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Thursday, October 18, 2012

In Defense of Indigenous Studies: This Time, It’s Personal


Wednesday, 17 October 2012 11:31 By Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, SpeakOut | Op-Ed
Seemingly few people realize that when the state came after Ethnic Studies in Arizona a few years ago, it was because the state deemed Raza Studies to be outside of western civilization.

That's Pat Buchanan-speak for: Brown people are savages. Actually, it's Torquemada-speak for these brown people are pagan. This war has actually been an old-school Inquisition against the Indigenous culture of Mexican/Chicana/Chicano peoples.

Yet, one thing is to go after a program, a department or even a discipline, but now, this civilizational war has become even more personal.

Last week, renowned professor, Rodolfo Acuña, wrote in one of his columns about a young woman who was fired as a result of getting arrested in May 2010, the day after the anti-Ethnic Studies HB 2281 legislation was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

The truth is, she is not the first MAS supporter who has been fired. The loss of her job was a direct result of advocating on behalf of students (she continues to not want to go public on this yet).
But the one student Rudy alluded to has gone public; her name is Crystal Terriquez.
Crystal, second from left.

She actually wasn't the only one arrested that day. There were 15 total who were led away. She was one of them. So was I. But truly, it was a student protest. The year before, at the end of June, as a community, we ran from Tucson to Phoenix in 115° heat to protest the same efforts to eliminate Ethnic Studies. During that run, Crystal and her sister were my running partners. They were both overcome with heat stroke. Others were also overcome by heat stroke, whereas one of the runners had a series of epileptic seizures. It was a serious run.

But back to the protest. When students learned that then state schools' superintendent, Tom Horne (the person that engineered HB 2281) was coming to Tucson for a meeting with district officials that morning, some 1,000 high school and middle school students walked out of their classes and surrounded the district headquarters. Rather than face the students, Horne instead went to the state building and held a press conference. Several hundred students then marched over to the state building, and proceeded to occupy the building and successfully shut it down. Some 50 students went upstairs, held a sit-in and eventually were arrested. (I joined them because I saw law enforcement officers roughing up the students). Of the 15 who were taken into custody, charges were dropped on 10 of the arrestees. Five of us were found guilty and were given community service and probation. This included Crystal.

Two years later (last week), Crystal was fired precisely because of that arrest. We had all been told that if we did not get arrested again, after completing the community service and the probation, that the charges would most likely be expunged. That has not happened.

The five of us are currently looking for an attorney willing to file a petition to expunge those records. If all goes right, that will be taken care of soon. But at the moment, Crystal has lost her job. When I say personal, I feel the same way as many in our community do; she has sacrificed of herself many times, and thus our community owes her.

In Arizona, and specifically Tucson, we are seemingly in perpetual crises. Money has to be raised for lawsuits to defend Mexican American Studies and to defend one of the teachers and the former director of MAS, Jose Gonzalez and Sean Arce, respectively from what appears to be a blatantly frivolous lawsuit. But we also have to raise money for SB 1070 related issues. And just as importantly, money for Dream Students who are going through the deferred action procedure.

In Arizona we are tapped out. But so is the rest of the nation. We understand that. The only difference is that Tucson finds itself in a unique position. As we know, SB 1070 is an attack on the body – on the brown color of our skin. HB 2281 attacks both our mind and our spirit. Tucson in effect is where the right wing has decided that our [Indigenous] culture and history is illegitimate and now illegal. But we don't accept that; that's why the youth fight back.

There are many more casualties here in Arizona. Many of them are women. Who can forget May 3, 2011, when 7 women – young students, community members and elders – were arrested for reading at the militarized school board meeting. This was on the heels of the April 26, 2011, student takeover of the school board the previous week, led by the student group UNIDOS, the majority young women. There's been lots written about what has happened here. And yet much of the story is still unwritten. I don't think I've ever read anything that Crystal has written. Actually, she did collaborate with Amoxtli X – The X Codex – about In Lak Ech-Panche Be and Hunab Ku (will attach at the end here) -- maiz-based concepts that are taught in Mexican American Studies (MAS)

Some of the students are indeed now writing. Some do great video work. Previously, they had been documenting their history with their footprints, writing their story with their actions; a truly heroic story. Not all of it is romantic, though. Some involves external conflict. Some of it involves internal conflict. This is similar to the 1951 Empire Zinc mine strike (as depicted in the 1954 classic Salt of the Earth). And this is what's important to remember; this is not a movie. We are living this reality... in real time. And it's not all a pretty picture. In the near future, some of those other conflicts will come to the surface.

For now, I feel compelled to support Crystal, who has stepped forward, not once nor twice but many times. Many of the young women like Crystal almost cannot be recognized without their megaphones. Make no mistake, the battle in Tucson has been led from the outset primarily by students, and the strongest of the leaders have been young women.

So this here is a nationwide appeal. Crystal does not deserve to be in this position. We will find an attorney to expunge the records, but in the meantime, she needs to pay her bills. A PayPal account has been created with the expressed purpose of supporting her. Through legal action hopefully she will get her job back or maybe even a better one. But in the meantime, she has a mortgage to pay, many bills and no income.

Akin to what Acuña does for the teachers, I want to post this information until it is no longer necessary. I hope everyone can do the same. Send it to all your social networks, listservs, etc. But don't just do that; please consider contributing even a small amount to her also.

As a community we owe it to her. For those looking for speakers around the country, please consider inviting Crystal. She can be reached at:

For the paypal link, click here. Or copy this address if link is not active:

You can reach me at: 520-271-6796 or -  A few of us are helping Crystal. We are still working some details out... but for contributions of $50 or more, we will make available some of Tucson's banned books.

This article is a Truthout original. 

Amoxtl X - The X Codex
Eagle Feather Research Institute, 2010
Crystal Terriquez Pima Community College
In lak Ech means is how I was able to grow in Raza Studies. It taught me how to love myself and taught me to love people of other races. It gave me a way to respect myself, my brown skin and my culture. Panche Be – to seek the root of the truth – is also how I got more into school; it taught me that this is my education and that I must seek the root of the truth. I did this by doing community and school events. I wanted to know about my past and about my ancestors. This I learned in Raza Studies.

Two of the concepts here I learned in Raza Studies at Tucson High School.

Last year I ran from Tucson to Phoenix in 115-degree heat because a bill was introduced to eliminate Raza Studies. It was one attack after another. Many of us talked about running and we talked about how hot it would be, but in the end, we ran as one. When we ran together, it made us not think about the heat. It wasn’t about one person running but all of us making a point at the [state] capital.

My 13-14-year-old sister was my inspiration. She hadn’t had the classes and she ran with me. She was motivated to save them.

I have been part of protests, vigils and I was arrested this year because a new bill was passed and signed

by the governor. I have no reason to go back to high school but these classes have earned my respect. I want these classes for my three sisters. I don’t want them to cook and clean home. This was for them. Nothing’s going to stop me. It is my sisters that are motivating me.

Recently, I spoke [keynoted] at a national Indigenous conference where I defended Raza Studies. What caught my eye was that it was professors from all over the world. These classes right now are the focus of the nation and world. I wish there had been more Raza Studies alumni there so they could have heard more stories. After presenting, I know they took back our stories. That’s important because the media is not on our side.

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