“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.