The legislative ban on ethnic studies classes in Arizona high schools was upheld in Administrative court in Phoenix, AZ in December by judge Lewis D. Kowal of the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings. More accurately, the ban on Mexican-American studies in Tucson has been upheld. We can add Judge Kowal to the names of John Huppenthal and Tom Horne, who pushed this bill through the Republican dominated state legislature, as well as Joe Arpaio and others, who want to shut up Mexicans.
These white men are concerned that teaching Mexican, Chicano, and other children about Mexican-American history and ethnic studies would create a classroom environment that “demonizes white people as oppressors of Hispanics.” This claim is ridiculous; one or two classes of ethnic studies can’t make up for 10 years of teaching the history of European Americans in the United States. Here is the language in the law addressing the concerns of Huppenthal, Horne and anti-ethnic studies groups.
The four activities identified by the bill that warrant fund withholding include classes that:
1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government
2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group
4. Advocate for ethnic solidarity
Ethnic studies has nothing to do with promoting government overthrow, and there are already laws against treason. This point is a ridiculous, fear mongering tactic. Moreover, the point of ethnic studies is to focus on one particular ethnic group. Hasn’t American history focused primarily on White Europeans for years? People who don’t want an educated populous fight against a diversity of knowledge. And what’s so scary about ethnic solidarity? It’s only scary if you are insecure and know that minorities working together means you will no longer be able to bully them, harass them with impunity and you, as a soon to be white minority, may no longer be elected to office.
And how about point number two, the idea that ethnic studies promotes resentment. Do our state officials not know that there is already resentment against White Europeans for the treatment of Mexican Americans? And yes, there are historical reasons for this resentment. Do people actually believe that banning the study of Mexican-Americn history will alleviate resentment minority students feel toward a White, Eurocentric school system? And more to the point, don’t the anti-ethnic studies groups understand that teenagers have more to be concerned with than historical oppression. There’s grades, work, family, relationships and dozens of other issues students are facing and one ethnic studies class won’t create groups of revolutionary Mexicans. Once again, right-wingers overreact and create a bigger problem for themselves.
Here are a few facts that might lead to resentment:
Mexico controlled the land that is now Arizona for almost four decades until the United States, mostly white folks of Protestant faith, moved into Texas, and through guile and the gun, cajoled Mexico into a war with the United States (1846-48). Half of Mexico was ceded to the victorious United States, mainly the lands north of the Rio Grande. This U.S. victory led to oppression of many Mexican-Americans, the kind of oppression Judge Kowal wants us to ignore.
Thousands of Mexican citizens lost their land after the war due to the difference between land ownership laws, manipulation by white judges (again with the white judges) and through violence. “Two generations later, most Mexicans living in the U.S. no longer held title to their lands and found their cultural way of life increasingly under attack as U.S. white supremacy came to predominate. In California, as land transferred from Mexican to Euro-American hands, a very racially-motivated Workingman’s Party dominated the call for a Constitutional Convention. In 1879, that new Constitution not only made Chinese immigration illegal (the primary cause of the Party), but it also destroyed the legal protections Mexicans once enjoyed, rights promised to them in the 1848 Treaty. ”
So, promising Mexican nationals U.S. citizenship and title to land they owned before the war and then later taking the land doesn’t constitute sufficient “oppression” of Mexicans by whites, thus we shouldn’t teach our students this history. It’s not oppression, it’s just inconvenient facts that some Whites want to hide from us.
What about segregation of Mexicans and white Europeans in the Southwest akin to black segregation in the South? Does that count? White men in power like Horne, Huppenthal, Kowak and others want to hide this history of discrimination behind a wall of reverse discrimination nonsense. Are they afraid that when Latinos become a plurality or majority in this state that they will go after the whites? Don’t worry guys, class will still keep us separate after the Mexican reconquista. Or will it?
Then there is the legal exploitation and not so legal abuse of workers of Mexican descent. These workers get paid subpar wages, some live in company like towns on farms in squalid conditions, many work more dangerous jobs, they have no rights as workers, get no insurance, and don’t benefit from their contributions to Social Security. We complain about “illegal” workers from Mexico, but we target the victims of this labor situation, the Mexican workers. Seldom do we go after companies that benefit form this illegal labor, and seldom do we realize how our economy benefits from this cheap supply of labor.
Mexican workers have been used in the United States ever since the United States won the war over Mexico. First, there was a rush to fill the labor needed to build the railway from the United States to Mexico. Thousands of Mexican workers filled that labor gap. Mexican labor was utilized to fill the farm jobs left vacant when the United States government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. In times of war, predominantly WWI and WWII, Mexican labor was brought to work in the fields as U.S. soldiers went off to war. Then when the Mexicans had been used to fill our needs, they were blamed for job loses and legal steps were made to exclude them. The Bracero Program passed in 1942 brought more than 4 million Mexican workers for the growing agriculture industry in the West, main California, and for the war effort.
Mexican labor today is also utilized in poultry and pig farms and all sorts of back breaking work. This kind of labor exploitation can easily be labeled “oppression”, and I am sure that ruling white men would be against labor history as well as Mexican-American studies, because labor history discusses oppression of workers by the ruling classes.
Dr. Amster of Prescott College, writing at Truthdig explains their motivation, “There’s a word for what Arizona is attempting to do here: ethnocide.”
Martin Luther King Jr. famously wrote in his landmark essay “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” following the teachings of St. Augustine, that “an unjust law is no law at all.” King further reminds us, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” calling upon us to recognize the interlinked nature of destinies and, indeed, the inherent solidarity of our struggles, and further counsels that in this effort “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
None of the excuses for banning Mexican American studies in Tucson holds up to the reality in the classroom. In Fact, an independent audit of the program found the program didn’t violate the criteria laid out in the law.
“No observable evidence exists that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department promotes resentment towards a race or class of people. The auditors observed the opposite, as students are taught to be accepting of multiple ethnicities of people. MASD teachers are teaching Cesar Chavez alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi, all as peaceful protesters who sacrificed for people and ideas they believed in. Additionally, all ethnicities are welcomed into the program and these very students of multiple backgrounds are being inspired and taught in the same manner as Mexican American students. All evidence points to peace as the essence for program teachings. Resentment does not exist in the context of these courses.”
So, fearful people who brought you the war on drugs and the Iraq war are now spreading their paranoia to education to keep information of uncomfortable facts, discrimination against Latinos, from our children. If the truth sets you free, the superintendent and many in the state legislature in Arizona want to imprison our minds.
For more information on defending ethnic studies, visit http://saveethnicstudies.org/meet_us.shtml