Fight Over Mexican-American Studies Ban Is Back, But So Is Arizona’s Beloved Banned Book Smuggler

Lead Photo: Photo by Zeke Pérez, Courtesy of Librotraficante
Photo by Zeke Pérez, Courtesy of Librotraficante
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The fate of Mexican-American studies in the state of Arizona once again rests in the hands of the judicial system. Back in 2010, the legislature banned the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American Studies program through House Bill 2281, according to the Tucson Weekly. HB 2281 makes it illegal to teach classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” “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.” The bill’s legality has faced challenges since then.

Now the case is headed back to court starting on June 26, and once again Tony Díaz – a fierce defender of Mexican-American Studies – is gearing up to promote the importance of ethnic studies, but he needs your help to make it possible.

In response to the trial, Díaz is relaunching the Librotraficante Caravan. In 2012, when officials went into classrooms and confiscated books, TUSD students documented it all on social media. Their struggle to keep ethnic studies in their school caught the attention of Díaz and other librotraficantes – that is, members of the nonprofit literary organization Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say. Díaz, Liana López, Bryan Parras, Laura Acosta, and Lupe Méndez organized the 2012 Librotraficante Caravan, smuggling the banned books back into Arizona. Realizing that it could just be a matter of time until more states banned ethnic studies books – especially given that other states had adopted Arizona’s anti-immigration law (SB 1070) – they also set up underground libraries across the southwest.

Arizona’s ban of #MexicanAmerican Studies is heading back to the #Arizona Supreme Court. That means the Librotraficante…

Posted by Librotraficante on Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The 2017 caravan will follow the same blueprint. As Diaz and a group of ethnic studies proponents travel from Houston to Tucson, they will also restock their underground libraries.

“At the most practical level, we want to raise awareness about the trial against Arizona’s banning of Mexican-American studies,” Díaz told Remezcla. “We will also study the tactics and strategies used by Arizona to suppress Mexican-American studies. And we must make people aware that if this law is upheld, [the] ban [could be used] to prohibit not just Mexican-American studies, but also African-American, Asian-American studies and women’s studies in every state.”

In 1968, San Francisco State University students known as the Third World Liberation Front began striking in an effort to push their university to initiate an ethnic studies program. The Third World Liberation Front succeeded, with ethnic studies eventually spreading across the country. But even with all the gains achieved in the last five decades, it continues to face an uphill battle. Lawmakers in Arizona and Texas, for example, have outright banned the studies because some believe they promote reverse racism and welcome leftist ideology in schools.

Yet, a Stanford University study released in 2016 found that ethnic studies benefit students. They miss fewer days at school, they get better grades, and even graduate at higher rates. This is especially true for Latino and male students.

With ethnic studies under threat, the librotraficantes hope to give students books that teach them about their own culture through the underground libraries. “They are important because our community’s access to our history and culture must never be at the whim of administration again,” Díaz added.

The ethnic studies advocate recently wrote and submitted The Mexican American Studies Toolkit to the Texas State Board of Education. As the board considers whether to adopt the text in Texas high schools, Díaz will hand out previews of the textbook.

However, to accomplish these goals, Díaz needs the public’s support. At the moment, Díaz has found a crew of 10 who are willing to make the 1,000-mile trip, but they need to reach their target $8,000 goal. After other donations and a generous discount by Autobuses Flores, Díaz is about $3,000 away. The caravan kicks off on June 21 at the Casa Ramirez Folk Art Galley in Houston. You can donate to this very important campaign here.