Sacred Goals—The MAS struggle in Tucson
My son Salomon (aka Sal, Jr.) and his colleague Fausto Olmos (more on them below) are producing a film, “Sacred Goals,” highlighting the fierce and inspiring fight waged by high-school students and their parents, teachers, and the community to save Mexican American Studies (MAS) in the Tucson Unified School District.
To refresh your memory: On January 10, 2012, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) deemed that Mexican American history and the teaching of that history were illegal and dismantled the Mexican American Studies curriculum. Two days later, 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. The book ban even 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. It is noteworthy that the book ban was itself discriminatory. 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 MAS fight is not yet over…
“Sacred Goals” is an important and highly relevant film and story, for our fight is not yet over. As we speak, that fight continues in the courtroom—the federal trial on the MAS case began last month, on June 26, in Tucson. The issue before the court is whether “racial animus” was involved in the decision-making process of the two Arizona Superintendents of Public Instruction —Tom Horne, and later, his successor John Huppenthal—who determined that MAS was illegal. A glimpse into Huppenthal’s thinking: in his campaign for State Superintendent of Schools, Huppenthal ran ads promising to “Stop La Raza.” After a week of testimony, the case was continued until July 17.
And the election of Donald Trump has brought out and emboldened the Mexican haters and the anti-MAS forces and book banners. For example, Arizona’s chief racist, the disgraced Russell Pearce, the co-author of the racist “Show me your papers” law, SB 1070, came out from under his rock and just last week sued the Arizona Board of Regents for allowing DACA students to pay in-state university tuition. [SB 1070’s other co-author, Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, is chairing Trump’s so-called Commission on Election Integrity, aka Commission on Voter Suppression.]
“Sacred Goals”—principled organizing, personal awakenings …
“Sacred Goals” is a docudrama feature film inspired by true events—the fight to protect ethnic studies in Arizona schools—that occurred in Tucson, AZ. “Ethnic studies” really is a misnomer in that the ONLY program targeted was Mexican American Studies. Two overlapping themes underlie “Sacred Goals.”
One revolves around the reality that Arizona youth found themselves in an increasingly hateful political climate created by SB1070 and HB2281, which outlawed Mexican American Studies. Mexican American students and their supporters had two choices: adapt to the culture of hate or fight back. To their credit, a group of students, primarily led by young women, organized themselves and fought back (The chief chant at rallies was: “When our education is under attack, what do we do? … Fight back!”). These courageous students stood up to defend their education and their culture and inspired their parents, teachers, and a large portion of the community to stand with them. “Sacred Goals” tells their powerful and inspiring story.
A second theme focuses on the personal effect of the “Save MAS” movement. “Sacred Goals” details the personal awakening of Diego, a high-school soccer player. As a “Sacred Goals” promotional blurb says: “All Diego ever wanted to do was play soccer, and help his high school team win a state championship. But when Arizona politicians banned his school’s ethnic studies classes, Diego and his classmates Yazmine and Daniela would soon be in the fight of their lives.”
Salomón (Sal, Jr.), who wrote the screenplay for “Sacred Goals,” was intimately involved in the struggle to save MAS—he participated in and spoke at Save MAS rallies and was part of a group of Mexican Americans (students and community members) who confronted Arizona Superintendent of Instruction Tom Horne, who initiated the law outlawing MAS.
And more recently, Salomón was involved in the campaign to stop HB 2120, a direct assault on academic freedom that would have made it a crime in Arizona for community colleges and universities to teach classes or host events that “promote social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class, or other class of people.” As a result of that pressure campaign, the bill was withdrawn.
Chicano scholar icons: We should document our history … history matters …
In 1968 the late Octavio Ignacio Romano-V. published “The Anthropology and Sociology of the Mexican-Americans: The Distortion of Mexican-American History.” In his essay, Romano articulately and forcefully tore into the social scientists—including some who claimed to be “sympathetic” to us—for explaining the behavior, history and culture of the Mexican-American community in blatantly racist and stereotypical terms.
Among other things, we were described in the social science literature as a people driven by superstition, fatalism, laziness and lack of ambition, sexual promiscuity and envy. According to these social scientists, these alleged cultural attributes were at the root of whatever social, political, economic or educational problems confronted us. In short, we were depicted as a quaint mass of passive creatures who merely absorbed history rather than generated it. Romano gave example after example, going back to the late 1800s, of Mexican-Americans organizing strikes and taking legal or other actions to improve their position—in other words, generating history. A basic lesson in Romano’s work was that in order for our people’s history, culture, traditions, etc., to be truthfully and realistically portrayed, we need to document our own history ourselves.
Rodolfo “Rudy” Acuña, the Dean, as it were, of Chicano Studies, is one of our community’s most revered and respected intellectuals, our foremost historian. Ironically, Acuña was dissuaded by his academic advisor from majoring in history and specializing in Mexican American history because there was no future in that field. In 1972, Acuña published “Occupied America: A history of Chicanos,” arguably the most cogent and widely-read history of Mexican Americans (“Occupied America” is one of the TUSD MAS books that was banned). Acuña’s meticulously researched book, detailing our community’s dynamic history, put to rest permanently the stereotypical notion that Mexican Americans have no history
Like Romano, Acuña has encouraged Mexican American students to study and tell our history and has inspired and mentored hundreds of budding scholars to research and write about various aspects of Mexican American history. Acuña’s mantra is: History matters.
As a result of Romano’s and Acuna’s exhortations and inspiration, we now have hundreds of Chicano and Chicana scholars, filmmakers, poets, musicians, playwrights and artists generating accurate depictions of our people.
Salomón and Fausto, with “Sacred Goals,” are keeping faith with that tradition and are accepting the baton from their parents’ generation.
We need to support our own…
A corollary to telling our own history—in books, articles, movies, murals, poems, etc.—is that we need to support our artists. We need to attend their films, their art exhibits, their concerts and recitals, their poetry readings, buy their books, etc. Moreover, we need to expose our children and grandchildren to the works of our artists. If we don’t support our own, how can we expect others to?
In keeping with their community orientation, Sal and Fausto established a Crowdfunding account, through which many people invested in “Sacred Goals” and helped raise the necessary funds for the initial phases of the project. Once a film trailer has been finished and edited, another Crowdfunding account will be set up to raise funds for the production and distribution of the full film. I will distribute information about that Crowdfunding account—as well as the relevant information (mailing address, etc.) for people who want to contribute by check.
Writer/Director Sal Baldenegro was born and raised in Tucson, AZ. Sal attended TUSD public schools, including Tucson High Magnet School, the home school of MAS. He received his B.A. degree in Media Arts from the University of Arizona’s School of Theatre, Film and Television, in 2006. Sal writes from his own personal experience, having been very involved in the fight against HB2281 and SB1070, and working as a high-school soccer coach for four years. This is his first feature film.
Producer Fausto Olmos-Rentería was born in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Fausto is a graduate of Tucson High Magnet School, the home school of MAS. He studied acting at Pima Community College and performed in theater before transitioning to film. Fausto has had lead roles in and has produced several films, one of which (“Between You And Me”) won the Best Of Fest award at the IndieAzFest Film Festival in Tempe AZ as well as the Best Of Thesp and Audience Choice Awards. He recently produced a children’s show, “Burrito Cowboy.”
“Sacred Goals” marks Fausto’s and Sal’s first collaboration. c/s
Copyright 2017 by Salomon Baldengro. To contact Sal write: firstname.lastname@example.org Photos of Rudy Acuna, Camerman, and Tucson students copyright by Barrio Dog Prods Inc. all other photos used in this article are in the public domain or used under “fair use” proviso of the copyright law.