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Arizona Unbound: National Actions on Mexican American Studies Banishment

Jeff Biggers

What happens in Arizona doesn't stay in Arizona.

As Tea Party state education chief John Huppenthal retreats into his office after an embarrassing national media tour on Arizona's extremist Ethnic Studies crackdown, and Tucson Unified School District administrators continue their slide into a public relations disaster over banishing Mexican American Studies curricula and books, a remarkably diverse array of librarians, educators, writers, civil rights activists and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is mounting a series of national actions to call attention to educational and civil rights violations and to support local Tucson efforts.

On January 24th, the American Library Association issued a condemnation of Arizona's "suppression of open inquiry and free expression caused by closure of ethnic and cultural studies programs on the basis of partisan or doctrinal disapproval," and the Tucson school district's "restriction of access to educational materials associated with ethnic and cultural studies programs." The national library association, with active chapters across the country, also called on the state to support a new bill to repeal the Ethnic Studies ban.

As a follow up to their extraordinary request to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the Department of Education this week for a federal investigation of civil rights violations by the state of Arizona, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is urging constituents to change their profile picture on Facebook and Twitter to a special logo -- "You Can't Ban Books, You Can't Ban History" -- on Thursday, January 26, 2012.

On February 1st, teachers and schools around the country have been encouraged by Rethinking Schools, whose nationally acclaimed textbook Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years was confiscated and banished from Tucson schools, to follow the suggestion of former Tucson Mexican American Studies literature teacher Curtis Acosta for a "national day of solidarity where teachers would teach our curriculum all over the nation."

Along with special forums planned across the country, from California to New York, a network of educators in Georgia is sponsoring a "Teach-in" in Atlanta on Saturday, Feb. 4th.

The event is framed as a "Teach-in," where we can inform the community about what's happening, work together to fight censorship and racism in schools, and make plans for future social justice activism. Groups will include:

(1) curricular action, in which participants create lesson plans and activities for PK-12 students on issues of censorship, critical pedagogy, and/or Mexican American history;

(2) censored books dialogue, in which participants learn about the books that were banned and the theories contained within them; and

(3) legislative overview, in which participants discuss legal implications of the ban in Arizona and around the country.

Finally, the group will come back together to plan action steps that can be taken in higher education, PK-12 schools, and communities in Georgia and around the country.

Several national petitions are also being circulating, including a petition by former Mexican American Studies teacher Norma Gonzales, who has called on the Tucson school district to "immediately remove these books from their 'district storage facility' and make them available in each school's library. Knowledge cannot be boxed off and carried away from students who want to learn!"

In a stunning revelation last week, a review of the TUSD library catalog found that there are less than 2 or 3 copies of some of the banished texts in libraries serving more than 60,000 students., the national Latino and human rights organization, is also circulating a petition to "tell Superintendent Pedicone and the school board to reverse the ban and reinstate the Mexican American Studies program."

In one of the most creative actions to take on Arizona's removal of books and texts, Texas author and literary organizer extraordinaire Tony Diaz is assembling a caravan of renowned authors and librotraficantes to deliver banished books to Arizona students in March.

Here's Diaz's kick-off video:

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