By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
The irony of standing trial on Columbus Day – for defending Tucson’s Raza Studies Program – is not lost upon the defendants. The philosophical foundation for Raza Studies-TUSD is maiz-based knowledge – knowledge that is both Indigenous to this continent, but also, at least 7,000 years old.
Despite this, the state superintendent of schools, Tom Horne – whose life mission is to eliminate Ethnic Studies in Arizona – believes that Raza Studies is “un-American,” this while embracing knowledge from Greece and Rome as the basis for Western Civilization and as acceptable for Arizona schools.
On May 14 of this year, a day after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed HB 2281, legislation designed to eliminate Ethnic/Raza Studies, the police at Tucson’s state building detained a total of 15 student and community members for “criminal trespass.” The first trials, primarily of social justice students, are set for the morning of Oct 12.
Initially, after word had spread that Tom Horne was coming to Tucson to a meeting with TUSD administrators – one day after the signing of HB 2281 – hundreds of students and community members formed a human chain around the TUSD headquarters. His presence was interpreted as a victory lap. Wave after wave of students not simply surrounded the building, but the entire block itself.
Rather than face them, Horne instead opted to hold a press conference at the state building a couple of miles away. Hundreds of students marched to, and then entered the state building, despite being told by officials that they were not welcome in this public building. Several dozen students attempted to enter the press conference on the second floor, but were locked out. As a result, they staged an impromptu sit-in. In the end, 15 refused to leave and were thus detained. Of those, 13 were arrested for criminal trespass. This included several middle, high school and college students. It also included two University of Arizona professors (including myself).
Of course, no charges were filed against Horne who has single-handedly set it as his life’s mission to eliminate the highly successful Raza Studies program. This program graduates students at a 97.5% rate and the college-going rate is upwards of 70%. Rather than export this program nationwide, this at a time of extremely high nationwide dropout-pushout rates, Horne seeks its elimination. He charges that it is “un-American,” that it promotes ethnic solidarity and that it breeds resentment against other races and the United States itself.
Through HB 2281, Horne has charged that Raza Studies promotes segregation and calls for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. And true to form, HB 2281 creates false exemptions for American Indian Studies and African American Studies – a clumsy attempt to isolate Tucson’s Raza Studies and this community under siege.
HB 2281 sets up a state mechanism by which books and curriculums will be approved or disapproved. Worse, Horne’s actual intent is to rule Raza Studies-TUSD out of compliance and eliminate it by Dec 31, 2010. Despite his wishes, the state lacks the power to shut it down in such a dictatorial manner. The district would get a chance to appeal the decision before Raza Studies could be shut down.
On its face, Horne’s charges – that Raza Studies is out of compliance with a law that doesn’t even go into effect until Jan. 1, 2011 – is bizarre. Having never visited a Raza Studies classroom, he has demanded that TUSD videotape all Raza Studies classes. TUSD has rebuffed his demands.
That aside, a historic lawsuit is pending which will seek to prevent the state from implementing HB 2281. In this lawsuit, Horne will be greatly handicapped because TUSD has affirmed that Raza Studies is in full compliance. He is further handicapped because all the terms used in the legislation are ambiguous. For instance, the notion of what is American or unAmerican has never been litigated. What is ethnic and what constitutes ethnic studies has also never been litigated. The notion that teaching history via Raza Studies breeds resentment and hate also is ambiguous (and false), but it also tramples upon the traditional precept of academic freedom.
The danger of HB 2281 is that similar to SB 1070 – Arizona’s racial profiling legislation – it can also be replicated nationwide and it can also be expanded to the college and university levels. This is the importance of these Columbus Day trials and the forthcoming lawsuit. It is when and where Ethnic/Raza Studies will be defended.
· Just several days ago, I was informed that my own trial was unexpectedly moved from Oct 21 to Oct 12 – which in actuality is nowadays, Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
· On Dec 2-4, Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona will host a conference on hate, censorship & forbidden curriculums:
Rodriguez, a member of the MAS-TUSD community advisory board is a professor at the University of Arizona. He can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com
Column of the Americas
PO BOX 3812
Tucson, AZ 85722