Saturday, June 16, 2012

Every Day I'm Smuggling

This Monday I’m headed to Phoenix, Arizona, to attend the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  A few weeks ago I blogged about how, ahem, excited I am to be going to Phoenix in June.  However, when it comes time to pack for the trip, I plan to slip a contraband substance into my suitcase.

The illicit material I’m referring to is a copy of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, the gorgeous story of Esperanza, a Latina girl growing up in a poor neighborhood in Chicago who dreams of being able to reshape her life.  The teaching of this wonderful work of literature was recently “banned” in Arizona.  (I chose this book to smuggle because it is one of Anne’s favorite books.)

In the spring of 2010, Arizona passed HB 2281, a bill regulating ethnic studies classes that disallowed any courses of instruction that “promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group, [or] advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treatment of pupils as individuals.”

In December, 2011, the Tucson School Board ruled that the district’s Mexican American Studies curriculum was in violation of Arizona law and on January 10 of this year officials showed up and confiscated the teaching materials of the Mexican American Studies program, reportedly going as far as to take books right out of students’ hands.

The materials that were effectively banned in Tucson range from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, from the Native American young adult literature of Sherman Alexie to the gorgeous prose of Sandra Cisneros.  A complete list of the books removed is available here.

In response to the law and school board action, author Tony Diaz launched the librotraficante – book smuggler – movement to create libraries in the state to make these materials readily available.  You can see him talking about it on a Democracy Now program.  You can also watch this humorous video of him talking about smuggling “wet books” and “dime books.”  In cooperation with the librotraficante movement, Unitarian Universalists are bringing several hundred copies of the banned books to General Assembly.  They’ll be displayed at the UU Humanist booth at GA before being donated to local organizations.

The Arizona law and its enforcement are ignorant, offensive, and inherently racist.  Reporting on the Mexican American Studies program makes repeated references to positive outcomes including higher graduation rates and increased college enrollment.  Pedagogically, it is both responsible and necessary to provide students with literature that reflects diversity and that inspires critical reflection on history and present day society.

You can watch a Daily Show segment on this craziness here.

I think I will have to add a few books to my reading list...