Workers Vanguard No. 996

17 February 2012


Burying History of Chicanos and All Oppressed

Tucson School Book Ban

In another chapter out of Arizona’s Anglo-chauvinist, anti-immigrant handbook, last month Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) officials stormed into classrooms to confiscate books used in the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, effectively banning them. The pretext was that books such as Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Critical Race Theory and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years violated a 2010 state law axing ethnic studies. Specifically, the law prohibits any courses that are “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” “advocate ethnic solidarity” or allegedly “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.” Presumably, the texts are to be replaced by the likes of Little House on the Prairie.

In signing the 2010 law, Republican governor Jan Brewer—notorious for the earlier apartheid-style anti-immigrant law SB1070—aimed her fire at the MAS program in Tucson, where 60 percent of the student body is Latino. Signaling the likelihood of broader censorship, the language in the law also goes after courses that supposedly “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.” Consequently, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Brazilian radical intellectual Paulo Freire, which references the term “oppression” as used in the 1848 Communist Manifesto, was added to the list of forbidden works.

Although a state-ordered audit last year concluded that the Tucson MAS program broke no law and cultivated a climate “conducive to student achievement,” Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal was determined to bring the program down. Threatening to pull around $14 million of state funding from the school district, Huppenthal declared that MAS courses promote the “harmful, dispiriting message” that “Latino minorities have been and continue to be oppressed by a Caucasian majority.” This in Arizona, of all places, where for years “English fluency police” were sent in to monitor teachers, threatening them with dismissal for having heavy accents!

Last month, angry students marched to the TUSD headquarters in protest against the suspension of MAS. Assistant Superintendent Lupita Garcia railed at them that Mexico is where Mexican studies is taught, “this country is called America and we study U.S. history.” In fact, U.S. history includes the far from minor detail that the entire Southwest, including Arizona, and more was stolen from Mexico. Imitating Newt “let poor kids scrub toilets” Gingrich, administrators punished protesters by assigning them to Saturday janitorial duties—a glaring demonstration of the utter racist contempt the bourgeois authorities have for the Latino poor.

The banning of MAS and its instructional texts is part and parcel of an ongoing crackdown on immigrants across the country. In states like Arizona and Alabama, police have been given free rein to interrogate and detain anyone appearing to be a “foreigner.” There, and everywhere else, the cops continue their racial profiling of blacks, Latinos, Muslims and other minorities. As Republican presidential hopefuls bait each other on who can be the most virulently bigoted against immigrants, it is the federal government under Democrat Barack Obama that is the main enforcer of anti-immigrant repression. Last year, the government set a record of some 400,000 deportations, due largely to the expansion of the “Secure Communities” program initiated by George W. Bush.

The capitalist rulers’ crackdown has fueled nativist rants painting immigrants as criminals and bemoaning the 14th Amendment—a central gain of the Civil War granting citizenship to children born on American soil—in order to go after so-called “anchor babies.” Against both the Republican and Democratic parties of capital, we say that anyone who has made it to this country should have the same rights as those born here: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! And after socialist revolution rips power from the U.S. capitalist rulers, a workers government would return to Mexico certain contiguous regions of the Southwest that were seized from Mexico.

Illustrating the ideological thrust of the campaign against “un-American” ethnic studies, Huppenthal singled out a MAS classroom that had a poster of Che Guevara, telling Democracy Now (18 January) that students were being “indoctrinated into a Paulo Freirean-Marxian kind of style of thinking about racial attitudes and creating hatred.” When it suits his purposes, Huppenthal, who ran for Superintendent on a campaign to “stop La Raza,” also compares the MAS texts to Hitler’s Mein Kampf—this from Arizona’s chief book-burner!

Programs like ethnic studies are the result of social struggle—especially the civil rights and Vietnam antiwar movements and other movements of the ’60s and ’70s—and not the “benevolence” of an enlightened ruling class. In fact, Tucson’s MAS program resulted from a 1974 federal desegregation order following a suit by black and Latino families. But with the rollback of school integration and the ratcheting up of anti-immigrant racism, the bourgeois authorities are increasingly burying any teaching of the long history of racial and ethnic oppression in this country. We defend ethnic studies courses as part of our defense of the oppressed and our fight for free, quality, integrated education for all, from preschool to postgraduate.

While ethnic studies programs cover the history of blacks, Native Americans and other minorities—a history not otherwise taught through whitewashed U.S. textbooks—they do not fundamentally challenge the dominant ideology of the racist capitalist system. In fact, such programs are typically packaged to promote the myth that one can escape oppression and become “empowered” by being represented in this so-called “democracy.” The education system as a whole reinforces bourgeois ideology, serving the interests of the ruling class.

The uncensored truth is that racial oppression and national chauvinism are endemic to capitalism, wielded by the ruling class to divide the proletariat—i.e., the working class—and weaken its struggles. As a Marxist newspaper offering a revolutionary perspective, we quote what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels laid out in the Communist Manifesto:

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class.... In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

It will take workers revolution to usher in the dawn of socialist society. As we stated in a previous article on the ban of ethnic studies in Arizona (WV No. 963, 27 August 2010): “It will ultimately require the overthrow of the capitalist system to end oppression—and for the real history of the struggles against oppression and exploitation to be taught.”