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By Angela C. Trudell Vasquez
Shame on the Tucson Unified School District for banning several books by Chicano and Native American authors. This is a psychological assault on the students and their families in a school district where more than 60 percent of the students are Latinos.
After the Arizona Legislature and an Arizona judge demanded the end of Tucson’s renowned Mexican American Studies program, the Tucson Unified School District, rather than appealing, decided to crack down. Its employees removed books from the shelves, made teachers box them up and, according to some reports, even ripped books out of children’s hands.
This kind of crude censorship should appall any person who respects books, academic freedom or the First Amendment.
Being a Mexican American writer myself, I’m disgusted by what happened in Tucson. The school district banned works by some of our greatest Latino scholars, including Rodolfo Acuna, Richard Delgado, Corky Gonzales, Elizabeth Martinez and Arturo Rosales. The dismantling of the Mexican American Studies program put off limits some of our best writers and poets, including Jimmy Santiago Baca, Ana Castillo, Martin Espada, Laura Esquivel, Dagoberto Gilb, Luis Rodriguez, Roberto Rodriguez and Luis Alberto Urrea. And it even knocked out history books by Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States,” which has sold more than 2 million copies.
This is a tragedy for Mexican American kids in Tucson. The decade-long Mexican American Studies program improved the graduation rate of Latino and Native American students and gave them pride in their culture and history. But, apparently, educating Latino students and keeping them in school is not the goal of the Tucson Unified School District or the Arizona Legislature. Rather, controlling the books they read and the information they receive is the goal — and right now they are winning.
There is a big effort in this country to rewrite history. The Texas School Board previously rewrote the state’s school textbooks and took out things it felt were offensive. Tennessee may be next with an attempt to propagate the notion that slavery was not all bad and taking land away from the Native Americans was necessary for the continuation of the United States.
Victors usually write the history books, but there is much scholarly work, fiction and poetry now that offers history from other perspectives. Unfortunately, those who control what we learn as history just won’t tolerate any competing accounts. This violates the whole idea of academic freedom, and it runs contrary to the openness that we so celebrate in our country.
The censors in Arizona can ban books. They can try to censor information. But, eventually, the truth will come out. And the truth is that in our country, it took great struggles for a majority of people — women, minorities, those without property — to obtain the rights guaranteed to all persons in this country by our Constitution.
This is a lesson that every school kid should be entitled to learn.
Angela C. Trudell Vasquez works with the Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union and is a poet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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