Tucson, Ariz., high school youth fight racist attacks
Published Feb 26, 2010 8:34 PM
A coalition of students from high schools throughout Tucson held their first
encuentro — a community meeting — on Feb. 19 to build support and
alliances in the struggle against the mounting right-wing attacks on public
In addition to enacting extreme budget cuts to public education, the Arizona
Legislature has taken up two racist anti-education bills. One would eliminate
the ethnic studies program, while the other would collect the identities of all
The Social Justice Education Project student coalition addressed a crowd of 300
people, detailing the dangers of each of the legislative bills. House Bill 2281
states that a school district may not include in its program of instruction any
courses or classes that either are designed for pupils of a particular ethnic
group or that “advocate ethnic solidarity” instead of the treatment
of pupils as individuals. State funds will be withheld from any school district
that does not comply with this law. None of the bill’s sponsors has ever
set foot in an ethnic/Raza studies classroom.
Senate Bill 1097 states that the Department of Education will collect data on
school districts’ populations of non-citizen students and their
identities. This bill will force teachers and other school employees to
indirectly enforce immigration law by disclosing the identity of students who
cannot produce residency documents.
SB1097 will deny many Latino/a youth the right to an education. Moreover, based
on the collected data, the state superintendent of instruction can withhold
funding from schools in proportion to the non-documented student population of
Ethnic studies teaches Ariz. history before 1848
SJEP also countered the racist lies being made about the ethnic studies
program, explaining the importance of oppressed youth learning their own
peoples’ history. At least a dozen ethnic studies students and alumni
recounted how important the program is/was to their academic success.
Students explained that the ethnic studies program combats the mythology
incorporated in euro-centric history books that does little or nothing to
portray the lives and history of the Indigenous people of Arizona. Ethnic
studies programs teach oppressed youth the true history of how their land was
stolen, their lives uprooted and their culture all but destroyed. Studying the
rich history of the Indigenous peoples reveals the actual historical events
that led to the ceding of one-third of Mexico to the expanding U.S. empire, and
the forced removal of peoples from their ancestral homelands. “What we
learn is the unique experience of Mexicanos who lived through the circumstances
surrounding the defeat of Mexico and theft of Mexican land in 1848,” one
Another student explained how the classroom was based on the Mayan tradition of
“In Lak’ech’,” which means “I am you and you are
me.” The students and teachers are equals, each learning from the other.
This helps explain why so many graduates of the program remain committed to it
long after they graduate from high school. The ethnic studies program teaches
culture, which represents the life of the Latino/a people of Arizona. To
eliminate the ethnic studies program and deny youth access to their history and
culture is a form of genocide.
Organize the community
This encuentro was the first of many meetings planned by these students to
organize the Tucson community to fight back against the continuing right-wing
attacks. Hated Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio continues his racial profiling and
neighborhood sweeps while the Department of Homeland Security spends millions
on technology and Border Patrol agents, in order to funnel border crossers into
the deadliest part of the desert and then incarcerate those they detain in
The 20,000 people who marched in Phoenix against Arpaio in January; the student
movement that is now forming in Tucson; and the Tucson May 1st Coalition, which
is gearing up for May Day 2010 — all are all signs that the attempts to
divide workers based upon an arbitrary possession of documents is not going to
succeed. People are uniting to oppose the economic crisis being dumped on their
backs. “¡Ya Basta!” Enough!
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