The arc of the moral universe is long …
Arizonans recently experienced two doses of good news. One was the determination by a federal judge that the banning of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) curriculum was rooted in racial animus. The other was the conviction for criminal contempt of court of Joe Arpaio for defying a court order to stop his racial-profiling campaign. These victories didn’t fall out of the sky. They are the culmination of the efforts of many people—students, parents, teachers, community activists, lawyers—who worked hard (via demonstrations, lawsuits, petitions, community organizing, etc.) over many years. I am proud to say that my family and I were very much involved in these resistance activities.
On the surface, banning MAS and Arpaio’s racist actions are totally discrete phenomena. But the underpinnings of these seemingly disparate events are intertwined. They even share a KKK-Neo-Nazi nexus.
SB 1070 is at the root…
The banning of MAS and Arpaio’s actions are rooted in the (“Show me your papers”) SB 1070 law passed by the Arizona legislature in 2010. Based on fear of Mexicans, SB 1070 set out to challenge the legitimacy of people of Mexican descent in Arizona, to portray us as foreigners in our own land. That fear is based on some demographic realities: We are a fast-growing community, we are younger than other U.S. populations, and we tend to have larger families. Many communities and school districts are now Latino-majority.
The latter scares the hell out of the racist folk. In 1982, in a piece I wrote, I said, “The last thing the racists in our midst want is a bunch of educated, articulate, and assertive Chicanos and Chicanas running around doing political mischief—like registering people to vote and running for office.” That was true in 1982, it was true in 2010, and it is true today.
These dynamics are what brought to prominence a pathetically mediocre politician, Russell Pearce, the sponsor and co-author of SB 1070. Pearce was also the original sponsor of the legislation to criminalize Mexican American history in Arizona and ban MAS. Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, who finalized the MAS ban, and Joe Arpaio are proteges of Russell Pearce.
The KKK-Neo-Nazi nexus…
In 2004, I detailed the nexus between Russell Pearce and the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the contemporary incarnation of the White Citizens Councils (aka “white-collar KKK”) who in the 1950s were parties to and/or enablers of the murder of Black children and civil-rights workers in the South. At the time, Pearce was proposing an initiative that addressed the non-existent “problem” of non-citizen immigrants voting in elections, a lie that is still being fomented by President Trump and his minion, Kris Kobach, the other co-author of SB 1070.
[According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Kobach, who is running for Governor of Kansas, has ties to white nationalist groups and has refused to denounce the recent Charlottesville KKK-neo-Nazi-white supremacist rally that resulted in the murder of a counter-protester.]
In 2007, the White Knights of America—the modern version of Mississippi’s 1950s-1960s White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—rallied at the AZ Capitol, vowing to “(Return to) … a White American Nation (and to) fight against the Mexicanization of America.” The White Knights of America’s photo gallery from that day features images of Russell Pearce with known Neo-Nazi J.T. Ready. And there is video footage of Pearce at a 2009 rally at the AZ State Capitol with J.T. Ready. At another rally led by Ready, the Nazi swastika is ubiquitous and the “Seig Heil” Nazi salute is chanted loudly. On video, Ready refers to Pearce as a “father figure.”
[In 2012, J.T. Ready killed his girlfriend and three others, including a one-year-old child, and then himself in a domestic-violence rampage.]
Like his mentor Russell Pearce, Joe Arpaio identified openly with the KKK. On November 12, 2007, Arpaio, a militant proponent of the KKK-endorsed “birther” movement that questioned Barak Obama’s American citizenship, was a guest on CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” On that program Arpaio noted that many people were comparing him to the KKK and boasted that he considered it “an honor” to be compared to the KKK.
Even as Arpaio was expressing his KKK pride, one of his most egregious moral-ethical failings came to light. Between 2004 and 2007, over 400 sex crimes reported to Arpaio’s office were either inadequately investigated or not investigated at all. At least 32 of these dealt with child molestations involving Latino children victims. Apparently, in Arpaio’s universe, the sexual abuse of children is acceptable … if those children are brown and have Spanish surnames.
The genesis of the MAS ban…
According to Horne’s court testimony, the MAS ban originated in the spring of 2006 when Tucson High School Chicano/Chicana students protested a speaker (a Horne ally who would not allow questions) by taping their mouths, turning their backs, raising their fists, and walking out of the auditorium. Horne concluded that this “rude” behavior was taught in MAS classes. That same day Horne saw someone wearing a M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) T-shirt. Believing M.E.Ch.A. to be an “extremely anti-American” organization associated with MAS, Horne concluded that MAS needed to be eliminated.
In 2008, Arizona Senator Russell Pearce, at Horne’s request, introduced legislation to ban MAS. This was the first salvo in the campaign to try to erase our history.
In 2010, Pearce’s anti-MAS legislation re-surfaced as HB 2281 and was passed. On his last day as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, December 30, 2010, Horne found the MAS curriculum in the Tucson Unified School District to be in violation of HB 2281. Huppenthal succeeded Horne and on his first day in office reinforced Horne’s assessment that the Tucson Unified School District MAS curriculum violated HB 2281.
It is noteworthy that Huppenthal ran for the office on the platform of “stopping La Raza.” And for several years Huppenthal posted blog comments under a pseudonym in which he denigrated Mexicans. One typical Huppenthal posting: “No spanish radio stations, no spanish billboards, no spanish tv, no spanish newspapers. This is America, speak English.” In one of these blog postings, Huppenthal sang the praises of Russell Pearce and SB 1070.
The bitter aspects…
The two victories under discussion—the MAS court decision and Arpaio’s conviction—are in a sense bittersweet victories.
While the court finding that the MAS ban was based on racial animus vindicates what we knew and contended all along, it has a bitter aspect, that is, it did not mandate a remedy. The logical remedy, of course, would be to make our community whole by mandating that the MAS curriculum be reinstated in TUSD. Theoretically, the court, which has not issued its final ruling, can still do that.
However, reinstating MAS in TUSD would be quite complicated given TUSD’s pusillanimous decision to accept Huppenthal’s finding that the MAS curriculum was illegal and to dismantle the MAS curriculum. The MAS teachers, who fought valiantly on behalf of their students, are dispersed throughout the district and some have left the district and even the state. The district instituted “culturally relevant courses” to replace the banned MAS courses. These courses have been institutionalized, complicating their uprooting.
Nevertheless, the MAS court finding is a significant victory for our community and can have wide-ranging repercussions. The finding for all intents and purposes nullifies HB 2281 and gives the lie to the racist nonsense that Mexican American history is “un-American” and “promotes the overthrow of the United States government.” And most importantly, it opens the door for Arizona school districts to develop and implement MAS curricula. This is huge.
The bitter aspect of Arpaio’s conviction is that President Trump, the defender of the KKK and neo-Nazis, has pardoned his fellow “birther” and KKK-defender Arpaio. By all accounts, the pardon cannot be undone. But Arpaio’s conviction is nevertheless a huge and significant victory for our community. Any time an avowed racist is brought before the bar of justice and found guilty—keep in mind that the contempt of court conviction derives from Arpaio’s conviction for racial profiling—is a cause for celebration by decent people, particularly Arpaio’s victims. Despite the pardon, Arpaio’s legacy sits in the shadow of his conviction as a racist.
It took a while for these victories to materialize, but they did. As noted by the Rev. Theodore Parker (and cited often by Martin Luther King, Jr.), “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” c/s
Copyright 2017 by Sal Baldenegro. To contact Sal, write: firstname.lastname@example.orgPhotos of elected officials in the public domain. Other photos used under the “fair use” proviso of the copyright law.