Only non-educators could have come up with this one.
And so here we are again; welcome to apartheid arizona, u.s.a..
Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com