"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book banning, book burnings. Same symptoms, same system.

In the effort to vanish our books, Arizona has actually given them enormous power. Arizona has made our books sacred documents now. — Sherman Alexie

Resist Arizona Book Burnings and Racist Attacks on Ethnic Studies everywhereA week or so ago someone on the Southern California Immigration Coalition mailing list reprinted both an old letter and a recent essay from celebrated scholar and author Rodolfo Acuña regarding the neocolonialism and program of cultural suppression in Arizona. I had been wanting to repost them here, but with my schoolboard run and all the other activism I'm neck deep in, I've been too busy to even consider it.

For whatever reason I kept thinking about the Tucson book banning all day and at the same time I kept picturing the Säuberung (maybe because I recently accompanied my wife to the Museum of Tolerance for her school assignment). The parallels between how the early 20th century fascists handled literature counter to their false world view and today's reactionary political climate have been pointed out before. On a lark I checked the date of the Nazi book burnings and was shocked to learn they occurred on this date 79 years ago (May 10, 1933). Serendipity of sorts?

Compelled to tweet the sad fact that the state adjacent mine is engaged in unabashed racism and oppression, I included our good friends from the Zinn Education Project in my tweet. They promptly thanked me and created a facebook post documenting the event.

We need to remember that whether it's Arizona Book Banning, Texas Textbooks, or Common Core Standards, reactionaries will find ways to try and keep the oppressed from learning their agency and working for their liberation.


Be Careful What You Wish for ‘Cause It Might Come True

By Rodolfo Acuña

My dream was to live in Tucson. In the early 1970s I even applied for a job at the University of Arizona, but the interview invitation was withdrawn after I participated in a protest there the weekend before my interview. I woke up.

The saying, “Be Careful What You Wish for ’cause It Might Come True,” could have not have been more prophetic.

I did much of the research for my dissertation in Tucson. The pueblo’s charm was seductive and eclipsed its flaws: Whites and Mexicans rode separate bus lines and housing patterns created two Tucsons. Yet, change was possible and white and brown progressives coalesced on many issues.

In the late 1960s there were not many Mexicans at the U of A. Most professors there seemed to believe that Arizona history began in 1853 when US minister James Gadsden told Mexico, sell us southern Arizona for $10 million or we’ll take it.

Western history was Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral. A well-known U of A history professor taught his classes with six shooters holstered at his side, wore cowboy boots and had a swagger to his walk and talk.

Aside from exceptional anthropologists such as the great Edward Spicer, the U of A reminded me of what Tombstone would have looked like circa the 1880s.

Things over the years went from bad to worse and by the 1980s vigilantes on the border resembled the unshaven characters in the movie “Deliverance” that abused Bert Reynolds’ friends.

Over the years there have been changes – somewhat. An example is the outlandish statements Tucson Unified School District Board Member Michael Hicks made on the Daily Show. Hicks is important; he sets policy for the school district.  His embarrassing statements that can be heard on the internet (http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-april-2-2012/tucson-s-mexican-american-studies-ba ) are not an aberration. They are a repetition of what Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and State Superintendent of School John Huppenthal often say.

From reading comments addressed to the Hicks interview, it seems that his remarks did not offend most Tucson viewers. They only objected that Jon Stewart had made them public. I guess they prefer the business approach of TSUD Superintendent John Pedicone and his cabal at the Southern Arizona Leadership Council.

This week Pedicone’s business style showed itself as he mimicked the baptism scene in the “Godfather.”  In a matter of hours, the SALC mob wiped out its enemies just like Michael Corleone settled family business.

The first victim was Tucson Citizen blogger David Morales, AKA “The Three Sonorans.” David is a doctoral candidate in Applied Mathematics at the UA who works in the field of anthropological genetics.

Mark Evans, the administrator of the Citizen’s bloggers, said he shut down the blog because of a “reckless disregard for the truth.”  (Evidently Evans does not read the Citizen or for that matter Arizona newspapers).

Evans explained that “This decision wasn’t taken lightly. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks after (Morales) took out recall petitions on (TUSD Governing Board member Michael) Hicks.” This is the same Hicks of Daily Show fame that has made a career of bashing Mexicans. Incidentally, he is reputedly a member of the Tea Party.

David’s departure is a tremendous loss. He stands almost alone in opposition to SALC mob. True that he has ticked off many politicians, Mexican Americans included. However, this is the nature of free speech, a free press and democracy.

Aside from my academic work, I was a columnist for the now defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, the Los Angeles Times and La Opinión. I know that people in high places get perturbed — that comes with the territory. In conversations with professional journalists, I have been told that the only time you have to worry is when the advertisers get upset.

In Tucson, it is SALC who is the major advertiser in the City, controlling local institutions such as the city and county governments, the colleges and university, and yes, the TUSD, which Pedicone, a former vice-president of SALC, heads.

David upset them with his courageous defense of the TUSD Mexican American Studies Program and the Mexican community. For him, Barrio Viejo is a symbol of what is being done to the Mexican’s presence in Tucson.

The next target was the lynchpin of MAS, Sean Arce, its coordinator who has fought courageously against the censorship of books used in the program and against its dismantling.  Sean committed the sin of whistle blowing and exposing the chicanery of the system and those who run it.  He also spearheads a federal case challenging HB 2281 and is calling attention to the district’s avoidance and defiance of federal court orders.

Sean is a recognized national scholar whose program has resulted in keeping students of all colors in school. His pedagogy works. For this he has been honored by the Howard Zinn Project and supported by thousands of people nationwide.

Christine Sleeter, President of the National Association for Multicultural Education, calls Arce a “steadfast pillar of an outstanding program that was unlike what he had access to as a student.” She and other educators attest to the program’s success.

If and when the federal suit is successful Arce’s leadership will be needed to rebuild the program which is what Pedicone and company fear. To make sure that the program is not resurrected my inside sources tell me that Pedicone has put six other MAS teachers on an elimination list.

In order to mute the opposition, Pedicone is frantically trying to buy out the Fredo Corleones in the community and in the school district.

Fredos are easy to come by. People have their motives for compromising: they get tired of struggle; they rationalize that they can do it within the system; money and power seduce them.  There are very few people like David and Sean who don’t have a price.

I have been told countless times, “I have to think of my family.”  I feel like telling them, “I also have a family, cabrón.” But over the years I have learned that this does no good. Changes come about because of the sacrifices of a few. Still, I feel like grabbing their faces and screaming, “You broke my heart, Fredo.”

To sum up, I am fortunate that my dream did not come true.  I live in a state where we have unions and where academic freedom for the time being exists. Sean has been a teacher for over a decade and a half and he has to have his contract renewed annually. It is a state where academic freedom is qualified; where the Constitution is being nullified.

When I taught in the Los Angeles Unified Schools, I openly opposed the Vietnam War and was critical of the system’s race policies.  Fortunately, I was never threatened with dismissal, I belonged to a union.

In my forty-two years at California State University Northridge, I clashed violently with administrators, criticized them in the press, and appeared on television denouncing them. But, the late President James Cleary always defended my academic freedom and responded to vicious red-baiting.

The co-editor of “Robert’s Rules of Order” Cleary respected the traditions of the academy. He respected the institution. He did not bend to the CSU Chancellor or the lynch mob that wanted to fire me.

As mentioned, Hicks is not an aberration in Arizona.  He mirrors those in power who have media consultants that filter their words. They are the biggest threat to traditions of free speech that made this country different.


Letter to the Editor of Tucson Citizen regarding Arizona’s “Big Lie” Law, SB 1108

By Rodolfo Acuña

Letter to the Editor:

Unlike many of the present day squatters in Arizona, I have deep feelings for Arizona. My mother’s family, the Elíases lived there for centuries.

But recently I have been swimming in a sea of emails alerting me to Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, amendments to Senate Bill 1108 that would permit Arizona to confiscate books, ban Chicano studies and exclude the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlan (MECHA) from Arizona’s campuses.

I am 75-years young and have lived through the McCarthy era and read about similar thought control crusades which history has exposed as idiotic. In the 1920s the words to the pledge of alliance were changed from “my flag” to the “flag of the United States” so aliens would not cross their fingers and salute a foreign flag. The present proposal ranks along side these kinds of idiocies.

If Pearce has his way, Arizona schools would ban courses “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization” and would teaching practices that “overtly encourage dissent” from those values, including democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious tolerance. Rep. Pearce who is not the sharpest knife in the box then would bar public schools, community colleges and universities from allowing organizations to operate on campus if it is “based in whole or in part on race-based criteria.” Among the books designated for burning is my book Occupied America: A History of Chicanos which has received the Gustavus Myers Award for an Outstanding Book on Race Relations in North America.

I am personally offended by Pearce’s labeling my book as seditious. Unlike Pearce I served in the armed forces and did not claim deferments. I was a full time student in good standing at the University of Southern California during the Korean War. I volunteered draft. Pearce and many of the thought control cadets took another route. Moreover, many of the statements Pearce attributes to Occupied America were in quotation marks. Having taught well prepared students from the University of Phoenix, I know that Phoenix teaches its students what quotation marks mean. .

For Pearce’s information, history is probative. It builds. That is why the content of U.S. history courses change from elementary through high school. University courses which Pearce should are much more complex.

What I am more concerned about are Pearce’s attempts to smear MECHA. Adolph Hitler was a proponent of the use of the Big Lie as a viable propaganda technique. Hitler said that the bigger the lie the more adapt people were to believe it.

Pearce implies that MECHA excludes other races and promotes racism, which is just not true. For Pearce’s information, MECHA organizations on every campus are chartered by student affairs. In order to be chartered, the organization has to be open to all students regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion. Every campus differs. I have visited hundreds of campuses throughout the country and have found that on some campuses the majority of the members were non-Mexican American.

I entered education because I wanted to give gang kids an alternative – I loved the kids but hated gangs. Many former gang members are today lawyers, medical doctors and teachers because of Chicano studies and MECHA. Indeed, in California 85 to 95 percent of all Latino elected officials are alumni of this organization. Frankly, people like Pearce relish in the portrayal of Mexican Americans as gang members rather than university graduates because they can step on us.

The Big Lie strategy of Pearce and company is effective because most people become paralyzed in the face of the Big Lie. During World War II, most Americans turned a deaf ear to the herding of over 100,000 Japanese Americans into concentration camps. As a Mexican American I am proud of 16-year old Ralph Lazo from Belmont High in Los Angeles who said that this is not right and declared himself of Japanese decent and went to Manzanar with his friends. That is in Occupied America.

Mexican Americans should realize that these attacks are today directed at them because Pearce looks at them as weak. He has not yet taken on the Hillel or the Newman Clubs on college campuses who like MECHA do fine work and incidentally have Jewish Americans and Catholics as their core members.

Hopefully, Arizonians will wake up and people like Pearce will suffer the same fate as the Pete Wilsons did in California. His attacks are race specific and based on the Big Lie. And history will unfortunately judge Arizonians.

Rodolfo F. Acuña, PhD

Chicana/o Studies Department

California State University at Northridge


RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution.

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