Thursday, March 08, 2012

Curtis Acosta, March 7 2012 Update from Tucson Unified School District

 [Editor's Note: Are you looking for information about the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District? A chronological list of links to AICL's coverage of the shut-down is here.]


Below is Curtis Acosta's March 7th update regarding the now-banned Mexican American Studies program in Tucson Unified School District.

March 8, 2012
To the nation and network of love and support,

From all of the students and teachers of Mexican American Studies and Save Ethnic Studies in Tucson, Arizona, we are humbled and moved by the Teacher Activist Groups, the Education for Liberation Network, and each one of you that participated in "No History Is Illegal." It is difficult to fully express how important your words, actions, and hard work have meant to us. As I sit in my classroom each day I am faced with an overwhelming feeling of loss. Regardless of the resiliency of our students and my own resolve not to let the dismantling of our curriculum, classes and pedagogy alter my own commitment to serving the youth of my community, it is impossible not to be affected. That is why all your testimonies and actions have been so important. Each time we have a fleeting moment of defeat, we are able to be embraced by your words and stories from the "No History Is Illegal" campaign. Stories from Rhode Island, Colorado, Minnesota, California, and Oregon amongst many others have brought smiles, pride, and even tears of joy to my students and fellow colleagues.

When I asked my students to contribute to this email, one of our student leaders, Nico Dominguez, wanted to express his appreciation and his words follow: 

After all that has happened in regards to the loss of Mexican American Studies, there are many moments in time that are able to lift my spirits back up. I will definitely say that seeing/experiencing out of Tucson, support for our movement (classes) is a great way of lifting up my spirit. I remember the first time I experienced out of Tucson support for our classes. Seeing different people speak and perform passionately about our classes was a great experience the day of the teach-in at the Casino Ballroom on January 24th. I had not experienced any of that previous to the teach-in.  It was definitely an experience that I will carry with myself from here on.

Since that day, there has been a massive amount of support which is overwhelming. Students from all over the country have done something for M.A.S., including Oakland, Chicago, Northridge, New York, and on. All of these experiences I take to my heart. The feelings that  I get when I remember all of these people who have in some way involved us into their lives is overwhelming and just a true sign of the humanity that exists. As these experiences continue, I am reminded of the vastness of the world that I live in and that I must learn to live in harmony with it.
--Nicolas Dominguez
Nico's words help me stay strong and remind me why we continue to fight for our students' rights to study their own history, literature and culture and we will never give up!

In that spirit, I would ask you all to send more love our way as our lawsuit moves forward to repeal this hateful law. There are big court dates ahead and you can stay apprised of the latest news through Save Ethnic Studies where you can also donate to our legal effort.

Next week the Librotraficante Caravan will depart from Houston for Tucson with "Banned Books" to be distributed in San Antonio, Albuquerque and Tucson. Chican@ writers and supporters will be hosting workshops, performances, and readings. Please checkout their website for more details.

In the next few weeks I will have a major announcement about a television appearance about our issue, but I'm still sworn to secrecy. Stay tuned for that one.

Lastly, a 50 minute version of Precious Knowledge will be shown on the national PBS show Independent Lens on May 17th. We are hoping to coordinate a national event for that night so I will write more as those details become clearer.

Again, thank you to everyone and we are hopeful of better news and better days ahead. You all have helped our optimism and belief that justice will prevail.

In Lak Ech,
Curtis Acosta

Modern Language Association: Statement on Tucson Mexican American Studies

[Editor's Note: Are you looking for information about the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District? A chronological list of links to AICL's coverage of the shut-down is here.]


Modern Language Association's Statement on Tucson Mexican American Studies Program

Recent legislative and policy initiatives in the Tucson Unified School District concern us deeply as teachers and scholars of language and literature.

In 2010, the Arizona state legislature passed HB 2281, which was signed by Governor Jan Brewer. The bill forbade any school district to include in “its program of instruction any courses or classes . . . that promote resentment toward a race or class of people[,] . . . are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group[,] . . . [or] advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal declared in January 2011 that Tucson’s widely admired Mexican American studies program was in violation of HB 2281. The board of the Tucson Unified School District appealed that ruling in June 2011. In December 2011, Judge Lewis Kowal affirmed Huppenthal’s decision, saying that the Mexican American studies program had “one or more classes designed primarily for one ethnic group, promoting racial resentment, and advocating ethnic solidarity” and was thus in violation of state law. Penalties for noncompliance established in HB 2281 would have cost the Tucson Unified School District millions of dollars in state aid.

As a result, the district’s school board voted 4-1 to shut down the Mexican American studies program. The school board president, Mark Stegeman, took several measures to bring that termination about, the most publicized of which involved the removal of several books from ethnic studies classrooms in Tucson and their sequestration in a storage facility.

That removal, in addition to being objectionable, followed from a series of discriminatory acts by Arizona officials, all of which run against principles that the MLA considers vital. Although Arizona HB 2281 was ostensibly passed to ensure that students would be taught as individuals, we see the law as part of an attack on Mexican American citizens and cultures—including, but not limited to, undocumented immigrants. We are unaware of any similar argument or policy initiative aimed at, for instance, Americans of Irish or Polish descent; no one argues that Irish American or Polish American children who learn about their ethnic heritages in school are promoting racial resentment or ethnic solidarity, even though the history of Irish and Polish immigration in the United States is not free of instances of ethnic discrimination. Furthermore, we contend that the law has been discriminatory in effect, insofar as the superintendent’s ruling, the judge’s decision, and the school board president’s order applied it to target and shut down only Mexican American studies programs. We note that programs in Native American and African American studies seem not to have triggered fears and anxieties among the supporters and enforcers of HB 2281.

We believe that teaching Mexican American children about Mexican American history and heritage is teaching them as individuals—indeed, precisely as the individuals they are. But more important, we believe in teaching all American children about Mexican American history and heritage. We therefore reject the reasoning behind HB 2281 and behind the decisions made by Superintendent Huppenthal, Judge Kowal, and President Stegeman, on two counts. First, we reject the idea that Mexican American studies is a subject “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.” Throughout the United States, and especially in the Southwest, Mexican American studies is an integral part of the study of American identity and history; ideally, every schoolchild should be acquainted with that fact. Second, we reject the idea that Mexican American studies promotes “resentment toward a race or class of people” or advocates “ethnic solidarity.” Mexican American studies is a field of inquiry, not a form of propaganda. It is designed to lead to a greater understanding of the histories and cultures of the peoples of the United States, not to any partisan political outcome.

Our beliefs about ethnic studies and about curricular reform generally have been formed by forty years of scholarly research, informed debate, and open-ended discussion. As an organization devoted to the study of language and literature, the MLA is allied with primary and secondary school educators who teach in this field and who participate in the long project of questioning and undoing the biases of the traditional curriculum, which for many years ignored or demeaned the histories and cultures of people deemed “ethnic.” We see that project as central to the mission of American education at all levels. As former MLA President Sidonie Smith wrote in her 2010 letter to Governor Brewer, “ethnic studies curricula have provided important gateways for students to learn about the diversity of heritages in the United States, a key educational goal of the liberal arts education that is the bedrock of American higher education. . . . Policies that curtail this vision will weaken the quality of education.”

Finally, we see in these actions a threat to academic freedom and intellectual inquiry. To pursue scholarly inquiries into the histories and cultures of the United States, teachers must be free from legislative and judicial interference. Allowing state officials to declare legitimate branches of history and culture out of bounds—to the point of seizing and sequestering books—is inimical to the principles on which the United States was founded. And to students in the Tucson Unified School District, such actions send a far more chilling message than anything they might find in the books that have been removed from their classrooms.

We urge all relevant Arizona officials—Governor Brewer, Superintendent Huppenthal, Judge Kowal, and President Stegeman—to reconsider these rulings, reverse these decisions, and reaffirm the freedom of inquiry on which an open society must depend.


(AICL Editor's Note: Though not dated on their website, the statement was posted to the MLA website on March 6, 2012).

REFORMA Resolution in Support of the Students of the Outlawed Mexican American Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District

[Editor's Note: Are you looking for information about the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District? A chronological list of links to AICL's coverage of the shut-down is here.]

February 29, 2012

REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking, an affiliate of the American Library Association, with nineteen local and regional chapters and at-large members from all parts of the United States, views the dismantling of the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Mexican American Studies (MAS) program as a violation of the core principles of intellectual freedom and equity of access, and a violation of the Library Bill of Rights.1

REFORMA advocates for and affirms students’ right to have access to accurate and meaningful information that will enhance their critical inquiry skills and understanding of an inclusionary society that honors and respects all of its component members. We support student access to diverse literature that lends to inquiry, conversation, and critical thinking – all strengths that we value in the continued building of our democracy.

WHEREAS the 2010 Census found that Arizona’s Hispanic/Latino population accounted for 29.6% of the state’s total population,2 and Tucson’s Hispanic/Latino population accounted for 41.6% of the city’s total population3, with both the state and the city having larger Hispanic/Latino populations than the national average; and

WHEREAS Dr. Arnulfo Trejo, educated in TUSD schools and the University of Arizona and later serving on the faculty of the University of Arizona’s Graduate Library School, in 1971 founded REFORMA and provided its driving force; and  
WHEREAS reading list titles associated with the MAS program consist of works written by nationally and internationally renowned, award-winning authors, including but not limited to Sherman Alexie, James Baldwin, Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, Francisco Jimenez, Matt de la Peña, Carmen Tafolla, and Luis Alberto Urrea, whose stories reflect this country’s rich and diverse heritage; and

WHEREAS these books have been removed from classrooms related to the MAS program, and the TUSD school libraries do not contain all of the removed titles, making this literature inaccessible to all TUSD students;4 and
WHEREAS REFORMA views teachers as brothers and sisters in the same mission of fostering the love of reading and education by promoting books, literacy, and critical thinking; and
WHEREAS REFORMA is outraged by the confiscation and removal of these materials from classrooms and asserts that their lack of availability in all school libraries creates de facto censorship;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking:
  1. Condemns the dismantling of the MAS program at TUSD and the removal of textbooks from the classrooms;
  2. Affirms that exclusion of and/or restriction of access to the multiple viewpoints, experiences, and histories expressed in books fosters antagonism, isolation, and withdrawal from a pluralistic and inclusive society,
  3. Encourages all REFORMA members and member libraries to take local action by creating book displays of the confiscated materials, creating educational programs about the value and meaning of intellectual freedom and censorship, and creating resources in support of the students of the MAS program to further their pursuit of learning; and
  4. Commits to developing resource tools and action kits in support of the MAS students’ right to pursue their intellectual, informational, and recreational needs; and be it further
RESOLVED that REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking):
  1. Unanimously supports the excellent service delivery and specific actions taken by our REFORMA-Tucson Chapter, such as the planning of a 2012 Latino Literacy Roundtable, and their compilation and dissemination of the Outlawed and Threatened Book List entitled “THE CHILLING EFFECTS: A Mexican-American Studies Challenged and Outlawed Reading List;” 
  2. Unanimously affirms the January 2012 American Library Association, Office of Intellectual Freedom Resolution OPPOSING RESTRICTION OF ACCESS TO MATERIALS AND OPEN INQUIRY IN ARIZONA ETHNIC AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAM,5 the January 2012 American Indian Library Association STATEMENT ON ETHNIC STUDIES PROGRAMS IN ARIZONA,6 and the January 20012 Progressive Librarians Guild STATEMENT ON CENSORSHIP AND THE TUCSON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT; 7  and
  3. Unanimously applauds the TUSD students who protested the dismantling of the MAS program and affirmed the changes the MAS program made in their lives, and the teachers and parents who spoke out against the program’s dissolution: MAS Students Speak Out About Their Classes and Books Being Banned in Tucson and TUSD-MAS Historical Trauma and Sadness
1American Library Association. Library Bill of Rights. Accessed from on February 11, 2012.
2United States Census Bureau, 2010 Census Interactive Population Search: Arizona. Accessed from on February 11, 2012.
3United States Census Bureau, State and County Quick Facts: Arizona, January 17, 2012. Accessed from on February 11, 2012.
4Alexis Huicochea, “TUSD Rejects Reports of Book Ban,” Arizona Daily Star, January 18, 2012. Accessed from on February 12, 2012.
5OIF Blog, “Resolution Opposing Restriction of Access to Materials and Open Inquiry in Ethnic and Cultural Studies Programs in Arizona,” January 24, 2012. Accessed from on February 12, 2012.
6American Indian Library Association, Statement on Ethnic Studies Programs in Arizona, February 2, 2012. Accessed from on February 12, 2012.
7Progressive Librarians Guild, PLG Statement on Censorship and the Tucson Unified School District, January 21, 2012. Accessed from on February 12, 2012.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Matt De La Pena featured at a Save Ethnic Studies fundraiser

If you're in Tucson next Tuesday (March 13, 2012), head over to the fundraiser for Save Ethnic Studies. Matt De La Pena is the featured guest. Matt's book, Mexican WhiteBoy is amongst those that former Mexican American Studies teachers can no longer teach "from a Mexican American Studies perspective."

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Put Kunu's Basket: A Story from Indian Island on your to-be-ordered list. Written by Lee DeCora Francis (she's Penobscot and HoChunk), it is a beautifully written and illustrated picture book about a young Penobscot boy named Kunu who is learning how to make the baskets that the men in his tribal nation have made for generations. A huge plus is that book is set in the present day.

The story opens with Kunu sitting at the table in his house, working with ash strips that he is trying to weave into a basket. Frustrated, he takes the ash strips with him outside and sits on a log. Muhmum (his grandfather) is sitting on his porch next door and goes over to Kunu.

Over the next pages, Muhmum helps Kunu make his basket. In that process, Kunu learns a bit of family and tribal history, and he learns about patience, too.

Susan Drucker's illustrations of Kunu, his family, their house, and the Maine landscape are a terrific compliment to the story. At her website, she's posted many of the illustrations.

I hope Lee DeDora Francis writes more books. She's got a knack for seamlessly presenting the story and the tribal information necessary without sounding didactic. She lets the narrative do some of that work for her. Some writers put the words into the mouth of the character and that doesn't work. It yanks the reader (me) out of the story. Here's an example. This is the conversation and text that follows the moment when Muhmum goes to Kunu, sitting on the log, frustrated:

"What's wrong, Grandson? Why the sad face?"

"Well, I just want to make baskets like you and my dad. I keep trying, but I can't do it."

Muhmum smiled. All the men in the family made baskets. It was something that they were known for on the island. He was glad to see Kunu with the ash strips in his hands.

See? You and I learn something that Kunu and Muhmum know. If the author had inserted that information into words spoken by Muhmum, it wouldn't work. Later, that information is in Muhmum's words, but the context is right for it. A step in the basket-making process is for Kunu to make a rim. It is hard to do, and Muhmum offers to help Kunu with that step:

Kunu thought for a few moments. He pointed to the pack basket in the corner and asked, "Did anyone help you with the rim on your basket?"

"Yes, my grandfather," replied Muhmum.

Kunu kept listening.

"Basket making is something that the sons in our family have learned from our fathers and grandfathers going back a long, long way. My grandfather taught me how to do the rim just as I'll show you."

See what I mean? This is exquisite writing, and I'd love to see more of it. Thanks, Lee DeCora Francis, Susan Drucker, and Tilbury House

Pueblo Stories--in Tewa--Digitized at the University of New Mexico

When I was a kid growing up on our reservation in the 1960s, I'd sometimes go to the tribal office complex where "Mr. Speirs" was holding a language class. I'm currently doing some research on him, but for now, I want to point you to the materials developed in some of those classes. The materials are stories that have been digitized at the University of New Mexico. They are viewable online.

Illustration in Pehtisye Ay
Pehtsiye Ay - Three Stories in Tewa. (1969), Summer Institute of Linguistics, Santa Ana, California. The three stories are:
  • Pho Ts'ay Povi-adi In Poeyeh - Goldilocks and the Three Bears, in the Tewa dialect used at Ohkay Owengeh (San Juan Pueblo)
  • To P'f Povi - Little Red Riding Hood, in the Tewa dialect used at Santa Clara Pueblo
  • In Pojeh Pehtsude ay - The Three Little Pigs, in the Tewa dialect used at Santa Clara Pueblo.  
The illustration from Pehtsiye Ay is terrific! See the ceiling beams and the deeply inset window? That is what our adobe homes look like. The elk on the wall and the rug on the floor reflect the decor of our homes, and baby bear's clothing and the rocking chair reflect some of the non-Pueblo things we incorporate into our lives. 

The second Pueblo item in the collection is T'owa Vi Hae Panyu I, written by Teresa V. Gutierrez, illustrated by Eloy Suazo. The book is not dated. It was published through the Title VII Project at Santa Clara Pueblo.

The digitized collection includes (as of this writing) 80 different items. The majority are Navajo stories and readers. Here's the title page of Ch'at which is a basal reader in the Dine (Navajo) language developed in cooperation with Rock Point Community School in Chinle, Arizona:

A special thanks here, to Paulita Aguilar at UNM, for sending the link about this collection. She is the curator for the Indigenous Nations Library Program at UNM.