Friday, January 20, 2012
Hispanics and America's Story | Casey's Last Word
San Antonio authors Sandra Cisneros and Carmen Tafolla didn’t exactly have their books banned by the Tucson United School District this week.
The books -- “Curandera” by Tafolla and “Woman Hollering Creek” and “The House on Mango Street” by Cisneros -- have simply been removed from classrooms and school libraries and locked up in a storage facility.
The board of the school district, where six of 10 students are Hispanic, reluctantly removed the books because state officials threatened to withhold $15 million in state funding unless the district abandoned its courses in Mexican-American studies.
These books and about 50 others were used in those classes.
The law, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by the governor, forbids ethnic studies courses that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, encourage racial resentment or advocate ethnic solidarity rather than treatment of others as individuals.
Tucson school officials say the courses did none of these things, but as Board President Judy Burns, said, “empower kids to take charge of their own destiny, gain a sense of the value of their own existence and become more determined to be well-educated contributing members of society.”
A $110,000 audit paid for by state Superintendent John Huppenthal, who as a legislator had been a leading sponsor of the law, found the courses did not violate the law and actually praised the program.
But an appointed state administrative judge held hearings and in late December found that the program did violate the law.
So Huppenthal threatened the district with loss of state funding, and the board capitulated. It says it will incorporate much of the material into broader courses, but Huppenthal said he doubted that could be done under the law. He will be watching.
So what we have here is bolder than book banning.
What we have is representatives of one faction of a dominant ethnic group telling an elected school board that it cannot provide members of another ethnic group courses in which they study their own history, literature and culture in public schools.
The history of America is one of group after group arriving and struggling to make their own way.
Back in the 1970s I got to know Father Geno Baroni, a priest who had been active in the Civil Rights movement. He was the Catholic coordinator for the march at which Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Baroni became concerned about white backlash. One of the problems, he told me, is that the Irish and Italians and others haven’t been taught about their own struggles. He worked to change that.
He’s right. America’s strength isn’t that it has always respected the rights of all its citizens. Almost every immigrant group – not to mention blacks and native Americans – have suffered mistreatment.
America’s strength is that group after group have come here in love with the idea of America, however imperfectly they found it practiced. And group after group has worked hard to overcome obstacles and make its place here.
That’s a story worth telling, not storing in a warehouse.