Untitled, 1949; Dimmit, Texas. Photograph by Russell Lee.
As some of you may have heard, the acclaimed ethnic studies (read: Mexican American studies) program in Tucson schools was booted out of existence effective January 1, 2012. Though some schools have student populations where Mexican Americans comprise up to 90% of the student body and Native Americans comprise up to 5%, students are no longer allowed to study some (and in some cases all, especially if the name sounds Latino) of the works by certain authors including the likes of:
- Sherman Alexie
- Isabel Allende
- Rudolfo Anaya
- Gloria Anzaldua
- James Baldwin
- Ana Castillo
- Sandra Cisneros
- Junot Díaz
- Laura Esquivel
- Dagoberto Gilb
- bell hooks
- Tomás Rivera
- William Shakespeare
- Leslie Marmon Silko
- Henry David Thoreau
- Luis Alberto Urrea
- Luiz Valdez
- Howard Zinn
Apparently Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a breeding ground for discussions about race and colonialism. And only a commie would read something titled Civil Disobedience, even if Thoreau was mostly a nature dude. Or something.
The more I find out about which books were banned and which classes were dropped, it really does sound like all books by Mexican American authors are now off limits to students on the grounds that they promote “resentment toward a race or class of [
white] people,” among other things.
It’s bullshit. Eurocentric, xenophobic bullshit.
I *wish* I’d had something like this back when I was in high school. I, too, went to a school that was about 90% Mexican American (if not more). It wasn’t until I was well into college that I was properly taught something that was culturally relevant (like the fact that there had been an entire Chicano civil rights movement I never knew about). And books?! HA! I will die of shock if I find out that my former schools are teaching something besides the requisite The House on Mango Street, Zoot Suit, and Bless Me, Ultima. It’s shameful. And providing something like the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, only to take it away mid-year — or, frankly, ever — is just downright cruel.
In solidarity with the MAS program, in solidarity with the thousands of young students who are now forbidden from learning about their own heritage in schools, I’m going to read the banned books. All of them (the list starts on page 116). Consider this post the official beginning of one of my long-term reading projects.
I’m also considering organizing a weekend-long online read-in that would be open to anyone who’s interested, but that’s still swimming around in the ether that is my brain. Would anyone be interested in participating in something like that?