Moral Low Ground

US Government

Arizona Latino Studies Class Declared Illegal Under New State Law

Classes taught in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American program have been declared illegal under a new state law that took effect January 1st.

HB 2281 bans public schools from offering courses  that advocate ethnic solidarity, promote the overthrow of the US government, or cater to specific ethnic groups. Proponents of the new law say it is necessary to check a program that promotes divisions based on ethnicity and advocates separatism and racial preferences. But critics counter that the ethnic studies program is intended to make students aware of their roots and proud of who they are, thus making them better members of American society.

Arizona is more infamous for its harsh anti-immigration law, SB 1070, that gives police broad and intrusive powers to demand proof of citizenship from people they believe may be in the country illegally. That controversial 2010 law has been attacked as discriminatory, since it is highly unlikely that an undocumented immigrant from, say, Sweden would be targeted but extremely likely that Latinos– whether here illegally or not– would be harassed.

Less known but equally insidious is HB 2281, the ethnic studies ban signed into law by Republican governor Jan Brewer last year, just weeks after SB 1070.

Whereas SB 1070 was designed to harass and expel human beings deemed “undesirable” by the state of Arizona, HB 2281 is about controlling people’s minds. It denies students the freedom to learn about their history, their culture– their very identities. Dr. Randall Amster writes:

“There’s a word for what Arizona is attempting to do here: ethnocide. It is similar to genocide in its scope, but it reflects the notion that it is an ethnic and/or cultural identity under assault more so than physical bodies themselves. By imposing a curriculum that forbids the exploration of divergent cultures while propping up the dominant one, there’s another process at work here, what we might call ethnonormativity. This takes the teachings of one culture – the colonizer’s – and makes it the standard version of history while literally banning other accounts, turning the master narrative into the ‘normal’ one, and further denigrating marginalized perspectives. America’s racialized past abounds with such examples of oppressed people being denied their languages, histories and cultures, including through enforced indoctrination in school systems.”

Arizona, a notoriously conservative state that didn’t even observe the Martin Luther King Jr holiday until after being shamed by worldwide condemnation and boycott in the early 1990s, favors the rugged individualist frontiersman narrative that is at odds with the more communitarian, decidedly leftist worldview espoused in the “illegal” Mexican-American classes. Again, Dr. Amster:

“The libertarian and individualistic foundations of Western culture are viewed as iconic in Arizona, and it is no coincidence that the more communitarian impulses of Raza [Latino] peoples are denigrated as politically dangerous and pedagogically bereft. Again, the worldview of the oppressor is normalized in its rugged individualism and attempts to break down any movement toward solidarity and unified action among people of the disfavored class. This also expresses contemptuous judgment toward solidarity-based movements grown in the Western world, including the rise of union organizing, anti-globalization and antiwar activism and the mobilizations of people against totalitarianism in the Eastern bloc nations. What the Arizona legislature completely fails to grasp is that individual identity arises out of cultural consciousness – in other words, that it is ethnic solidarity in itself that provides people with the grounding necessary to know who they are as individuals.”

The progressive, humanist values of many of the Mexican-American classes threaten the reactionary, conservative mores that Arizona’s leaders wish to instill in students. John Huppenthal, the state’s new schools chief, sat in on one of Tucson’s Mexican-American classes and was appalled to see Benjamin Franklin vilified as a racist and a photo of Che Guevara, regarded by tens of millions of Latinos as a hero of liberation but hated by reactionaries as a communist subversive, hanging on the wall. Assigned reading such as “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and “Occupied America” is loathed for fostering a sense of oppression and mistreatment among Latino youths.

But it doesn’t take a book to teach Arizona Latinos they’re being oppressed. With laws like SB 1070 and HB 2281 on the books, the oppression is right in front of their faces. Banning ethnic studies classes will only increase resentment against the very people that claim they’re trying to avoid inter-ethnic tensions. And by denying students the right to learn about their heritage, Arizona makes a mockery of the American freedoms it is so keen to promote at the expense of alternative narratives.

“Who are the true Americans here– those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?” asked Augustine Romero, director of student equity for Tuscon schools. “There’s a fierce anti-Latino sentiment in this state,” he told the New York Times. “These courses are about justice and equity, and what is happening is that the Legislature is trying to narrow the reality of those things.”

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One Comment

  1. mark stolzoffFebruary 21, 2011 at 7:21 pmReply

    Any classroom that promotes che Guevara as anything other than a murderous egomaniac hell bent on promoting his legacy, and his corrupt vision at all costs, should be slammed, and corrected. D

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