Luis Alberto Urrea
It is a baffling thing to encounter racist runoff from the toxic waste dump of the power elite. The entire slaughter of Mexican American Studies by the TUSD and the good state of AZ is an end-game of the shenanigans of the Arpaiocracy that unleashed such brilliant Going Out of Business polices as the anti-Beaner SB 1070. Their explanation is that the books weren’t “banned,” but merely “boxed.” Perhaps, back in Germany, books weren’t “burned,” merely “incensed.”
The issue seems to be the power boys and girls are afraid that studying MacArthur winning Tohon O’odam poet Ofelia Zepeda is un-American. Cult-like. Divisive. Yes, that’s right–Indians are out too. Sherman Alexie, that notorious wetback, has been ba–ed, boxed. As well as that notorious narco, Guillermo Shakespeare. Thoreau–well. Come on. When isn’t Thoreau banned? I hereby make him an Honorary Homeboy.
It’s the last grip of a pasty, sticky tentacle, Cthulhu-like, stretching from the retiree and snowbird enclaves of Oro Valley and Sun City. The false belief is that ethnic studies ghettoizes students; the reality is that these classes often take students out from under the tentacle and open the gateway to the panoply of American literature and history. Inclusion, rather than segregation. I would think it’s segregation that divides us. Of course, the squid-like elder gods of the TUSD might be angry about the whole civil rights thing those crazy kids got into in the 60s.
AZ is a great state. They love literature. Believe me. But the arcons from beyond do not. Still, you know, it’s a 61% Latino district. In case the TUSD is a little weak on scholarship, one might be patient and point out that there are more of the silenced that there are of the silencers. Great Mexican poet Jaime Morrison once sang: “They’ve got the guns, but we’ve got the numbers.”
Now, you must excuse me. Newt just informed me that Spanish is a ghetto language. And Mitt has asked me to self-deport. I’m going to self-deport as soon as I can find a Mexican American Studies class to explain in real language what the rules are.
Luis Alberto Urrea is the author of fourteen books, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Two of his books, “By the Lake of Sleeping Children” and “Nobody’s Son,” both of which are on the banned curriculum of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program.
In my personal case, I had two books on the banned list—The Magic of Blood and Woodcuts of Women—so I’m very honored. I’m humbled. I worked all my adult life trying to be an important writer in America and to our community so I want to thank the state of Arizona for its recognition. I was a little disappointed that my new book didn’t get some recognition. But in time, they’ll hate that, too.
I actually think that it’s all good to the extent that we are sort of banned, they’re in storage, they’ve been confiscated, and that’s sort of the description of our Mexican American community for the last 200 years. We’re not treated as we’re from here, that we have our history here, that our history is part of the country’s history.
The usual description is that we’re invisible. I don’t think we’re invisible. I’m trying to think of the ocular disease it is. I’ve come to think it’s macular degeneracy. They see hands handing them tacos and enchiladas, but they don’t see the people behind the hands. They love all the culture. Arizona would have no culture without the Mexican culture, which designs its architecture and landscape and the food. Everything about Arizona that people loves comes from a heritage that has no people.
We’re all dismissed, which is why the whole Mexican American Studies Program in the schools was valuable. It’s important that we learn who we are and where we are. You don’t have to be from somewhere else that’s more important to be a lawyer or an artist or a doctor. You don’t have to leave your culture. You don’t have to be ashamed that your parents struggled with English.
This brings to a head, kind of like a pimple, what we’ve been going through all these years.
In some sense, what they’re doing is scary. In the classroom, if Mexican American kids can’t find any information about themselves, about kids like them, I don’t know what happens to them. That’s the dark part.
But I’d rather be positive. I’m not ashamed of us. I know how hard we work. I know our beauty.
Dagoberto Gilb’s latest book is Before the End, After the Beginning. He’s also the author of The Flowers, Gritos, Woodcuts of Women, The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña, and The Magic of Blood, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award.