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Dear Tucson Students, It Gets Better

Jeff Biggers

It's spring-time in the Sonoran Desert, and as la maravilla of the wild flowers stretches across the valleys of southern Arizona, caravans of literary heroes and national education advocates will be descending on the Old Pueblo this weekend for a series of celebrations in support of Tucson's outlawed Mexican American Studies program.

And just in time.

The trauma and stress over the dismantling of the Mexican American Studies program, including the confiscation of books in front of young middle school and high school students, and the unbridled demonization of Tucson's deeply rooted Mexican American community, has never been addressed by Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) officials. In truth, while TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone continues to refer to the whole Mexican American Studies crisis as a "distraction," not one assistant superintendent in his office or member on the Tucson Unified School Board, with the exception of Adelita Grijalva, has ever addressed the emotional, psychological and academic fallout over their hit-and-run decision to pull the plug on one of the most successful and acclaimed educational programs in the nation.

TUSD spokesperson Cara Rene, despite repeated requests, refused to even answer whether TUSD had assigned any special counselors or planned to consider any issues or problems for reassigned Mexican American Studies (MAS) students.

Listen to the testimonies of these MAS students at a special forum last week in Tucson, joined by students and faculty from California State at Northridge, courtesy of the Three Sonorans blog:

It gets better, dear Tucson students.

As the keynote speaker at the huge Tucson Festival of Books, New York Times bestselling author Luis Urrea, whose nationally acclaimed books were included the unprecedented roundup and ban on all Mexican American Studies curricula in the TUSD classrooms (limited copies in a handful of libraries remain), will be delivering his own personal message to the city:

The irony for me is that AZ is the place my work is afforded the greatest kindness. Just weeks before the banning, I was awarded the Southwest Books citation for best work about the Southwest. In Tucson. Ahem. Next month, I will go frolic at the Tucson Festival of Books. What is happening here? What it is ain't exactly clear... It's about the kids. I don't care about your politics.

As part of the festival, celebrated Mexican American Studies literature teacher Curtis Acosta will hold a public workshop on Saturday, March 10th, at 11:30 at the Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs Lounge Room 205.

As one of the most inspiring literary movements in decades, literary wizard Tony Diaz and his "librotraficante" caravan will also be arriving in Tucson this week, in preparation for a weeklong celebration of literature, intellectual freedom, and anti-censorship traditions, and to remind Arizona of its great literary pioneers.

As O'odham poet Nathan Allen always reminded me in Tucson: Sup un thun thuth mumth e tha da. I'm so glad you have come.

"Perhaps the humble appearance of El Hoyo justifies the discerning shrugs of more than few people only vaguely aware of its existence," Tucson author Mario Suarez wrote in 1947, in his pioneering fiction work about barrio life, Chicano Sketches. "Yet El Hoyo is not the desperate outpost of a few families against the world." Suarez is considered the first author to used the term "chicano" in modern literature: "Chicano is the short way of saying Mexicano," he wrote, "it is the long way of referring to everybody."

It gets better, dear Tucson students.

Yesterday, the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) and 26 education and civil rights organizations filed an Amicus Curiae "Friend of the Court" brief in U.S. District Court in Tucson, as part of the historic Mexican American Studies lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Arizona's bizarre ban.

Devon Peña, NACCS Past Chair, said:

We support the Mexican American Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District and are united in opposition to academic discrimination against Mexican American and Ethnic Studies. This respected field of study has been unjustly targeted and demonized by Arizona authorities, which is strangling the pursuit of a comprehensive education and silencing the perspective of Mexican Americans and their cultural background. This law has resulted in censorship of important books and eliminated a program with proven academic success for traditionally neglected students.

It gets better, dear Tucson students.

Efforts are now underway by the Citizens for Educational Excellence, a broad bipartisan group of parents, educators, community activists and concerned Tucsonans to recall disgraced TUSD board member Michael Hicks, the embarrassing Tea Party extremist that has openly taunted students at board meetings, issued conflicting statements on board meeting facts, and compared Mexican American Studies professors to Penn State child sex abusers.

In an interview earlier this winter, veteran Chicano educator and author Salomon Baldenegro, Sr. reflected on the cycles of anti-democratic efforts to marginalize Latinos and indigenous people in their native land of Arizona. Baldenegro's extraordinary contributions, in fact, were included in the textbook Chicano: History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, one of the books banished from TUSD classrooms.

"We are resilient," Baldenegro reminded us. "Our history is not one of victimization. Our history is one of achievement. We have not only survived all manner of attacks, we have gone forward. And we're going to win again."

Here's an excerpt from his interview, courtesy of the Three Sonorans blog:

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