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Striking out against banned books

“At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver, not quite as thick as my sister’s name – Magdalena- which is uglier than mine. Magdalena who at least can come home and become Nenny. But I am always Esperanza.” This passage, from Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street, can no longer be read in Arizona classrooms. This coming-of-age classic is seditious in some eyes. I guess they never read the book.

In cities across this great nation, people gathered to read books that have been banned in Arizona’s schools. From Los Angeles to Lincoln, Kansas City, Chicago,Greensboro, New York, and several other cities in between, readers and writers met to share passages from banned books.

Those attending the event in New York City had the honor of hearing from Martin Espada, Luis Urrea, and Tony Diaz, aka El Librotraficante. With the participation of many of the city’s literary groups, a standing room only crowd heard passages from Espada’s  Zapata’s Disciple and Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway in the garden area of La Casa Azul Bookstore. One participant observed that we were only a few blocks away from the church taken over by the Young Lords in 1969, and had this been the 70s there would have been a couple of patrol cars in front of the book store to break up our gathering. It almost seems the paranoia and abuses of the 70s have come full circle, making their first mark in Arizona.

In the midst of all the camaraderie of the evening, Tony Diaz brought an update from Arizona. Following the dissolution of the Mexican American Studies programs in Tucson and the firing of the teachers, a former co-worker filed a lawsuit against Jose Gonzalez and Sean Arce. John Ward, described as a Tea Party activist, filed the lawsuit for defamation of character after personal disputes with Gonzalez and Arce. With the financial backing from Tea Party fundraisers, Ward has pushed this case all the way. While a prominent civil rights attorney is handling the defense, Gonzalez and Arce have run into financial difficulties in mounting a successful defense. An online campaign was started to assist with the overwhelming legal costs.

On the donation page, are words reminiscent of historical discrimination:

First they came for the Mexican American Studies (MAS) classes.
Then they came for the books by Native American and Chicano authors.
Then they started firing MAS teachers.
Now they have made it personal, going after the teachers by suing Sean Arce and Jose Gonzales for teaching the inconvenient truths of history.
Next they may come for you.


About Eileen Rivera

Eileen was born in The Bronx, to Puerto Rican parents. She grew up thinking the whole world was Latino. Moving to Rockland County in upstate New York taught her it wasn’t. One more move in 1976, brought her to Hudson County, New Jersey where she currently resides. She attended Rutgers-Newark where she majored in Social Work with a minor in Puerto Rican studies. Eileen credits her history professor, Dr. Olga Wagenheim, for the spark and impetus to search out her roots in a pre-computer era. The daughter of a minister, she credits her father for the activism, volunteerism and search for justice that have characterized her adult years.

The mother of two adult daughters, Eileen has worked in the Juvenile Justice system for twenty-eight years. She acts as a liaison between the Juvenile Detention Center and the Juvenile Court.

Writing was something she shared with family. Stories and songs for her children and Christmas tales for the extended family. She now shares her writing with a larger family, the Being Latino family.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Arizona is the Germany of the 1930’s

  2. What is wrong with that state?!

  3. @Alonso, I don’t think Germany was allowing citizens carry firearms in the open as Arizona does. But on the topic of the public school education, it in no way restricts anyone from teaching Native American nor Mexican studies, to anyone else outside of the government run schools. If the public schools do not provide you with the education that you seek, what are you going to do? Demand that government teaches your children, or supplement their education yourself for this “lack” ethic history?

  4. It is so sad to hear that in the year 2012 we still have to be dealing w/ this. Have people forgotten that the United States was created by immigrants??? If it was not for their ancestors nobody would have been here! Bunch of ignorants!

  5. I have no problem with all of you “educating” your offspring with anti American separatist “literature” of varying degrees of insanity. Knock yourselves out! Just don’t do it on the public dime and expect the Arizona or American taxpayer to fund these scams in the tune of millions! Do it privately, like all the other normal, and well assimilated ethnic groups do (who BTW don’t cry disadvantage and demand that their grievances be paid by the gringos they hate) when they create private after school, Satirday, or Sunday classes geared at teaching the young about their real ancestral history. All the ethnic groups in NYC and around the nation have these, and if they do get some form of public assistance they are not allowed to preach violent Chicano revolution like you folks do!

    Also these books have not been banned. That’s a big lie! You can get your books at the library, local and national booksellers, and through the Internet on Amazon and EBay.

  6. These books have been banned in Arizona classrooms. And yes, my kids were educated in their history and that of other countries as well. They’ve been taught to think for themselves, not the way some government or Board of Education believes children should be thinking.

  7. They have been removed from the public Arizona school curriculum not out of censorship, but because they don’t serve the best interests of all of Arizona’s public education students. As I said, if you want to teach revolutionary nonsense and racist Chicano chauvinism to young La Raza larvae go for it, but don’t expect American tax payers to flip the bill. Maybe you can ask the Mexican government, or better yet, the Cuban Mission to the United Nations to donate some funds – that would be charity from folks who can utilize your young ones in the future. Kind of like in the Godfather movies, when the Godfather says he will hook you up but their might be a time in the future when you might have to sacrifice for the family. Gangbanger values right there!

    That’s the same as if I were a public school student in a NYC inner city school and there was a curriculum in place that would teach the world view and revolutionary history of violent Puerto Rican Macheteros, terrorist independistas, Young Lords, Black Panthers or Nation of Islam. This would be unfair on many points. 1. Even though the powers that be classify me as a Lateeeno, that particular history might not correspond to my actual brand of Lateeeno. 2. I should not be forced to learn that propaganda nor should my parents be forced to send me to a public school where their tax dollars go into funding such agitprop. 3. Equally offensive would be for those Lateeeno classes to be segregated to only those of the Lateeeno or brown kind and not allowed to the other kids of other ethnic groups but still demand that the tax payer pay for it.

  8. Can you imagine being a kid and forced to read like, I Rigoberta Menchu?

  9. Talk to the Independent Cuban Librarians. They’ll tell you about the real banned books.

  10. Eileen, thank you for sharing this piece. I’m disappointed by the circumstances but I enjoyed reading your piece. I am tempted to read some of these books. Know that the few negative comments above don’t represent all of us.

  11. Mario u once said u do not support soical justice or civil rights. If it was up to u Martin Luther king or Chevez would not be in the history book.

  12. Michael, you are dellusional and are making things up. I never said what you claim. Stop being a silly Latino.

  13. Edwin Pagan says:

    I see these kinds of posts all the time when any progressive issues are raised or when good folk finally become engaged in defending their civil rights or attempt to address racism. You can find them rear their ugly heads in the comments sections of any article in almost any newspaper with a presence online.

    What strikes me most – aside from the ill-informed and loaded comments themselves – is the fact that in most cases the person posting their slanted vitriol are always doing so anonymously, hiding behind clip-art avatars and false names. The same tactics were employed by COINTELPRO during the 1970s when the U.S. government wanted to discredit and disrupt legitimate left-leaning organizations like the NAACP or civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that he mentions the Young Lords, Black Panthers, and Macheteros in one of his posts, which were also on their target list.

    I strongly suspect Mario Ramirez is a hired Government lackey (read “spy”) tasked with looping himself into our civil rights struggles to discredit and disrupt; nothing’s changed. This is a disrupter from the old school. Whenever we see these kinds of posts, we need to bring up the subject and make it uncomfortable for them to seem legit as well. It works both ways.

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