U.N.I.D.O.S.Posted: April 1, 2013
Mexican American Studies existed peacefully for almost a decade, and Denise shared with us the warm memories and crucial insights that she attributes to her time in MAS. MAS was a series of classes that gave teachers an opportunity to communicate diverse perspectives on history and literature, as well as engage students in the process and discourse of social change and community involvement. She explained that the classes themselves were formatted to be particularly inclusive and stimulating, with everyone sitting in family-style circles. Some of the MAS classes opened with a poem by Luis Valdez. The poem is called “In Lak’ech,” a Mayan phrase that is best translated to “You are my other me”. Students read books such as…
Through these lessons, Denise explained that she began to develop an analysis of systemic inequality that was pivotal for her and still propels her organizing today. She recalled specifically the realization that low-income students of color were being set up to fail. While their career fair was an opportunity to enroll in the military, wealthier students’ fairs were full of recruiters from prestigious colleges, even Harvard. Segregation in Tucson became conspicuous and unacceptable for MAS students. In addition to the program being a catalyst for analysis, it was also an enormous success in narrowing the achievement gap for underserved Chicano youth. According to district’s records, students in the program had higher test scores and graduated at nearly 90 percent rates. Gabe, a Chicano-Jewish student organizer, was not a participant in MAS. He spoke to us about his own upbringing in a mixed household, and his learned distaste for speaking Spanish. He expressed that this self-loathing process, referred to as indigenization, is widespread and powerful in Chicano and Latino youth. Gabe wishes that he had learned the love and respect for his culture that MAS encouraged, and sees much merit in the program for this reason.
Gabe and Denise traced the attack on Ethnic Studies back to 2006 when United Farm Workers organizer, Dolores Huerta, visited Tucson High School as a guest lecturer and made a comment about republicans “hating Latinos”. Tom Horne, then the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, was outraged. He sent a Latina employee to the high school to correct this grave misrepresentation. The students, silenced and offended by his cheap rebuttal, objected. During her address a group of MAS students silently raised their fists in protest, and eventually walked out.
This interaction sparked widespread condemnation and fear of the program amongst various Arizona legislatures and social conservatives. The program was accused of inciting the overthrow of the United States government, and breeding hostile forms of ethnic solidarity. Out of this paranoia, HB2281 (officially signed as ARS 15-112) was born. The policy was crafted on a state level, signed by Jan Brewer, and prohibited any curriculum that was designed for a particular ethnic group or encouraged ethnic solidarity or resentment. John Huppenthal, the current Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, had the MAS program reviewed under this new legislature. He had run for office on a platform of “stopping La Raza”, and had every intention of keeping this promise. Unfortunately, after lengthy review, his auditors did not find MAS to be out of compliance with ARS 15-112. The program was outlawed regardless.
In April 2011, the school board, in an attempt to comply with RS 15-112, was planning to vote to relegate the MAS core curriculum into electives. Gabe and Denise describe this moment as pivotal in their organizing. Just before the meeting started, nine young people stormed the boardroom. Struggling with security guards, the students successfully chained themselves to the boardmembers’ chairs and began to chant, “Our education is under attack—what do wedo? We fight back!” A gathering of supporters filled the boardroom, thesidewalk and both traffic lanes of the street outside. Denise recalls that this was the first time the students were really listened to. They demanded attention and the right to defend the programs they loved.
Denise and Gabe were kind enough to share with us their “Declaration of Intellectual Warriors”, a proposal they fashioned in partnership with allying groups, and are submitting in response to the TUSD Unitary Status Plan. The Unitary Status Plan was proposed to bring an end to the longstanding school desegregation case, Fisher, et al., Mendoza, et al. v. TUSD, CV 74-90 TUC DCB. The plan strives to provide equal educational opportunities to African American and Latino students, without the direct reinstitution of MAS. Denise and Gabe expressed concern that while these reforms would establish curriculum covering a range of histories and struggles, it was staunchly standardized, and would not enliven students in the same manner as the MAS program. The pedagogy had been oppressed, they joked.
Their demands include:
UNIDOS is fighting constantly to protect and expand EthnicStudies. They envision education that promotes diversity, justice, and equity, and they choose to frame education as a human right. They believe that truly relevant curriculum sheds light on the pervasive inequities within education, and stimulates social change. As a participant in the Border Studies Program I am honored to speak and work with these devoted and powerful young people.