Outlawing Latinos' Heritage

At least we don't have to pretend anymore.
Arizona's passing of that mean-spirited new immigration law wasn't
about high-minded principle or the need to maintain public order.
Apparently, it was all about putting Latinos in their place.

It's hard to reach any other conclusion
following the state's latest swipe at Latinos. On Tuesday, Gov. Jan
Brewer signed a measure making it illegal for any course in the public
schools to "advocate ethnic solidarity." Arizona's top education
official, Tom Horne, fought for the new law as a weapon against a
program in Tucson that teaches Mexican-American students about their
history and culture.

Horne claims the Tucson classes teach
"ethnic chauvinism." He has complained that young Mexican-Americans are
falsely being led to believe that they belong to an oppressed minority.
The way to dispel that notion, it seems, is to pass oppressive new
legislation aimed squarely at Mexican-Americans. That'll teach the kids
a lesson, all right: We have power. You don't.

Arizona is already facing criticism and
boycotts over its "breathing while Latino" law, which in essence
requires police to identify and jail undocumented immigrants. Now the
state adds insult to that injury.

The education bill begins with a bizarre
piece of nonsense, making it illegal for public or charter schools to
offer courses that "promote the overthrow of the United States
government." Then it shifts from weird to offensive, prohibiting
classes that "promote resentment toward a race or class of people,"
that "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group"
and that "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils
as individuals." When you try to parse those words, the effect is

Is it permissible, under the new law, to teach basic history? More than
half the students in the Tucson Unified School District are Latino, the
great majority of them Mexican-American. The land that is now Arizona
once belonged to Mexico. Might teaching that fact "promote resentment"
among students of Mexican descent? What about a class that taught
students how activists fought to end discrimination against Latinos in
Arizona and other Western states? Would that illegally encourage
students to resent the way their parents and grandparents were treated?

The legislation has an answer: Mexican-American students, it seems, should not be taught to be proud of their heritage.

This angry anti-Latino spasm in Arizona is
only partly about illegal immigration, which has fallen substantially
in the past few years. It's really about fear and denial.

About 30 percent of the state's population
is Latino, and that number continues to rise. This demographic shift
has induced culture shock among some Arizonans who see the old Anglo
power structure losing control. It is evidently threatening, to some
people, that Mexican-Americans would see themselves as a group with
common interests and grievances-and even more threatening that they
might see themselves as distant heirs to the men and women who lived in
Arizona long before the first Anglos arrived.

To counter the threat, solidarity among
Mexican-Americans has to be delegitimized. The group itself has to be
atomized-has to be taught to see itself as a population of unaffiliated
individuals. The social, cultural and historical ties that have united
people across the border since long before there was a border must be denied.

Every minority group's struggle for
acceptance is distinctive, but I can't avoid hearing echoes of the Jim
Crow era in the South. Whites went to great lengths to try to keep
"agitators" from awakening African-Americans' sense of pride and
injustice. They failed, just as the new Arizona law will fail.

It's important to distinguish between
Arizona officials' legitimate concerns and their illegitimate ones. The
state does have a real problem with illegal immigration, and the
federal government has ignored its responsibility to enact
comprehensive reform that would make the border more secure. But
Arizona is lashing out with measures that will not just punish the
undocumented, but also negatively impact Mexican-American citizens
whose local roots are generations deep.

The new education law is gratuitous and
absurd. Arizona can't be picked up and moved to the Midwest; it's next
to Mexico. There have always been families and traditions that straddle
the two societies, and there always will be. Mexican-Americans are
inevitably going to feel proud of who they are and where they came
from-even if acknowledging and encouraging such pride in the classroom
are against the law.

You know kids. They'll just learn it in the street.

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