Students Step Up Tucson Walkouts
Protest School District Folly and Mexican American Studies
By Jeff Biggers
January 24, 2012
As the nation watches the Tucson Unified School District’s
spiral into disarray, hundreds of students walked out of
their Tucson schools Monday in a coordinated protest against
the banishment of the district’s acclaimed Mexican American
Pouring into the downtown Tucson area from Pueblo, Cholla and
Tucson high schools, among other institutions, the students
brought their march to the offices of floundering Tucson
Unified School District (TUSD) administrators. In recent
days, administrators and board members have issued a series
of conflicting and inaccurate statements and carried out the
extreme actions of confiscating books in front of children.
Last week, a recently hired assistant superintendent from
Texas made a troubing call for the deeply rooted Tucson
students - many of whom trace their ancestors to the town
founders - to "go to Mexico" to study their history.
In a district with over 60 percent of the students coming
from Mexican American backgrounds, the TUSD board "dismantled
its Mexican-American studies program, packed away its
offending books, shuttled its students into other classes,"
according to an editorial in the New York Times on Sunday,
because "it was blackmailed into doing so."
The New York Times referred to the extremist measures of
Arizona state superintendent of public instruction John
Huppenthal on January 10th, who threatened to withhold
millions of dollars if TUSD didn’t terminate the nationally
acclaimed program immediately.
As her Tucson school district prepares to celebrate the 140th
anniversary of its founding by Mexican American immigrant
Estevan Ochoa, Cholla High School student Ahtziri Iñiguez
noted that she was following the march in the footsteps of
her brother, a graduate of the Mexican American Studies
"I think it’s very unfair that people here don’t let us learn
about our own culture," she said. "My brother took (Mexican
American Studies) classes his junior year and he would go
home and discuss with my Mom and interested me in education,
so I knew I wanted to take these classes."
Less than two months away from the anniversary celebration of
Arizona native and United Farm Worker leader Cesar Chavez,
Iñiguez added: "We did this walk out to prove if you want
something you should fight for what you believe in, because
if you don’t do anything, nothing will change."
Known as the "Sheriff Arpaio of Ethnic Studies," Arizona
education chief John Huppenthal defended his campaign slogan
to "stop la raza" in an extraordinary Democracy Now debate on
TV last week. The Tea Party activist Huppenthal has referred
to Mexican American students as "Hitler Jugend," and raised
concerns across the nation about possible criminal behavior
last summer when he openly misrepresented the results of an
independent audit that praised the Mexican American Studies
program and found it in compliance with Arizona’s bizarre
Ethnic Studies law.
State Rep. Sally Gonzales introduced a bill to repeal the
Ethnic Studies crackdown last week. A similar bill to repeal
Arizona’s notorious SB 1070 immigration law was also being
Instead of surrendering to Huppenthal’s crackdown, many
community leaders in Tucson called on the Tucson Unified
School District board to join a federal court suit against
the state and summon the Civil Rights Division of the
Department of Justice to follow up their investigation of
Arpaio and investigate Huppenthal for racial profiling, hate
crimes, fraud and even extortion.
Last month, when the DOJ charged Arpaio with "chronic culture
of disregard for basic legal and constitutional obligations"
and a "widespread pattern or practice of...activities that
discriminate against Latinos," Tucson supporters of Ethnic
Studies wonder if similar charges could be made for Attorney
General Tom Horne and Superintendent Huppenthal, who have
invoked violent imagery and pathologically singled out only
Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program.
[Jeff Biggers is the author of The United States of
Appalachia, and more recently, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The
Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (The Nation/Basic
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