THE UNBANNING OF MEXICAN AMERICAN HISTORY.
A serendipitous encounter in a public library during Banned Books Week precipitated a chain of events that resulted in the un-banning of Mexican American Studies (MAS)-related books, albeit with some convoluted politics. To refresh your memory:
On January 10, 2012, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), on a 4-1 vote, deemed that Mexican American history and the teaching of that history were illegal and dismantled the Mexican American Studies curriculum. The anti-MAS initiative was led by TUSD board member Mark Stegeman.
Two days later, TUSD issued a memo to the MAS teachers informing them that the following books were to be removed from the classroom: Occupied America: A History of Chicanos ( Rodolfo Acuña). 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures (Ed., Elizabeth Martinez). Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement (Arturo Rosales). Message to Aztlan (Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales). Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (Ed., Bill Bigelow, Bob Peterson). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Fiere). Critical Race Theory (Richard Delgado).
TUSD personnel went into the MAS classrooms, while classes were in session, to confiscate books and teaching materials—including wall posters—having to do with Mexican Americans and/or that deal with topics that are banned (e.g., civil rights) from MAS classrooms. This included Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” which explores the issues of morality, fairness, and oppression, topics that are “illegal” in the context of Mexican Americans in Arizona and TUSD.
The book ban was selective. Non-MAS teachers in the district could use the banned books (and could teach “The Tempest”)—only MAS teachers were prohibited from using the books and from teaching “The Tempest.”
The Book Ban engendered outrage nationwide, and not only among Mexican American/Latino(a) organizations and scholars. Groups such as the American Association of University Professors; Association of American University Presses; an affiliate of the American Library Association; National Council for the Social Studies, and the National Council of Teachers of English condemned the TUSD book ban.
Despite the local and national protests and appeals, TUSD held fast, and the book ban stood.
Fast forward to September 23, 2013. TUSD board member Mark Stegeman was a guest speaker at a meeting of the Arizona Legislative District 3 (LD3) Democratic Committee, of which my wife Ceci Cruz and I are members.
During the Q/A period, I addressed Stegeman and noted that it was very symbolic that this was Banned Book Week and we were meeting in a public library surrounded by Banned Books Week posters and told Stegeman this would be a good time to un-ban the MAS books he and the TUSD board banned last year.
Surprisingly, Stegeman said that he would like the MAS books unbanned. Ceci then made a motion (seconded by virtually everyone) requesting the TUSD Board to un-ban the MAS books. The motion passed unanimously. The LD3 resolution was forwarded to TUSD, and a few days later, Stegeman requested that a resolution unbanning the books be put on the TUSD agenda.
Stegeman’s agenda request created a tense dynamic, given that Stegeman had led the move to dismantle MAS, which led to the book ban in the first place. Understandably, the TUSD Board President, Adelita Grijalva, who had fought Stegeman the entire time he worked to dismantle MAS and who was the sole vote against the dismantling, was suspicious of Stegeman’s agenda request. His request didn’t go anywhere.
But the LD3 resolution, which coincided with the adoption of a set of “culturally relevant” courses, brought the issue of the banned books back into the consciousness of the school district and of the public.
A book list was being developed for the “culturally relevant” courses, and the initial list was criticized by the LD3 group and others because it contained no books by Mexican American authors. A criterion for a book to be added to the list was if a teacher requested the book.
So, HT Sanchez, the new TUSD Superintendent (who replaced the anti-MAS John Pedicone) asked teachers to request the banned books for the “culturally relevant” book list. All the banned books were requested.
Thus, on October 22, 2013, on a 3-2 vote, all the MAS banned books were made “legal” again by the TUSD school board and authorized for use throughout the district. Voting against the un-banning were Mark Stegeman and virulent MAS hater Michael Hicks. Note that Stegeman went full circle: militant anti-MAS crusader to wannabe MAS book un-banning champion to anti-MAS books stalwart.
Reaction to the unbanning is mixed. There are those who maintain that we should not be celebrating the un-doing of something that should not have happened in the first place. Others see the unbanning of the MAS books as purely symbolic in that the MAS courses they were attached to no longer exist.
The above points of view definitely have merit. But others note that the un-banning of the books strikes a blow against former and current State Superintendent of Education Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, the forces behind the banning of MAS.
No matter which view one subscribes to, removing the “illegal” label from books that detail our community’s rich history is a good thing and reinforces the indisputable reality that there is no way the history of Arizona and our country can be taught without extensive discussion of our community’s substantial and substantive contributions. c/s
Salomon Baldenegro can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org