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The Struggle Continues: Injustice in Arizona

Written by Marcelo Rios Muñoz

My family is from Jalisco, Mexico, but I was born and raised in the Bay Area. Most people will define me as “Hispanic,” or “Mexican–American.” However, I identify as Chicano because I was born in the United States, but still have a cultural connection to Mexico.   Most people in my “racial ethnic category” do not make it to where I am today. In fact, a recent survey by “Latinos in College” found that out of one hundred Latin@ kindergarten students, only eight of them will graduate college with a Bachelor’s degree. From those only two of those eight will obtain a PhD. Chican@ Studies teaches the history of struggle within an academic framework, while empowering students through knowledge of the Chican@ identity. Chican@ studies allows us to learn where we come from, where we are, and where we are heading in the future.

The Chican@ Movement paved the road for Chican@ studies It is important that we continue the struggle through the promotion of this study, especially here at USF where interest from the students has become visible. As a Chicano USF student, I hope to see more Chican@ staff and faculty in on-campus as part of its promotion of social justice and a commitment to maintaining a diverse community. In sum we are fortunate to have Chican@/Latin@ Studies at USF, especially in a time when period some states in our country consider it a threat or even illegal to study.

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One of the states which feels threaten by Chican@/Latin@ studies is Arizona.  Once part of Mexico, Arizona citizens now refuse to recognize the strong ties which exist with its country of origin. Recently, Arizona has shocked Americans due to its immoral and inhumane treatment towards the Latin@ community. A great example of this are the  anti-immigrant laws such as: SB1070, the militarization of the Border by Homeland Security’s Border Patrol and racist vigilante groups like the ‘Minutemen’ who terrorize migrants at the border. Furthermore, in the city of Tucson, de-humanization  of the Latin@ community has extended into the classroom. On December of 2011, Judge Lewis D. Kowal concluded that the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies Program violates the 2010 SB 2281's ban on Ethnic Studies courses which promote "the overthrow of government" or "resentment toward a race or class of people." As a result teachers have been fired and certain books have been banned from schools. We must ask: How can a nation that defines itself as democratic and equitable allow this to happen? How can a student in this country be denied equal access to education? 

Ethnic Studies, according to Webster’s English Dictionary, “was created to teach the stories, histories, struggles and triumphs of people of color on their own terms.” Ethnic Studies is central to understanding the intersection between identity, class, gender and sexual expressions in this country. It is because of this that many students seek degrees in Higher Education with an emphasis in Ethnic Studies Its pedagogy emphasizes critical thought, which allows students to learn about the complex history and silenced stories of this country. The two centralized components taught to Ethnic Studies students are theory and practice. When these components are formulated, they are at their praxis. Arizonian author, Jeff Biggers often writes about what is happening in Arizona. Here is his response to a few questions from our discussion about Arizona.

MRM: What do people need to know about what is going on in Arizona?   

JB: In brief: Arizona is undergoing a cyclical upheaval over citizenship, human rights and participatory democracy. Old battle, new players. Ever since its bitterly fought entry into statehood in 1912—check that, ever since the Gadsden Purchase in 1853...or even back to the region's first encroachment of Spanish conquistadors led by an African slave in 1539—Arizona has been on the frontlines of a never-ending battle over who controls the natural resources and economic engines, and who defines the cultural landscape and "borders."  With an aging Tea Party at the helm of a state legislature in the last grasps of a changing electorate, we've been living through the latest “Arizona Gone Wild” phase, where extremist policies have touched on virtually all parts of our lives—healthcare, guns, environmental protection, and most noticeably, a blatant attempt to manufacture an immigration/border crisis to ram through a punitive and anti-immigrant and anti-Latino agenda. Such extremist efforts reached beyond the State Capitol. The state superintendent, who ran a campaign to "Stop La Raza," took his a radical agenda into our classrooms. 

MRM: How has TUSD been successful in executing the ban? 

JB: Surrendering to the widely denounced state-led witch hunt of the Ethnic Studies/Mexican-American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD)—which had served nearly 6,000 students over a decade and stood out as a national model for closing the achievement gap and developing college-bound graduates and engaged citizens—members of the supposedly liberal TUSD school board and administrators revealed their own latent racist views by refusing to engage with the majority Latino district, take the time to understand critical pedagogy or other Mexican-American Studies texts, and instead branded the acclaimed program as a "cult" or "distraction" and ruthlessly confiscated Latino literature and classic texts from the classrooms and dismantled the program. After firing the Mexican-American Studies director and bitterly dividing the community—remember, public education in Tucson was launched by Mexican-Americans in the 1870s, and the ancient city has deep indigenous and Mexican roots—the TUSD administrators now plan to propose a watered-down "multicultural" program to take its place. How did this all take place? As in most communities, a lack of participatory democracy or basic engagement allowed ill-equipped yahoos with personal/political agendas and zero educational background to get elected to the school board. With the elections coming up in November, I imagine Tucson will reverse disastrous school board policies and put some decent folks in the right positions. 

MRM: Do you think the struggle to remove the ban has the momentum and potential to rise as a nationalized movement like in the 1960’s struggle fighting for equal education and basic human rights? 

JB: A year ago, with the student takeover of the TUSD school board, it seemed like we might be on the cusp of new civil rights movement. And indeed, an inspiring movement across the state has united a new generation of youth, Latino, and community-based activists.  Dulce Matuz, with the AZ Dream Act students, was just selected by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World! Good news: In a breath-taking level of organization, a bipartisan coalition managed to recall former state Senator Russell Pearce, the architect of the SB 1070 "Papers, please" immigration law. Using direct action, social media, and new and old tools, Tucson students—and other statewide groups—are definitely building a movement that will have a lasting impact on the state.

Excerpt from the Teatro Jornalero play  "Aún Sigo Aquí / I Am Still Here":

These are the waters that cradle us, that baptize us, that bathe us.
There is no sound more beautiful.
Like caressing life with your eyes.
Water breaks to give birth, we are drenched with life.
We break through water to enter this country, drenched from the crossing. This is how we cross, drenched in absence, drenched with hope.  This is the water that cradles us, that baptizes us, that purifies us.
It’s the water that ignites thirst.  Thirst for a better life, for opportunities, for work.  Thirst for justice.
But Arizona reminds us that as immigrants, justice is always on the other side. That there are invisible borders between people, between those who have and those who don’t.
Those who have money and those who don’t.  Those who have justice and those who don’t…
But we choose to have a voice. Even if you won’t listen to us.
We choose to remember.