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In Defense of Raza/Indigenous Studies: Five Sentenced, But Not Guilty!

It is the law that is illegal

Four students and myself were just sentenced to 10 hours of community service for a crime we did not commit. More importantly, our act of civil disobedience was in response to an illegal, immoral and unconstitutional law: hb 2281 - a piece of legislation that makes the teaching of Ethnic Studies in Arizona illegal.

Back in May, 15 of us were detained as a result of refusing to leave the 2nd floor of the state building because the state superintendent of schools refused to speak to our community. About a thousand of us - mostly middle, high school and college and university students, plus community members - had been awaiting his arrival earlier at TUSD headquarters where he had come to gloat because Gov. Jan Brewer had just signed an Inquisition-style law that made it illegal to teach Ethnic Studies. Rather than showing, he opted to have an impromptu press conference at the state building instead. Using Martin Luther King Jr. as a prop, he continued, and he continues, to claim that his actions to destroy and eliminate ethnic studies, complies with MLK's dream of a color-blind society.

Despite the 15 of us doing the same act of civil act of disobedience, we have all been treated differently.  Two were outright acquitted. From the original 15, three more remain. They will be tried March 3.

As far as many of us are concerned, the battle over hb 2281 has just begun; the teaching of ethnic studies became illegal on Dec 31 and MAS was ruled out of compliance on Jan 3. We are not only convinced of its illegality, but we are certain of it because of the unambiguous actions of the state legislature. The same day the president came to Tucson, a new Republican-introduced bill (SRC 1010) calls for Arizona to be exempt from international law. As written, it will go to the voters in 2012. The thing is, this issue has already been litigated in U.S. courts. But since when has that stopped our 19th century state legislature?

Yet, that state legislators would attempt to nullify international law in Arizona is outright proof that the forces of hate in and out of the legislature are fully aware that hb 2281, sb 1070 (the legislation that promotes racial profiling) and the efforts to nullify the 14th amendment all are illegal, immoral and unconstitutional. Beyond U.S. laws, src 1010 would violate virtually every international human rights treaty and convention. Under such treaties, the right to education, history and culture is sacrosanct. These treaties are in place in order to protect small nations, peoples and cultures from being swallowed up by larger ones.

At the moment, there is a lawsuit against the state in regards to hb 2281; this involves 11 educators who are challenging the constitutionality of the law (saveethnicstudies.org).

It is also not out of the realm of possibility that a case(s) will be taken to the Organization of American States or the United Nations. What's at stake here is not simply the right of 11 teachers to teach, but rather, the right of all peoples (students) to education, history and culture. In Arizona, everything has been flipped upside down. Things Greek-Roman are deemed to be American and part of Western Civilization, whereas things Indigenous (MAS-TUSD Indigenous-maiz-based curriculum) are deemed to be un-American and alien.

That's why many of us were arrested. In one sense, it's a 42-year struggle; the same battle - one over legitimacy - that's been waged since the creation of Ethnic Studies. At another level, it's a 518-year clash of civilizations, even though it needn't be (the civilizations can absolutely co-exist). Yet in actually, this is part of a battle to preserve and maintain (and to learn about) a 7,000-year AmerIndigenous maiz-based culture. Nothing less.

That's why many students walked out in May. That's why many were arrested. That's why many continue to run, walk, vigil, protest and why others in the future - in the actual tradition of MLK Jr. - will commit to further acts of civil disobedience. We are not satisfied with hiding our culture in the home. And that's why we welcome the OAS and the UN to examine Arizona's lunacy in their forums and courtrooms.

At the moment, TUSD has until April 24 to be in compliance (elimination of MAS). One thing is certain, if it ever came to that, many of us will teach MAS/Indigenous Studies in front of the state building and/or the state capitol until the courts fix this symbol of the new Inquisition.

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