The ban on ethnic studies and ethnic literature in Tuscon, Arizona matters to your children. It matters even if they are not growing up in the Southwest, like my children, with names like Joaquin, Rodrigues, Donaciano, and Aragon. It matters even if they aren’t in the spectrum of browns redacted from history books. It matters even if they would never have read the authors and titles spirited off library shelves in Tucson.
Restricting the education of any group of children affects the world all of our kids will grow to live in. Someday, my grown children might work, reside and vote alongside adults who never saw a brown person in the literature and histories they studied. They could grow up in a world where the solution to living in a complex society of integrated narratives is to simply write a new one esteeming the reigning culture.
Honestly, that lack of education isn’t what I foresee. Bans come and go. Censorship has a way of throwing the spotlight on the material intended to be hidden, especially in our information age. Instead, I believe that someday, your children might work, reside and vote alongside my children, who will know that within their lifetime, the dominant culture was so afraid of our family’s histories that they felt moved to erase faces like my children’s from the discourse. I see the ban as a new wind pushing the old, grinding mill of discord between people of divergent pasts.
My children don’t speak Spanish. They don’t speak Spanish because their great-grandparents were paddled in school for speaking that language. In an effort to save their children and grandchildren from the same humiliation, they vowed to only teach their children English. Here we are, a generation or two later, trying to enroll our son in a language immersion school in the hopes of picking up what our families put down.
It sounds archaic: swatting a child for the offense of betraying the cultural majority’s language for even a moment. It is a story we thought we would recall to our children about how things used to be long ago. The bans in Arizona tie together generations of injustices; for our ancestors and for the all families with histories of disadvantage and mistreatment. They change studying our history from an exercise in knowing past struggles to understanding a continuum of current discord.
The great irony is that the Arizona school system imposing the ban is doing so in a supposed effort to avoid teaching emotion-enflaming, politically charged material. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that “conflict avoidance” is truly the ban’s mission. Let’s say that school administrators in Tucson believe studying the Pueblo Revolt and Reies Tijerina somehow makes our youth ready to ignite those old flames. Will ignoring cancer rid a person of cancer? Will pretending sadness doesn’t exist make a person feel happy? Ethnic studies aren’t going anywhere. Not even if our children were physically separated from the land and people of their cultures (and believe me it has been tried) would such conflict dissolve. Old conflict would simply be replaced with the imprint of new injustice.
Give our children their books. Give them their histories as well as your own. Let us all grow from there.