By Sara Inés Calderón of NewsTaco.com and Christina Saenz
The Tucson Unified School District’s attempts to unravel the ethnic studies program there doesn’t really make any sense, not to mention the fact that it’s pretty much illegal, said activist and writer David Morales.
“We have the law on our side, we have the community on our side, so it’s not just a bunch of students doing this — there’s a lot of strength,” he says.
So what’s going down according to Morales is this. On Tuesday, about nine students, who had chained themselves together with metal chains, rushed into the TUSD boardroom, chained themselves to the chairs and proceeded to protest an impending vote by the board aimed at eliminating ethnic studies. Board President Mark Stegeman had created a resolution to change Mexican-American studies courses from being part of the core curriculum into being electives.
“We know exactly what’s happening here,” Morales said.
For the past 10 years, Mexican-American studies courses have counted as core courses that could be substituted, say, for a history or literature class, he says. Transforming these courses into electives — in the era of budget cuts — it would be super duper easy to pull a “Oh, sorry, we’re going to have to axe electives in the budget cuts.” There go the Mexican-American studies courses. Secondly, if students have to take regular history, then Mexican-American studies, squeezing in the courses they want will become difficult and the program may die by attrition.
Let’s also keep in mind that, while Mexican-American studies is being targeted here, European History, Asian American Studies, Native American Studies, and African American Studies are not and still count as core courses.
“How is European History more ‘American’ than Mexican-American history?” Morales asked.
While the students were protesting among members of the community, parents, community leaders, professors, political leaders, state senators and representatives and more, the police were summoned. Students had demands, put up a banner, chanted and were met by the superintendent, but not by Stegeman himself — the man responsible for the ruckus in the first place. He was at the meeting in the back but not present to the public. The protest lasted from about 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and the meeting was rescheduled for May 5.
Morales said this protest was important because it brought pressure on Stegeman and the rest of the board — who may have simply passed this resolution without a second thought had it not been for the students. Because, as with many of Arizona’s recent legislative controversies, Morales said at the core of this issue is a blatant violation of the law and a suppression of identity of the fastest growing demographic.
The protest drew the support of many non-Arizona national and international organizations, including: the National Chicano Studies Association, various teacher unions, and progressive democratic organizations. Dr. Rodolfo Acuña, an eminent ethnic studies professor, sent a letter to TUSD advocating against the elimination of the Mexican American Studies. Even the United Nations Human Rights Council cited this as a violation of human rights in Arizona.
Segregation in Arizona is what gave birth to the Mexican-American studies program, which is not even funded by the school district, but by a desegregation fund set up at the federal level. The program only costs $580,000 a year, Morales said, and if Mexican-American studies is eliminated, it’s a violation of a federal court order. So, the elimination of this program would actually cost the district more money than leaving it in place, it’s one more opportunity for Arizona to ask itself (as with SB 1070) what’s more valuable: economizing in a recession or bullishly pushing forward on something to set a racist precedent.
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