Hello, and greetings from Tucson, Arizona! My name is Sal Baldenegro, and I’m very happy to be blogging for Being Latino! My first blog is about HB2281, or the “ethnic studies ban”, as it is known.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past couple of month, then you know that the State of Arizona has passed a law that bans “ethnic studies” from all school curriculum. This law is a major component to the racist attack on Latinos by the Arizona State Legislature, and is a central part of the political firestorm that we find ourselves in. Why should we care, though? Why are ethnic studies so important to our children’s education and to the teaching of American history?
First of all, it is very important to understand that Arizona HB2281 is squarely aimed at Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American/Raza Studies program. Arizona State Superintendent Tom Horne has made it his singular mission to destroy this unique program that we, here in Tucson, are so proud of. He has done this despite never attending a single class, and never reading the two books that he has specifically called to ban: “Occupied America” by Rodolfo Acuña, and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, by Paulo Freire. That’s right, you read correctly; Horne is actively seeking to ban books. No, this isn’t 1551, during the Spanish Inquisition, nor is it 1692, during the Salem Witch Trials. It’s Arizona, 2010. But, I digress.
The attack is clearly targeted towards TUSD’s Mexican-American/Raza studies, but keep in mind that the ban on ethnic studies applies not only to Mexican-American Studies, but to TUSD’s African-American, Native American, and Pan-Asian studies programs, as well. That is to say that the American history of Jim Crow laws, Slavery, Japanese-American internment, Native American genocide, and so much more will be, essentially, swept under the rug or simply relegated to minor footnotes in “regular” American history classrooms.
Is this the right way to teach American history? Is it acceptable for our history courses to leave out historical events and periods that are inconvenient to certain political agendas? I’ve mentioned some shameful periods of U.S. history, but there are even more things that many people outside of Arizona and the Southwest U.S. don’t know about. For example, how many people know that it was standard practice, for years, for Mexican-American children to be physically beaten for speaking Spanish in school? Or, that public swimming pools, in many cities, were “whites only”, except for one day out of the week, after which the pools would be drained and “cleaned”? And this is only scratching the surface of some of the outright racism and violence that was perpetrated on Mexican-Americans in the Southwestern U.S. These are ugly parts of American history, but they are important. They are important because learning about them allows us to understand what has happened in the past, and gives us the ability to heal and move on to become a more righteous and just country that is open to people of all races and ethnicities.
Furthermore, ethnic studies classes teach about the many contributions to this country that have been made by Americans of ALL backgrounds. This allows our children to see that this country has been built by many different kinds of people, including many people that look like them. This instills, in them, a sense of pride and self-worth that is invaluable.
This law is aimed at our children, which makes it truly evil, in every sense. It is designed to separate them from their history and, consequently, their very identity. It is the latest attempt, in a long line, to make them ashamed of their brown skin, their Spanish names, and their Mexican culture and descent. It seeks to make them look to White Anglo-Saxon Protestant society as the “American” norm to what they must aspire to. That is what this law is truly designed to do. Rest assured, though, that as long as the sun shines, and as long as blood flows through our hearts, we will fight these hateful and bigoted people. And we will win.
by Sal Baldenegro