The Tucson Unified School District has voted to rescind its ban on seven books, including several canonical works of Chicano history, that were ordered removed from classrooms last year as part of a conservative-led backlash against the teaching of ethnic studies.
The works have been deemed “controversial” by some local media but are widely assigned in universities and high schools across the West. The seven reinstated books are: “Critical Race Theory” by Richard Delgado; “500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures,” edited by Elizabeth Martinez; “Message to Aztlan” by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales; “Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement” by Arturo Rosales; “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire; “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” by Rodolfo Acuña; and “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years” by Bill Bigelow.
The removal of books used by teachers in the district’s outlawed Mexican American studies program, along with Arizona’s ban on the teaching of ethnic studies, has made Tucson and Arizona schools a target of widespread criticism. Latino authors haven taken to symbolically “smuggling” banned books into Arizona and satirists like Jon Stewart have mocked Arizona officials as ignorant yahoos.
The action approved Tuesday night by the Tucson school district’s governing board will allow the seven books to be used in English, U.S. history and world history classrooms in high school and middle school. Tucson officials have said the books were never “banned,” per se, because they were either made available to students in libraries or stored in district warehouses.
In an interview last year with Bill Moyers, the novelist Luis Alberto Urrea made light of the Tucson district’s description of its actions.
“They didn’t really ban it. They just took it out of brown hands,” Urrea said. “They banned Mexicans, basically. They got rid of Mexican American studies. They put all of the books that they took away from the students, they boxed them and put them away.”
Latinos quoted by a Tucson newspaper called this week’s reversal by the school board “good news.”
“There have been horrendous, shameful abuses on our culture and our community,” UNIDOS member Gabriel M. Schivone told the Arizona Daily Star. “This has never really been about books. It’s the entire curriculum [of ethnic studies] that was targeted, criminalized and outlawed.”
Beyond the seven books, a much larger list of books (most by Latino authors) were deemed inappropriate for teaching in Arizona schools, including works by Urrea, Junot Diaz, Sandra Cisneros and Dagoberto Gilb.