In Tucson, Activists Protest the Removal of Books by Latino Authors

Depending on whom you ask, the Tucson Unified School District is either banning books or just boxing them up for storage.

But everybody agrees that numerous books written by Latino authors were removed from classrooms in January. They were banished after Arizona’s school superintendent John Huppenthal deemed the Mexican American Studies program racially divisive and illegal. As a result, books were removed when the program was dismantled.

Authors, librarians, students and teachers are among those protesting the actions. The American Library Association has adopted a resolution condemning the restriction of access to books associated with the ethnic studies program; the association cited the importance of including diverse authors in student curriculum.

CNN has reported that many students are disappointed by the decision. “I feel really disheartened,” Maria Therese Mejia, a senior at Tucson Magnet High School, told the network. “Those are our history, you know? It’s ridiculous for them to be taking away our education. They’re taking (the books) to storage where no one can use them.”

Activists calling themselves librotraficantes are planning a protest  to “smuggle”  books by Hispanic authors into Tucson and then giving them away in the city.

Author Luis Alberto Urrea, whose books were originally taught in the classes, has taken to Twitter repeatedly to oppose the actions of the school district. Urrea, the son of a Mexican father and American mother, writes often about the life at the border between Mexico and the United States. “What’s heartbreaking is I don’t think it’s about banned books,” he said in a talk last week at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “It’s a bigger thing. It’s about banning ethnicity.”

He added that books are meant to be gateways and instead the ethnic studies course. “What divides us is not education,” he said. “What divides us is censorship.”

The school district has released an official list of seven books removed from the class room, many of them focused on race relations and civil rights. They included “Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement” by Arturo Rosales and “Message to Aztlan” by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales. District officials also issued a statement calling accusations of a book ban “false and misleading.”

The majority of students in Tucson schools are Latino. So how important is it for students to read literature that reflects their own ethnic background? Some research suggests that students like to read about characters who share their background, which can help build self-esteem.

Does your school district have ethnic studies courses and what sorts of books do they use? Does your district have any initiatives to diversify what students read? Do students in your district have the opportunity to read about historical figures such as Cesar Chavez?