by Paul Teitelbaum
The Tucson Unified School Board, in a 3-2 vote, ousted the director of the Mexican-American Studies Program on April 10.
Program Director Sean Arce co-founded the MAS Program in 1999 and developed it into one of the most successful programs in the district. In 2004, the Mexican-American Studies Department was combined with the Pan-Asian, African-American and Native-American Studies Departments to create the new Ethnic Studies Department. This made the Tucson district the only K-12 public school district in the U.S. with an Ethnic Studies Department.
During the two-and-a-half-hour public comment period prior to the vote, people defended Arce and the program and lambasted the racist cowards on the board. Not one comment was made against the program. Community activist Isabel Garcia expressed the anger and outrage of the people when she told the board, ”I believe you prefer our children in prison than graduating from these high schools.”
Board Superintendent John Pedicone, an opponent of the Ethnic Studies Program, offered no explanation for Arce’s firing, saying only that his contract was not renewed “for a number of reasons.” (Arizona Daily Star, April 11) Arce had refused to go along with the board’s plan to gut the MAS Program, removing all its substance but leaving the name intact. His firing was in retribution for his tireless defense of ethnic studies. It is also seen as a warning to any other teacher who does not bow to the board’s dictates.
Hundreds of supporters of the program filled the board meeting room and overflowed into the streets. They saw the director’s firing as a continuation of the racist war that has been declared against the MAS Program and the Latino/a people by the state of Arizona. Since 2006, when then-Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne unleashed the racist campaign to shut down Ethnic Studies, the community has fought back and defended the program against the most vicious lies and slander.
In 2010, within days of passing the racist, anti-immigrant SB1070 law, the state legislature passed HB2281, which outlawed Ethnic Studies in Arizona and targeted Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies Program in particular.
In January the Tucson Ethnic Studies Program was declared in violation of HB2281. Within weeks textbooks were banned and removed from the classroom, and teaching Latino/a and Indigenous culture became a crime.
Racists step up attacks, acting openly
It did not go unnoticed that the firing of Sean Arce occurred on the National Day of Justice for Trayvon Martin. The demonization of Latino/a youth and their culture, the denial of the right of oppressed peoples to study their history, and the political lynching of the MAS Program’s founder all emanate from the same racist system that led to the murder of Trayvon Martin. The slow dismemberment of the Ethnic Studies Program by the Tucson School Board is another symptom of this racist poison.
Two migrant workers were murdered on April 9 outside the small town of Eloy, Ariz., when a truck transporting migrants was ambushed by a group of armed vigilantes. The mainly Latino/a town of Eloy is home to not just one but four for-profit prisons run by the private profit-making Corrections Corporation of America. It is one of the areas where known vigilante groups, like the Border Guardians and Minutemen, roam the desert.
In Pinal County, Arizona, which borders on Mexico, neo-Nazi J. T. Ready, of the so-called National Socialist Movement, has announced his bid to run for sheriff. Ready’s Facebook page features photos of him and his armed militias on patrol in the desert. Not only has Facebook allowed the page to remain online, but local media soft-sell Ready as an acceptable candidate.
The state of Arizona is preparing to fund an armed, all-volunteer state militia that would patrol the border. Senate Bill 1083 would create the Arizona Special Missions Unit. This is nothing more than putting the racist Minutemen and Border Guardians on the state payroll.
The racist legislators promoting this militia are spewing venom about “an invasion” and “international criminal activity” in a further attempt to whip up racist anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant “frenzy. (statepress.com, Feb. 16)
As the economic crisis deepens, impoverishing more and more workers, racist atrocities occur with increasing frequency. The state relies on this racism to keep people divided and distracted from the true cause of the crisis: the capitalist profit system in decay. That is why, without a shred of evidence, a school program that empowers Latino/a youth is ferociously set upon and targeted for destruction, while an ambush and murder by armed vigilantes is treated as just another homicide. This is why a neo-Nazi like J. T. Ready is portrayed as an acceptable candidate for sheriff.
Workers and oppressed communities need to build unity and solidarity and fight back against the racists, their henchmen and the crumbling capitalist system that is the cause of it all.