Yesterday is within today. Yesterday never dies.
Luis Urrea, The Hummingbird’s Daughter
I have enjoyed Tucson as a city. One of the best conferences I’ve ever attended was held there. I went horseback riding there. My ex- and I took our first camping trip to Tucson in a February, thinking we were headed to warmth and I ended up sleeping in the car with the motor running and the heater on; it was the first car I ever rented that recorded the outdoor temperature, which reached into the high 20s (Fahrenheit) that night. We woke to frost on the tents, gas stoves that couldn’t be lit, and frozen water. We drove up to Oracle for the next night and took a room in a bed and breakfast where, if one sat on the toilet, one’s knees jutted into the room and blocked the bathroom door from closing (we are both tall, but I think even shorter folks would have been able to watch television from the throne). We were newly in love and my memories are that it was a terrific trip.
The University of Arizona is located there. The wonderful Saguaro National Park lies both east and west of the city and there is terrific hiking in the area. Edward Abbey lived near the city and wrote extensively about that part of the world as has Barbara Kingsolver. It is not far from Phoenix where I have had to travel for personal reasons.
So Tucson had been high on my list of alternatives to Mexico and, in fact, had reached number 1. Until I read that Luis Urrea’s (and many other writers’) works had been “banned.” In 2012 the Tucson Unified School District suspended the nationally acclaimed Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies program – despite the fact that 60 per cent of its students are from Mexican-American families. The school district is still under a federal desegregation order (on 7 July 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case until the school district could show it had attained “unitary” status).
Ah, Arizona. The state that in 2011 named the Colt Single Action Army Revolver as its official state weapon (this took place shortly after the horrific shooting that wounded U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords). The bill was proposed by Republican lawmakers and backed by gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association, then was signed into law by Republican Governor Jan Brewer. It’s also the state where Tucsonian Terri Proud, a state representative (Republican) wants to allow the Bible to be taught as an elective in high school.
Conservative American lawmakers often complain about ethnic studies. What they just don’t get is that ethnic studies can and do contribute to keeping kids in school and also serve as a gateway to other studies. Want a Mexican-American kid to read Shakespeare? It just might be made easier if they read some of the books on this list. Oops! Tucson doesn’t want kids reading Shakespeare! The Tempest by W. Shakespeare is on the “boxed books” list. The school district said that no books have been banned; they are available in libraries and other areas.
Boxing books must seem to some to be so much less intellectually dishonest than burning them.
Censorship by Reverse Extortion
Now, to be fair to Tucsonians, they had to choose between teaching ethnic studies and accepting $15 million from the state – which the state offered to withhold until the district changed or eliminated courses that, according to a state law passed by the Arizona legislature in 2010, teach “racial resentment” or are “designed for a specific ethnic group” or advocate “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
Teachers have been told by administrators that they need to be careful about other books and their curriculum. They are to refer to Administrative Judge Lewis Kowal’s decision and state Superintendent John Huppenthal’s ruling, which cite other contemporary novels and writings considered “suspect.” Teachers are to avoid themes regarding race, ethnicity and oppression.
Luis Urrea and the San Miguel Writers’ Conference
This past Wednesday night La Biblioteca in San Miguel showed a video of a 2012 interview of Luis Urrea by Bill Moyers. Urrea was born in Tijuana, the son of a Mexican father and Anglo mother, and from the 5th grade on he lived with his parents in San Diego, so he has knowledge of life on both sides of the border. He has written novels, short stories, non-fiction, and poetry. During the interview they discussed the Tucson school district’s actions as well as the writing of The Devil’s Highway and Into the Beautiful North, both of which are on the Tucson “boxed books” list.
Urrea, who has a website, will be one of the keynote speakers at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference that will take place February 13 to 18. Tickets to single events, such as the keynote talks, are available to the general public.