Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

‘The Moral High Ground’: Tony Diaz, ‘El Librotraficante,’ Defies Arizona Ethnic Studies and Book Ban with Reading Caravan

A self-described “book smuggler” is set to launch a caravan bringing carloads of books banned in Arizona schools into the Grand Canyon state and holding public readings of the works.

According to Democracy Now!, Tony Diaz, “El Librotraficante” (The Book Smuggler), is doing this to call attention to Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies classes in public schools. As part of that law, the Tucson Unified School District released a list of banned books. In addition to such Latino studies titles as Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña,Pedagogy of the Oppressed by renowned Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and Bill Bigelow’s Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, the blacklist includes classics like Shakespeare’s The Tempest. 

“When Arizona tried to erase our history, we decided to make more,” Diaz told Democracy Now! “When Arizona tried to erase our history, we decided to make more,” Diaz says. “We’ve unleashed this informal network that’s galvanized into a national movement… People are forming groups to read the protested books, to read the books that have been confiscated.”

Diaz, an author, professor and founder of the nonprofit Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, opined that “Arizona has spent a lot of time making our people illegal,” a reference to SB 1070, the state’s discriminatory anti-“illegal” immigrant law.

“Now they want to make our thoughts and history illegal. And that’s too much. So with the caravan… we are basically bringing all the books back that were confiscated and taken out of classrooms during class time,” which Diaz and others see as an unnecessarily heavy-handed tactic meant to drive home an oppressive message to the state’s Latino students.

But Mexican-Americans are the single-largest national origin group in Arizona, and Latinos are not taking the ban sitting down.

“They’ve woken the sleeping giant,” Diaz said in reference to the Latino community. “And in fact, we’re not the sleeping giant; Latinos are the working giant, and reporting for work on this particular issue.”

For a full schedule of “El Librotraficante’s” caravan tour, click here.

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