The Arizona book ban matters: to my kids, your kids, and kids all over the world

Guest post by Rodrigues
Photo by eeekkgirl, used under Creative Commons license.

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.

Comments on The Arizona book ban matters: to my kids, your kids, and kids all over the world

  1. As a “halfbreed”, married to a “halfbreed”, raising a “halfbreed”, finding our history and culture is SO VERY difficult as is stands already. Be it because our families chose to distance themselves from it for self preservation, or lack of recording by a society who deemed my culture less valuable, the records just do not exist in the same fashion as many other cultures. Thank you for bringing light to this horrific gentrification of yet another generations history.

    • Yes– part of why I rarely write about cultural issues is that I often feel like I don’t have enough of my family’s culture left to stand up for. Many of these books helped me understand the Iberian-American histories our families descend from.

  2. I think it is important to note that ALL children, regardless of their ethnicity, deserve to learn complete history, not just the “easy” parts, or the parts that portray the dominant culture in a positive light. I don’t know about other places, but the entire teacher education curriculum at the college I attended revolved around teaching for social justice. Children can see and understand historical (and more importantly, present) rights and wrongs. The point is to teach them that they aren’t powerless, as children or as adults, against the injustice they see in the world. If children don’t wrestle with guilt, feeling powerless, speaking out when it’s difficult, and pushing for causes they believe in, then they aren’t going to grow into responsible adults. Sounds like Tucson is trying to hedge off the eventual non-white majority at the pass and keep the status quo. One more item on the ever-growing list of reasons Arizona will not ever see one cent of my money or one second of my time.

  3. Agreed! I grew up in Tucson, with ethnic studies, and I know how vitally important it is.

    That said, I would like to correct an implication in your article. This is NOT a Tucson policy. In fact, Tucson Unified School District fought this policy hard, to the point of giving up funding. This is a state legislature policy, passed in Phoenix and signed by conservative governor Jan Brewer. The only reason TUSD finally capitulated was to prevent school closures.

    It is an extremely problematic policy, and it is not going to make racial tension go away; it will only make it worse. But Tucson, and TUSD, are not to blame. Let’s keep the focus on the terrible conservative politicians running the show in Phoenix.

    • I’ve heard conflicting reports about how willing and complicit TUSD has been; some seem to think that officials specifically in Tuscon have interpreted State laws to the most extreme degree while others say their hand was forced by outside agencies. Either way, I am open to learn more about how and through whom the enforcement came down. Specifically, I’m curious why, if this is a State-wide law that would have caused school closures for non-compliance, TUSD seems to be the only school system I can find reported to have actively removed the books from their classrooms. I am interested in whether there are more and how it has all been enacted.

      • You’re right about it being Tucson-specific, but that was actually the intention of the legislation. In fact, much of the recent legislation Brewer has signed is specifically targeted at Tucson – it’s sort of seen as a liberal bastion, and the conservatives in Phoenix hate that. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of race issues in Tucson, but this law was imposed on and not by them. Students protested, the school board voted against it, but ultimately, the state was prepared to pull funding.

        I agree with Rodrigues, it’s hard to believe they could have gotten away with closing the schools down, but Phoenix has proved over and over again that they are willing to endanger life and liberty for the sake of racism.

        • Thank you for the information! It’s been hard to trace exactly what happened; nearly all of what I’ve been able to find has been regarding the aftermath. Thanks for the perspective.

  4. It’s amazing to me how far these legislators will go. I can’t believe that we’ve made no more progress than my parents generation. I think it’s especially interesting considering on the local university website they promote diversity in action. Obviously these legislators need to go back to school themselves!!!!!

  5. This astounds me. It sounds like something that would have occurred in South Africa during the apartheid! What’s next, banning ethnic names?!

    Maybe it’s because I live (and have lived) in Melbourne, Australia my whole life – where the person next door is just as likely to speak an obscure indian dialect, polish, greek or mandarin (all actual examples of neighbours I have had) as they are to speak english. Maybe its living in a society where the only time racial difference is an issue is when you cannot communicate, and you grow up learning to comprehend broken english said through a thick accent without turning a hair. But this appalls me in a way that my pregnancy addled brain cannot properly convey. Banning cultural heritage?! Dirty laundry needs to be aired out and acknowledged, not hidden away.

    I have no real understanding of the situation in Arizona. I couldn’t even point to Arizona on a map! But surely something can be done about this? People power? Peaceful protest? Everyone pulling their kids from school and homeschooling?

    • One action underway right now is the creation of underground libraries and a campaign called “Librotraficante”– Spanish for “book trafficker / smuggler”– wherein a caravan has made its way to several cities collecting donations and books on the ban list. They are calling the books “wetbooks” (an epithet for Mexican immigrants in the US is “wetbacks” because they often have to cross the Rio Grande to enter the country.) The group is “smuggling” books back into Arizona and raising awareness.

  6. There was no “book ban.” There was the serious issue of the removal of the curriculum. That is a serious issue. The book “ban” is not. It is fake and used by those claiming book banning for their own advancement of their own interests. Don’t be used. Address the curriculum removal, not the fake book “ban.”

      • The curriculum removal and the law that required it is the issue. That books that were part of that curriculum were removed is incidental. Further, media investigation has shown the books are still found in the school library and elsewhere. It’s the curriculum that’s gone, not the books.

  7. My comment that this is not a book ban as the curriculum removal is the real issue — “rodrigues” even responded — I can’t find it or the response anymore — has it been removed? That would be ironic, no?

  8. I agree that the issue with the books is an after-effect of legislation targeted at curriculum; however, until someone suggests a better term for a government removing books from students based on their content, and threatening teachers into not covering them, “book ban” stands.

    I certainly do bristle at being called ‘used’; I’m a Master’s student in Library studies with years of study in literature of the oppressed and silenced. This isn’t a subject that randomly raised my hackles. I would respectfully counter that a tried and true maneuver in censorship is re-labeling it something people have a less visceral reaction to, which I feel is inherent in the “it’s not a ban” claim.

    • Also, it stands to mention that books are the backbone of any cultural curriculum; they are, in essence, the reason and the material by which such courses are possible. The fact that books exist somewhere is secondary to the overall intent of removing them from students.

    • You do agree that the last book banning in the USA occurred about half a century ago, right?

      Further, if this were true censorship, why are the books still freely available in the school and elsewhere?

      False claims of censorship will not advance legitimate interests. I say this not to raise your hackles, but so that you will become more effective in advocating for literature of the oppressed and silenced. And I hope you do.

      • While I was not aware that this was happening, it doesn’t surprise me. Isn’t Arizona the same place passing laws to “crack down” on illegal immigrants through racial profiling, as well as cracking down on those helping immigrants? Didn’t they also pass a law stating that parents had to prove their child’s citizenship before enrolling them in school? This curriculum/book ban has nothing to do with avoiding “biased and emotionally charged content” as the link in this post suggests. The fact that they have done away with an entire curriculum on Mexican American studies, says to me that this is just another way to make this group of people disappear.

  9. first, as a resident of arizona, and a teacher, i want to point out that “Tucson” is not “all” of Arizona and does not represent the entire state. it is a city, and TUSD is one of hundreds of districts.

    second, i couldn’t even read the entire article that sparked this post because it made me sick. i’m so glad i live in the phoenix area. i just can not see the ban lasting, nor can i see it spreading throughout the state, but if it does, my children will not be attending public school in any district that complies. and i will find a classroom in a private school.

    third, it amazes me when any school or district takes on a policy like this. basic pedagogy states that multi-cultural learning enhances and enriches EVERY students learning environment and performance. it is the reason why all certified teachers (in az and ca i know for certain) are required to have SEI endorsements (structured english immersion).

  10. Just as a follow-up, I thought this was interesting:

    Jon Stewart just covered this on his April 2 show. It’s pretty mind-boggling. I believe you can watch it online!

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