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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tucson’s Historic Freedom Summer & The Popol Vuh

Tucson’s Historic Freedom Summer & The Popol Vuh
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

On the way to Tucson’s Freedom Summer, I’m driving with a few friends. We speak of several topics and at one point, someone laments that over the past several years, former state school’s superintendent, Tom Horne, his successor, John Huppenthal along with TUSD superintendent, John Pedicone, had managed to bury Tucson’s highly praised and highly successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) department.

That statement froze me in my tracks. Yet, immediately, an image came to my mind.

“Yes,” I said. “…Just like in the Popol Vuh.”

The Popol Vuh is the ancient creation story of the Quiche Maya, which tells the story of the creation of the universe, maiz, and human beings.

In that ancient creation story, at a certain point, the Hero Twins outsmart the Lords of Xibalba. One of the twins, Xblanque, cuts off the head of the other twin, Hunaphu and buries it, and then Hunaphu promptly comes back to life. Impressed, several of the Lords demand that they too get their heads chopped off and buried. The twins comply, but do not bury their heads. The story is complex, but in the end, burying the heads represents the planting of maiz.

In Tucson, the story, in effect, is in reverse. The state and the TUSD governing board have buried MAS, and rather than die, it is now sprouting everywhere nationwide.

This is part of the story of Tucson’s Freedom Summer. People from across the country are gathering daily. But the more remarkable part of the story is that people are going back, or will be going back, to plant the seeds. Soon, educators will be proposing to their own local school boards to implement MAS at elementary, middle schools and high schools.

It is an awesome story unfolding before our very eyes. And in a sense, this is the second time this is being playing out. The 1st time occurred in 1969 via El Plan de Santa Barbara. At that historic gathering, the seeds were planted and soon thereafter, hundreds of Chicano/Chicana studies programs, centers and departments sprouted on college campuses and universities nationwide. Actually, unbeknownst to most people, this discipline sprouted worldwide, from Mexico to Europe and Asia.
To their chagrin, this very same process is now beginning to take place at K-12 schools nationwide. Rather than bury Raza studies, they have and are actually contributing to the reenactment of that cosmic drama.

Amazingly, by eliminating MAS this year, another historic drama is also being reenacted. When the TUSD governing board complied with the state’s anti-Ethnic Studies HB 2281 in January of this year, purportedly because MAS teaches hate, promotes segregation and the overthrow of the government, the board did not simply eliminate a department, they did not simply ban a curriculum, its books and accompanying teaching materials. What they actually did was attempt to outlaw a worldview – a worldview that literally is related to the Popol Vuh. 

Mr. Horne and his supporters have long insisted that the MAS curriculum is outside of Western civilization. In their own definition, they are correct. MAS does not owe its roots to Greco-Roman culture, but rather to the ancient Indigenous maiz culture of this very continent.

Aside from the fact that the MAS department was highly successful, it should be an honor for Tucson and the state to be able to showcase the accomplishments of MAS. Tucson is no stranger to maiz; it is purportedly the home of the oldest (some 4,000 years) surviving cornfield in the United States, on the corner of Silver Bell and Ina. The state of New Mexico, at Bat Cave, is the site of the oldest corncob ever found in the United States, purportedly close to 6,000 years old.

Thus, there is nothing foreign about maiz; it is one of the ultimate symbols of the story of this continent.

In that spirit, as a community, we invite the detractors to cease being detractors. And we invite everyone to come to Tucson's Freedom Summer and learn what thousands of students have already learned. In that spirit, as a community, we offer you the words of In Lak’ Ech, which also come to us from the Maya, an ethos taught to our students:

In lak' Ech 
Tú eres mi otro yo.
Si te hago daño a ti
Me hago daño a mí mismo.
Sí te amo y respeto,
Me amo y respeto yo.
You are my other me.
If I do harm to you,
I do harm to myself.
If I love and respect you,
I love and respect myself.

* For information regarding freedom summer, which will run through mid-August, go to:

Follow this link to learn of the attacks against former MAS director, Sean Arce and former MAS teacher, Jose Gonzalez:

Rodriguez, an assistant professor in the Mexican American Studies department at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: -

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