Richard Delgado is University Professor of Law at Seattle University, where he teaches and writes in the areas of race and civil rights. Jean Stefancic is Research Professor of Law at Seattle University, where she teaches and writes about race, Latinos, and civil rights. They are the authors of The Latino/a Condition (NYU Press) and Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (NYU Press), which was one of the books removed from the curriculum in Arizona.
By Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic
With one of the harshest anti-immigrant laws on the books, Arizona has recently taken to targeting Latino schoolchildren and even the books their teachers use to inform them about their history and culture.
Last week, the Tucson Unified School District eliminated a popular Mexican American Studies program in local high schools that, in a short period of time, had done a lot of good.
Established a few years ago pursuant to a desegregation decree and taught by charismatic teachers, the program had increased the graduation rate of Mexican-origin kids to 93 percent; nationally the rate is around 50. Since the Tucson school district is heavily Latino, that’s a lot of kids.
Egged on by anti-immigrant groups, the Anglo-dominated administration decided that the program was un-American and divisive because it taught the kids about the War with Mexico, struggles for school desegregation, and Jim Crow laws under which people with brown skins had to sit in the balcony of movie theaters, take a back seat in restaurants, swim in public pools on one day of the week only, and work according to a dual wage scale, one for Anglos, the other for Mexicans. They also read novelists like Rodolfo Anaya.
When an outside audit gave the program a positive review, the district ended it anyway and, for good measure, ordered that teachers discontinue using texts like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, Rodolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima, Rodolfo Acuna’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Elizabeth Martinez’s 500 Years of Chicano History, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and a book by the two of us, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, in classes where they had found an eager readership of brown teenagers.
To make sure that everyone got the point, the authorities directed the staff to collect and box seven of the most offensive books during class time so that the students would see them being packed up and carried to trucks bound for a distant book depository.
This may remind many readers of historic episodes of book banning and censorship, while carrying it out in front of the Mexican kids may strike them as a form of psychological torture. But the authorities defended their actions in blandly bureaucratic terms. Some of the books were not “age appropriate,” they insisted, while others failed to inculcate the pro-American attitude mandated by the official curriculum. Interestingly, the same books seem not to have been banished from classrooms in the dominantly white high school across town, where the sons and daughters of University of Arizona professors, doctors, and lawyers will continue to read Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, books on critical theory, and Howard Zinn.
How does it feel to have written a book that is officially banned? We are sorry for the kids and disappointed in the school board. But we decided to move a similar book up on our docket so as to get it into print ahead of schedule. How can we get it into the hands of those disappointed high school students? We plan to discuss this with our press’s publicity and marketing departments next week. Sometimes, it’s hard to kill an idea, and we certainly plan to do our part to keep it that way.