Cultura, Política

Out of the classroom, but still on my bookshelf

Banned books (sort of)

I got the idea to start the This Day in Chicana/o History series some time in late 2009 or early 2010. I was inspired partly by other bloggers documenting Los Angeles history and by The Writer’s Almanac, one the many podcasts I listen to daily. After searching online and in old Chicana/o Studies textbooks for birthdays of famous Chicanas/os and dates of important events, I started the series. I wasn’t consistent with it back then and abandoned the project after a few months. (Definitely one of my weaknesses as a blogger and person in general.) I hope the current revival lasts especially in light of the struggle for a relevant education in Tucson.

When I started this project in early 2010, I had no clue a law banning ethnic studies was in pipeline in the Arizona legislature. HB 2281 particularly targeted the Mexican American studies program in Tucson Unified, a predominantly Latino school district. In May of 2010, Governor Jan Brewer — yeah, the one with her finger all up in President Obama’s face — signed the law. Tucson educators resisted the law and held on to Mexican American Studies until January when the Tucson Unified School District board voted to suspend the program or lose state funding. Over 80% of the books used in MA Studies courses were forbidden from being taught in the classroom. I’ve read many of these books, some are amongst my favorites. I read most in Chicana/o Studies courses in college.

Some books that were removed from Tucson classrooms

Before I ever took a Chicana/o Studies course, I became more invested in school when the subject was my history or the authors of the assigned books had Latino surnames. This is saying a lot considering I was quite the nerd, especially in history and English. In sixth grade, I wrote a report on Edward James Olmos for my project on a famous American. It was the first time I ever read about the Sleepy Lagoon trial, zoot suits and Chicano theater.

In the summer before 10th grade, I read Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima as an assignment for honors English. While I’d never been to New Mexico, stories of curanderas and witches who turn in to owls and have healing powers were vaguely familiar. I’d heard similar tales from my cousins who spent some of their youth in Mexico. In discussing the book in class, I hated my teacher’s take on it and how she pronounced Ultima (ul-TEE-mah).

Both Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit and Other Plays (Olmos starred in the stage and film version of Zoot Suit) and Bless Me, Ultima will no longer be taught in Arizona schools. They’re just two books on a long list.

Chicano and American Indian lit

I haven’t read many of the banned books in years, but I’m committed to re-reading them thanks to Feminist Texican’s Read & Resist project. While this won’t introduce books directly to Tucson youth, it may shed some light on how ridiculous it is to remove these books from the classroom and get us talking about the important of a relevant education.

As for the This Day project, you may have noticed that all the postings this year are about famous men. I have many women on the list, but could use more. If you have any suggestions of people of events for the project, let me know in the comments or email me.


8 thoughts on “Out of the classroom, but still on my bookshelf

  1. We actually had a discussion today at our family brunch on the sad and hurtful decision to ban these books. I remember reading “Bless Me, Ultima” in middle school and finding relief in being able to finally identify with a book. I had been stuck reading the Judy Blume series far too long, and needing something with a language I could understand and about a land I was familiar with.
    Although the books have been banned in the classroom, Let’s hope they haven’t been banned within the community. I have heard little, but hope there is a way to access these books through other resources, if any.
    Great post.
    P.S. You should visit New Mexico sometime. 🙂

  2. graciela says:

    Emma Tenayuca is one we learned about as kids. Gloria Anzaldua y Jovita Idar son otras. I’m tejana, so many people I’m familiar with are Texas-centric, so maybe they are different than your Califas background.

  3. Yes to everything this post says! The ban on ethnic studies in Arizona enrages me. I did read that families are organizing to open saturday school and after school programs to continue ethnic studies. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re a great resource.

  4. Hahah, I remember Bless Me, Ultima!

    I definitely enjoyed one of my world lit classes in high school… because the works we read came from many more perspectives than the books we read in middle and elementary schools.

  5. It would have been so cool to read some of these books in high school.

    I’ve only driven through NM. Never stopped for more than gas or a bathroom break. I know there’s a lot of history and culture there. I’d definitely like to visit.

  6. I was going to mention that my list is pretty California centric. Thanks to a Chicana/o Studies class on women in politics, I do know about Emma Tenayuca. However, I didn’t have her on my list for some reason. Thanks for the suggestions!

  7. Yeah, I’ve heard of those too. I think once you’re empowered it’s really tough to go back to just accepting what you’ve been told you need to do. The organizing around ethnic studies in AZ is fascinating. The youth out there are quite resilient and active. I think you need to be with the way the state is treating its people.

  8. E says:

    Maybe I can get you to explain what the hell was the “Secret Meaning” at the end of Bless Me Ultima. They always told me it went deeper than how it ended, that the death of Ultima (and her owl as well, right) had some kinda metaphorical meaning… but its escaped me for years and maybe youre awesome enough to tell me. lol.

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