From the Executive Committee of MALCS
January 30, 2012
Last week important works of literature, history and philosophy by world-renowned writers and scholars such as Leslie Marmon Silko, Sherman Alexie, Ofelia Zepeda, Paulo Freire, Rodolfo Acuña, Carmen Tafolla and others were removed from classrooms and some libraries in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). The perspectives and insights about diverse ethnic, racial and gender communities contained in these works as well as the penetrating visions of human community they offer contribute in Arizona, as they do elsewhere, to cultivating in students appreciation for difference and diversity, knowledge of wide-ranging ideas and fearlessness in engaging with the ideas of others. The TUSD Board’s action in banning and removing these works, in contrast, promotes fear and suspicion about select ethnic and racial groups and fear of free and democratic discussion and debate. Such attitudes have no place in the public school system that serves ALL children.
The Tucson Unified School District in compliance with the State of Arizona Revised Statutes Sections 15-111 and 15-112 (formerly House Bill 2281 that was signed into law May 11, 2010) eliminated its Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program, resulting in the subsequent removal of textbooks and books on the MAS Program Reading List. Some of the banned and removed books are allowed in other classrooms, but not ethnic studies, making this a highly discriminatory action about who gets to teach. Why is a Mexican American Studies teacher prevented from teaching The Tempest but an English teacher is not? The removal of books amounts to censorship that undermines the United States’ commitment to democracy.
While the Board argues that the new legislation was intended to promote unity, the effect is to reject multiculturalism and pave a path back to Jim Crow practices of segregation and racism where the culture and values of ethnic groups go unrecognized in public education. Research has shown that multicultural education that addresses the history and identity of ethnic minorities in fact closes the achievement gap between white students and students of color.
Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS), a national professional association of Chicanas, Latinas, Native American and Indigenous women, calls on the Tucson Unified School District Board to reverse the decision to ban books from Tucson schools. MALCS encourages efforts to intervene through the use of non-violent tactics in order to guarantee democracy and freedom of expression. We appeal to all:
- To send letters and email messages supporting Arizona State Rep. Sally Gonzales’ HB 2654 that would repeal the ban on ethnic studies in Arizona: Sgonzales@azleg.gov
- Sign the petition on The National Black Education Agenda: http://signon.org/sign/repeal-the-arizona-governmen
- Work to pass resolutions in your associations and organizations opposing the elimination of ethnic studies and censorship of Latin@ faculty and students in Arizona
- Write to the Educational Opportunities Section of the U.S. Department of Civil Rights requesting that they investigate Arizona state superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal, who has disregarded independent consultant reports on the value of the Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson. By e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org By telephone at (202) 514-4092 or 1-877-292-3804 (toll-free)
Here’s the latest installment in WordStrike’s multi-part series on Saving Ethnic Studies in Arizona. Jeff Biggers speaks to Mayra Feliciano, a leader of the student group UNIDOS, about turning her school’s struggle to defend ethnic studies into a nationwide grassroots movement for educational justice.
As one of the co-founders of the student group UNIDOS in Tucson, Mexican American Studies alumna Mayra Feliciano has played a key role on the frontlines of the education and civil rights battle in Arizona. As a high school student last spring, Feliciano took part in numerous school and community forums, protests and direct actions, including the historic takeover of the TUSD school board. UNIDOS launched a “School of Ethnic Studies” last week, as part of an on-going campaign to defend TUSD’s banished Mexican American Studies program (MAS).
Raised in Tucson, Feliciano credits courses by former Mexican American Studies teacher Jose Gonzales with empowering her to graduate and pursue a college degree, and deepen her connection to the community. “Before I took these classes I was ashamed of my culture,” Feliciano noted in an earlier interview. “Born in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico, I felt very different–I was darker than a lot of my friends and I felt like people were always prettier than me. I didn’t care about learning more about my culture; I didn’t even pay attention to what was going on around me. I took the Mexican American Studies course and my life turned around for the better. I was struggling to graduate, but this class taught me that we all live in a society where we all struggle and that knowledge and facts are what help to get you through.”
Now at Pima Community College, on a path to law school and a career as a civil rights attorney, Feliciano discusses the role of MAS and UNIDOS in her life and study, as part of our multi-part series on the Ethnic Studies crisis.
Jeff Biggers: Describe how and why you are involved with UNIDOS.
Mayra Feliciano: The reason why I am involved in UNIDOS was because the TUSD Social Justice Education Project put together activities back in February, 2011 to help me and other groups of people become better organizers. We all came to the common realization that the Ethnic Studies classes were under attack. So we all came together to fight HB 2281. UNIDOS was created by students, for students, and has always been organized and independently run by students. I was there from the beginning; I remember coming up with the name and what each letter stood for. I stuck to this group because I had the same passion to fight against discrimination. I was tired of not doing anything for my community. I was willing to fight for this, not just for me, but my family. Not only that, for those who fought for these classes in the past. From the beginning I began handling the media along with other members. I would type up letters, I would help with press releases and media packets. I continue to do that. I help organize events and do the basics in just trying to make sure things go well. I am not taking all of the credit–I couldn’t do this just myself.
JB: How do you see your UNIDOS organizing as part of a longer struggle for education and civil rights?
MF: I know that problems aren’t going to end in this world. There will always be something wrong. But as I get older and leave my youth stage I will pass down my knowledge. We have so much going on. As long as people like Superintendent John Huppenthal and TUSD board members are afraid of well educated Latinos, they will try to take away our successful courses and studies. Right now there is an attack on Mexican American studies, tomorrow it can be Native American Studies. This will be a longer struggle and they aren’t going to stop.
Submitted by Francisca James Hernandez, Pima Community College.
This Entry excerpted directly from Wordstrike.net at http://wordstrike.net/we-will-not-comply-youth-activist-mayra-feliciano
Secretary Judith Flores Carmona and the Executive Board have recently announced that this year’s Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS) Summer Institute will be at UC Santa Barbara, July 18-21, 2012. Nos vemos por ahi! Renew your membership if you haven’t yet, gracias! Full institute info will be posted here soon!Filed under Announcements, MALCS business | Comments (3)