Arizona's Salt of the Earth Moment

The state and nation are seemingly a few inches closer to making racial profiling the unconstitutional law of the land

By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: April 26, 2012

Arizona's Salt of the Earth Moment

During the miner's strike in Grants County, New Mexico in 1951, depicted in the 1954 "Salt of the Earth" epic movie, the striking miners and their families were forced to endure extreme hardship as they struck the Empire Zinc Co. for some 15 months. In Tucson, Arizona, teachers from the recently dismantled Mexican American Studies (MAS) department are fast-approaching a similar scenario. This, also as the state and nation are seemingly a few inches closer to making racial profiling the unconstitutional law of the land.

In Tucson, the MAS department has been dismantled; the curriculum has been outlawed, its books confiscated and banned; its long-time director has been fired; the teachers have been reassigned, their classes and new curriculum are being monitored and state officials are going into classrooms to ensure that they and their students are complying with the unconstitutional anti-ethnic studies HB 2281. In the past few days, three more of the teachers have been dismissed with several more to follow.

This is not the 1950s McCarthy era. Nor is it Nazi Germany. Instead, it is Arizona, 2012.

Racism doesn't adequately explain this situation. Try apartheid, vindictive power and ruthless retribution; all due to the fear of a rising red-brown majority.?á In the district's assault on Mexican American Studies, the apartheid analogy is easier to see; some 62% of the district is Mexican/Mexican American. Demographic trends, along with white flight, indicate that TUSD's racial composition will continue to be majority students of color into the foreseeable future.

Despite this, the governing school board in no way reflects this reality, treating its majority population as aliens in need of Americanization. This demographic reality doesn't simply apply to Tucson, but to the entire state of Arizona, where Whites have ceased being the majority in K-12 schools. In reality, this is also true of many inner city schools nationwide.

This helps to explain the fear. However, the reality is that all these analogies are insufficient to explain Arizona. There's an even simpler explanation; the attack on the body, the mind and the spirit of brown peoples actually is a continuation of colonial policies that are 500 years old. This is not hyperbole.

For 500 years, non-Indigenous peoples have been telling Indigenous peoples where they can and cannot live, where they can and cannot go, what to think and how to think; this describes Arizona 2012. The battle over MAS-TUSD is about what is acceptable and permissible knowledge. If it derives from Greco-Roman culture, the knowledge is permissible; if it emanates from maiz culture (Abya Yalla or the Americas), apparently, it is unacceptable and un-American.

In this state, Gov. Jan Brewer, former State Senate president, Russell Pearce and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio represent those engaged in a physical war against Mexicans in this state. The unprecedented amount of deportations and family separations and the thousands of dead bodies in the desert are the direct result of federal policies, but the incessant harassment and hate is what also poisons this state. State attorney general Tom Horne, State Schools' superintendent John Huppenthal and TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone, on the other hand, represent the war against the mind and the spirit of these same peoples.

Without question, Mr. Horne and Mr. Huppenthal have never been shy about invoking civilizational or cultural war in describing what's at stake. Mr. Huppenthal has gone so far as to describe his war against MAS-TUSD in literal military terms This from the man who also campaigned to "stop La Raza."

The result of all of this is that the MAS-TUSD department has ceased to exist. It purportedly will be replaced, at the behest of Superintendent John Pedicone, by multicultural studies, a discipline that is despised by conservatives. MAS supporters do not object to multicultural studies, as long it is not a replacement for MAS or for other Ethnic Studies disciplines.

Because the MAS teachers have been and continue to be sacrificed, the community is prepared to monetarily support them in the manner as depicted in the Salt of the Earth movie (a strike fund) until there is a resolution.

As far as the community is concerned, resolution means reinstating MAS-TUSD and defending it in court, all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. For that to occur, the November school board elections loom large. MAS supporters are counting on these elections to elect school board members that will represent the district's school children and that will reinstate MAS.

One other scenario includes trusting the courts, which found TUSD guilty of racial segregation a generation ago, to compel TUSD to reinstate MAS-TUSD. At the moment, Willis D. Hawley, a special master, appointed by. S. District Judge David Bury, is charged with creating a plan to bring TUSD into constitutional compliance. That remains a possibility as the previous court-approved plan did call on TUSD to expand its highly successful MAS Department.

Of course, the culture of Indigenous Mexican peoples is no longer in danger of disappearance in Arizona (despite racial profiling and the continued mass deportations), primarily because the culture has strengthened as a result of this struggle. However, as taxpayers, the battle will intensify, and probably will be replicated nationwide, over whether only the dominant culture merits being taught in public schools.

About Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez:
Rodriguez is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona.
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