The MAS trial: An Arizona Civilizational War?
An extended version of the original article published in the Arizona Daily Star
by Roberto Rodriguez
Half of the MexIcan American Studies trial in Tucson’s federal court is now complete, and yet the historic trial will never get the national and international coverage it merits, nor will its significance be properly understood, given the limiting court rulings by Judge Tashima of the 9th Circuit Court. The first part of the trial produced few surprises, though confirming the pettiness of the state and its representatives.
The trial is to determine whether the 2010 anti-Ethnic Studies HB 2281 legislation, which resulted in the elimination of Tucson’s highly successful K-12 Raza Studies Department, was motivated by racial animus? The legislation was initiated by former state schools’ superintendent, Tom Horne, and then followed by his successor, John Huppenthal, who was one of the state’s [weak] witnesses this week.
Testifying for the plaintiffs was former MAS teacher Curtis Acosta, student Maya Arce and former MAS director, Sean Arce, putting in a strong defense for Raza Studies, and also, Nolan Cabrera, testifying regarding a study he co-conducted that proved the effectiveness of the highly successful program.
One of the things at stake here is whether the state of Arizona can determine what constitutes permissible v impermissible knowledge in its schools, this within the context of a “civilizational war,” and even more specifically, whether an Indigenous curriculum can be taught within Mexican American Studies. To be remembered is that the elimination of the program also involved the banning of the program’s books.
Asking whether there was racial animus involved in eliminating the MAS program is akin to asking whether former Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio is biased against Mexicans? He too is also facing a federal trial as a result of defying between 2011-2013, a federal judge’s 2011 orders, to stop his discriminatory and draconian immigration raids and practices,
It is also akin to asking whether the state of Arizona, as exemplified by former Gov Jan Brewer, has been motivated by racial bias in its continual campaign against DREAM/DACA students? The latest development has come by way of an arizona court of appeals, which ruled that Arizona DREAM students, unlike in other states, are ineligible to receive in-state tuition. Also, the Maricopa Community Colleges have decided to appeal the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court. The Arizona Board of Regents have decided to continue offering the lower in-state tuition.
Is there any conscious, sentient being alive today that doubts the answer regarding Arizona’s racial climate, especially in regards to the state’s war against Ethnic Studies and its war on [Mexican] migrants by way of the state’s 2010 racial profiling SB 1070 legislation, which put Arizona on the map, while triggering an international boycott of the state?
One thing is to be motivated by racial animus; another thing, and they are related, is to create racial animus in the state, based on their very public campaigns against “La Raza,” including Huppenthal’s surreptitious and anonymous media campaign to destroy Raza Studies.
To document the highly charged racial politics of the state, I conducted a study several years ago, examining all the letters to the editors and comments section of the Arizona Daily Star and the Arizona Republic for the years 2010-2012, in regards to both of these pieces of legislation.
Did I find any evidence of racial hate in these thousands upon thousands of letters and comments? A resounding yes, and generally, for every 10 hateful letters, there was but one positive letter, this virtually on a daily basis. And this was Arizona’s mainstream media, not the even more rabid, extremist media. These were the kinds of letters one would not want K-12 students to read, even though it was children and students and their parents who seemed to be the primary object of this vicious hate. These included veiled and not-so-veiled death threats and incitement to race war and of course, racial slurs, directed primarily at the Mexican and Mexican American population of the state, and Mexico itself. The undeniable racial hostility created at this time in the state of Arizona begs the question regarding the need for the trial itself. How could any serious person living in Arizona actually doubt that HB 2281 was not motivated by racial hate?
The real question is why the drive to eliminate the program? This is what is generally overlooked; Horne and Huppenthal and a number of legislators, were obsessed with the notion that the department was teaching things outside of Western Civilization and outside of Greco Roman culture, thus advancing the notion of a civilizational war. To be noted is that the notion of “Western Civilization” has always connoted that everyone within it is civilized and those outside of it, are “uncivilized.”
Yet what did they actually object to? Truthfully, everything, but apparently what drew a special ire from them was the program’s Indigenous philosophical core, which included the concepts of In Lak Ech and Panche Be – You are my other me (the Golden Rule) and To seek the root of the truth (critical thinking). These are maiz-based concepts, Indigenous to this very continent, though outside of “Western Civilization?” Hardly (unless this continent has shifted Eastward), but to ban this knowledge in Arizona is definitely par for the past 525 years on this continent.
The trial resumes July 17 and a decision is expected no later than 3 months later.
Rodriguez is an associate professor in Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona. While several of his books were banned, he was also arrested in a protest against HB 2281, the day after the legislation was signed the day after it was signed by former Gov. Brewer.