By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
For the moment, Arizona has regained its sanity. Five draconian anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant bills were recently defeated by the state senate. However, this bout of sanity in this insane state may only be temporary; this action only dealt with five 2011 bills. More bills remain and the author of most of these bills, Russell Pearce, remains Senate president.
The defeat of these bills simply returns us to the unsustainable status quo, a hostile state climate, including the continued militarization of the border, plus the 2010 bills: the racial profiling SB1070 and the Anti-Ethnic Studies HB 2281.
A careful reading of these two bills has convinced many of us that the state has for years been out of compliance or in violation of virtually all international human rights laws. These laws were designed to protect the rights of peoples from physical and cultural extermination and persecution and from discriminatory treatment and forced assimilation. Virtually all these laws protect people’s rights to education, history, language, identity and culture.
In comprehending Arizona, it is useful to understand the UN definition of Human Rights: they are inherent, inalienable and universal. In April of 2010, five UN special rapporteurs denounced both SB 1070, and HB 2281, as measures that would most likely lead to the mass violation of human rights.
About HB 2281, they specifically wrote: “Such law and attitude are at odds with the State’s responsibility to respect the right of everyone to have access to his or her own cultural and linguistic heritage and to participate in cultural life. Everyone has the right to seek and develop cultural knowledge and to know and understand his or her own culture and that of others through education and information.”
Seven months later, then state superintendent, Tom Horne (now state attorney general) declared Mexican American Studies-Tucson Unified School District as out-of-compliance. The only form of compliance per HB 2281 is elimination. Eleven MAS educators promptly filed a lawsuit, proclaiming that they will not comply with an unconstitutional law that has given TUSD several months to dismantle the program.
Currently, HB 2281 appears first and foremost to also be in violation of the:
1948: UN Declaration of Human Rights
1948: American Declaration of the Rights of Man
1960: Convention against Discrimination in Education
1966 & 1976: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1969 American Convention on Human Rights (Organization of American States)
1989: The UN Convention on Rights of the Child
1990: The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
1994: The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
2007: UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
SB 1070 also violates virtually every one of these human rights laws that are designed to prevent larger hostile governments from forcefully, politically or culturally eliminating or swallowing up smaller nations, peoples and cultures.
The root of the conflict re HB 2281 involves the insistence by Tom Horne that the highly successful MAS program preaches un-American values and that it does not emphasize the Greco-Roman roots of Western Civilization. In that sense, he is half-correct. The philosophical foundation for MAS-TUSD is rooted in maiz. Maiz culture is part of a 7,000-year culture that is completely Indigenous to the Americas. In effect, continues to call for a modern-day version of the colonial policy of “reducciones” or forced conversions. This latter-day policy is an attempt to exterminate that which is Indigenous among Mexican Americans and “reduce” them to the status of individual “Americans” – minus their roots, history and culture. American Indians will recognize “reducciones” as a predecessor to Indian Boarding school policies.
Most MAS supporters do not view this as a Mexican American or Ethnic Studies issue per se, but an issue that attacks the very precept of education. To be sure, it is not a K-12 issue either as John Huppenthal, the current superintendent of schools, actively campaigned against “La Raza,” and also vowed to eliminate Ethnic Studies at the University level. The minute governments begin to legislate what is acceptable knowledge means a degradation of the very idea of education. That is what is at stake in Arizona. Akin to SB 1070, there are many forces that would love to export HB 2281 nationwide.
Conversely, what should be exported is MAS’s proven curriculum. Expanding and adopting such an ethnic studies model in communities nationwide – which celebrates a student’s culture – would unquestionably see a dramatic rise in graduation rates and an increase in college-going rates. It might even contribute to a little more mutual respect and sanity in this conflictive world we live in.
* Precious Knowledge, which documents the heroic struggle to defend Ethnic Studies will screen in Tucson March 24.
Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com