During the height of the Red Scare, as Joseph McCarthy crusaded against all things Communist, including literature, Dwight D. Eisenhower famously urged citizens: “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you’re going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.”
It’s a new century, but the xenophobic misgivings of a few Republicans in key positions has led to the banishment of Mexican-American Studies in Arizona’s public schools. In 2010 lawmakers John Huppenthal and Tom Horne drafted HB 2281 which decreed that state-run schools were to exclude “any courses or classes that. . .are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
Despite the fair-minded rhetoric, this legislation was passed in a state where “illegals” from Mexico are frequently held up by Republican politicians as a menace to society, albeit superficially indistinguishable from the many latinos who immigrated legally or were born in America. And since the list of verboten books includes works by Mumia Abu Jamal, Howard Zinn and Winona La Duke, the word “ethnic” takes on unsavory political undertones.
The bill even goes as far as to conflate teachers of ethnic studies with terrorists plotting to “promote the overthrow of the United States government.”
Massive backlash against the ban has been slow in coming but could prove politically disastrous for the powers that be. Locally, it has galvanized the Mexican-American community, inspiring Tuscon youth in particular to respond creatively and decisively.
Teacher Activist Groups (or TAG) have begun organizing a month of action wherein teachers across America incorporate the banned material into their lesson plans. Joining the Education for Liberation Network listservis the best way to stay apprised of new developments.
The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom made a point of formally denouncing the legislation. Support this organization by buying one of the anti-censorship items in its store.
A blog called Banning History in Arizona is calling for submissions of concerned citizens reading a passage from any of the banned books, uploaded to YouTube and marked #banninghistory.
If you live in Tucson, consider visiting one of your local independent bookstores and buying one of the banned titles to read or give to a friend.
You can also change your Facebook profile to an image that reflects your belief in freedom of thought. Tweet or post your concerns to friends, or share this blog.
Finally, you can sign this petition and e-mail the Arizona Superintendent’s office directly to let John Huppenthal know how you feel about his law.