Arizona ban spurs interest in Chicano studies

Tucson schools were forced to drop Mexican-American Studies classes after a state law banned courses that are “designed for a specific ethnic group,” advocate “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” or fan “racial resentment.” This month, a federal judge upheld the Arizona law.

The ban has revived interest in ethnic studies, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Underground” libraries with Chicano literature are popping up across the Southwest and are set to open soon in unexpected places such as Milwaukee and Louisville.

. . . “It was only until it was banned that I really took this seriously and recognized the need,” said (Raquel) Velasquez, a 19-year-old originally from Tucson. She is one of 14 students at Prescott College taking a pedagogy class to help train them to become ethnic studies teachers.

Curtis Acosta now teaches English rather than Mexican American Studies at a Tucson high school. On Sundays, he teaches a Chicano literature class at a youth center. Ten students enrolled. Donations pay their tuition and Prescott College has offered college credits.

Bianca Sierra, a high school senior, said she’d never studied Chicano literature.

She says she likes her Sunday class better than her classes at school because she can relate to its subject matter on a personal level. For example, books she reads in her Chicano literature class have characters with names similar to those of her mother and grandmother or mention foods similar to those prepared in her home.

. . .  Instead of simply listening to the teacher lecture, the students gather in a circle and, along with Acosta, discuss and debate the subject matter.

“I like it because it makes me feel more invested in it, because they are asking you, ‘What is your opinion?’ I was never asked what my opinion was on an issue [in class]. You’re just not asked that in regular school,” she said.

No Chicano novels in the English curriculum? Were they all ghetto-ized in the ethnic studies class? And Tucson teachers never let students express opinions?

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  1. 10 students enrolled in an after school program constitutes a “revival”?

    And isn’t this where your “ethnic studies” take place? We have become such a diverse population that it is impossible for the schools to teach “ethnicity”. I used to teach in Houston, which has over 120 languages spoken. It was not uncommon for me to have a class of 20 kids and 12-15 different languages spoken at home. How is a teacher realistically supposed to teach every students “ethnicity”? Also, this may come as a shock to some, but not all brown people who have a Spanish surname are Mexican. Some are from Guatemala, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, etc. …and they are not all the same. They all have their own unique culture that is specific to their country.

    Lumping them all together and calling them “Latino”, “Chicano”, or “Hispanic” and viewing them as all the same is just as bad, if not worse, than ignoring them all together.

  2. What a bunch of drama queens.

    “Underground” libraries indeed. What’s the fear? That the ethnic purity police will kick down the door to put a stop to classes which teach history according to La Raza? That Spanish-language books will be burned in the streets?

    Rather more likely the fear is that no one, parents included, will give that much of a damn about whatever it is that Mexican-American Studies classes were supposed to promote.

    Oh sure, there’ll be Spanish-language private schools but when you can’t stick someone else with the bill that precious “old country” culture takes a back seat to more current considerations. Pretty tough, history has shown, to maintain a politically-exploitable identity group when that identity group has no good reason to maintain group cohesion. All the tougher when the identity group has to pay to maintain its identity.

    I just wish the pace of disassembling multi-cultural political success could be stepped up a notch or six.

  3. Crimson Wife says:

    Any suggestions for high-quality Chicano/a novels to incorporate into a reading list? The Latin American novels I’m most familiar with are from South American writers like Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho, etc.

  4. Miller Smith says:

    It would be interesting to sign up for the underground class and then see if they would admit the white child who showed up.

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    Just think if in 1880 or 1920 the NYC public school system offered courses in Italian, German, Irish, or Polish studies. What Italian, German, Irish, and Polish immigrant didn’t have a rich cultural heritage? But public education didn’t exist to make them feel good about their backgrounds. It existed to pound in a little English, math and civic identity as Americans – pretty successfully if you ask me.

    I have no problem with private classes, “underground” or otherwise, offering people an opportunity to explore their cultural heritage, or even a literature selection or history unit within a ps that does the same. It’s incredibly parochial and limiting to offer specialties within public education that choose a favored ethnicity, though. We shouldn’t be encouraging students to believe their ethnicity is the primary characteristic of their identity.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      To be blunt, ethnically unified groups can be led around by their…group identity.
      That’s the point of the exercise.