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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Defense of Raza/Indigenous Studies: Five sentenced, but not guilty!

                                                       Supporter in Tucson Courtroom

It is the law that is illegal

By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

Four students and I were just sentenced to 10 hours of community service for a crime we did not commit. More importantly, our act of civil disobedience was in response to an illegal, immoral and unconstitutional law: hb 2281 – a piece of legislation that makes the teaching of Ethnic Studies in Arizona illegal.

Back in May, 15 of us were detained as a result of refusing to leave the 2nd floor of the state building because the state superintendent of schools refused to speak to our community. About a thousand of us – mostly middle, high school and college and university students, plus community members – had been awaiting his arrival earlier at TUSD headquarters where he had come to gloat because Gov. Jan Brewer had just signed an Inquisition-style law that made it illegal to teach Ethnic Studies. Rather than showing, he opted to have an impromptu press conference at the state building instead. Using Martin Luther King Jr. as a prop, he continued, and he continues, to claim that his actions to destroy and eliminate ethnic studies, comply with MLK’s dream of a color-blind society.

Despite the 15 of us doing the same civil act of disobedience, we have all been treated differently.  Two were outright acquitted. Of the original 15, three  remain. They will be tried March 3.

As far as many of us are concerned, the battle over hb 2281 has just begun; the teaching of ethnic studies became illegal on Dec 31 and Mexican American Studies-TUSD was ruled out of compliance on Jan 3. We are not only convinced of the law's illegality,  we are certain of it because of the unambiguous actions of the state legislature. The same day the president came to Tucson, a new Republican-introduced bill (scr 1010) called for Arizona to be exempt from international law. As written, it will go to the voters in 2012. The thing is, this issue has already been litigated in U.S. courts. But since when has that stopped our 19th century state legislature?

Yet, state legislators' attempt to nullify international law in Arizona is outright proof that the forces of hate in and out of the legislature are fully aware that hb 2281, sb 1070 (the legislation that promotes racial profiling) and the efforts to nullify the 14th amendment (HB 2561/SB 1308 and HB 2562/SB1309) all are illegal, immoral and unconstitutional. Beyond being unconstitutional, all the Arizona anti-Mexican laws, under the rubric of anti-immigrant laws of the past 10 years, violate virtually every international human rights treaty and convention. Under such treaties, in regards to hb 2281, the right to education, history, language and culture is sacrosanct. These treaties are in place in order to protect small nations, peoples and cultures from being swallowed up by hostile larger ones (

At the moment, there is a lawsuit against the state over hb 2281; this involves 11 educators who are challenging the constitutionality of the law (

It is also not out of the realm of possibility that a case(s) will be taken to the Organization of American States or the United Nations. What’s at stake here is not simply the right of 11 teachers to teach, but rather, the right of all peoples (students) to education, history, language and culture. In Arizona, everything has been flipped upside down. Things Greco-Roman are deemed to be American and part of Western Civilization, whereas things Indigenous (MAS-TUSD Indigenous-maiz-based curriculum) are deemed to be un-American and alien.

That’s why many of us were arrested. In one sense, it’s a 42-year struggle; the same battle – one over legitimacy – that’s been waged since the creation of Ethnic Studies. At another level, it’s a 518-year clash of civilizations, even though it needn’t be (the civilizations can absolutely co-exist). Yet in actuality, this is part of a battle to preserve and maintain (and to teach and learn about) a 7,000-year AmerIndigenous maiz-based culture. Nothing less.

That’s why many students walked out in May. That’s why many were arrested. That’s why many continue to run, walk, vigil, protest and why others in the future – in the actual tradition of MLK Jr. – will commit to further acts of civil disobedience. We are not satisfied with hiding our culture in the home. And that’s why we welcome the OAS and the UN to examine Arizona’s lunacy in their forums and courtrooms.

At the moment, TUSD has until April 16 to be in compliance (i.e. eliminate MAS). One thing is certain, if it ever came to that, many of us will teach MAS/Indigenous Studies in front of the state building and/or the state capitol until the courts fix this symbol of the new Inquisition.

Rodriguez, a professor at the University, can be reached at: The column is also posted at:


  1. Hello Roberto,

    I just finished reading your most recent article on I've followed the story of Raza studies in Arizona through your articles on Common Dreams and I fully support you, your students and the other teachers.

    From my home in Oregon, it feels like there is little I can do, except to spread the word of justice and injustice among my friends and those I meet. After reading your "Five Sentenced, Not Guilty" article, I felt compelled to tell you that I support you and your cause completely. Perhaps in the face of injustice, a few words of support from a stranger will help. There are others here in Oregon who feel the same way I do about the recent repressive laws in Arizona.

    I'm a middle-aged man, a native Californian of european/american descent, and starting with my exposure to Hispanic/Mexican-American culture in Los Angeles as a child, I've grown to appreciate the strength and beauty of my fellow Americans with Mexican and Hispanic heritage. My parents had some of the usual prejudices, but those feelings didn't "stick" to me. I went to an all-boys Catholic High School (Notre Dame, Sherman Oaks), and knew Hispanic kids from both wealthy families and from the "barrios" of East LA on scholarship. Our cultures met in the classroom and there were no significant clashes. I grew up in North Hollywood, which we sometimes lovingly referred to as Norte Hollywood, and riding our bikes North & East to Burbank Blvd., the billboards changed to Spanish. So I am comfortable with the culture, and also know the prejudice.

    Now in Oregon, I practice my Spanish with the woman, my neighbor, who works as a checker at Safeway. And also with my friend the cook/co-owner (who calls himself Mayan), at another friend's pizza place. Perhaps I am not representative of the "average" "non-Hispanic" male, but I have great affection for my brothers and sisters from Mexico. I find myself passionately defending the "honor" and "dignity" of Mexican immigrants whenever the ignorant try to "blame the other" for our economic problems.

    For what it is worth, I am with you. I believe we would all be richer if we knew and appreciated the culture south of border and next door to each other. I learned much in one of your earlier articles that gave an introductory explanation of the Maize stories.

    Good luck with your challenges in Arizona, it may be a long and difficult fight. But it is most certainly the "good" fight, and justice will prevail, no matter how long it takes. The willingness of you, your students and the other teachers to take a stand is proof that justice lives. Know that there are strangers, your unmet friends, who stand behind you and beside you in your struggle.

    Peace and Faith,


  2. As a white student, I'd like to thank you. I, unfortunately, was unable to attend any "ethnic studies" courses while in public school, but I've learned and grown from the works of those who have.

    I'm disappointed that so many Americans still consider multiculturalism as inherently divisive and dangerous. If only everyone understood the history of American immigration...oh, but wait, that belongs in ethnic studies, and that's illegal.


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