Deported Words and the Oddness in Arizona by Luis Alberto Urrea

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 – 16:42

Forgive me for being distracted lately and not writing you a nice long blog post.  Yes, I have been on the road a lot–but what else is new?  No, I have been running to Twitter / Facebook marathon lately, trying to make sense of the recent events in Arizona.  Perhaps you have heard of this.  The banning.  The removal of books.  The annihilation of Ethnic Studies by the Tucson Apartheid School District.  Oops.  I mean the Tucson Unified School District.

Regardless of the politics of the situation, the ones my heart aches for are the kids. It’s emotional what studying your own culture does to you, to your pursuit of education. I can tell you my story, but listen to them tell you their story.

To begin: I would like to thank the Jan Brewer/Joe Arpaio forces of Love and Equity for destroying Mexican American Studies.  Once I heard the Spanish was a ghetto language (thanks, Newt–or, as my friend Joe Wallace calls him, “Axolotl”) and the Beaners should self-deport (thanks, Mitt), I realized that the bastards I have been battling all my life must be right.  We just suck.  We are un-American.  A blight, I tell you.  And now that the Balkanizing cult-like weirdness of Mexican American Studies has been brought down by the flaming sword of righteousness, southern Arizona will be safe again for its original and rightful citizens: White Republicans.  I had fiive books yanked from classrooms.  That made me the leader of the pack.  Yay!  It also, of course, inspired book sales and brought me a couple of hundred new Followers, Fans and Friends on social media.  KA-CHING!

Not content with removing the Frijoleros–that insidious Sandra Cisneros and Rudolfo Anaya, notorious wetback and narcotraficante–the AZ idiocracy also removed the Indigenous writers.  Who told you the Indian Wars were over?  Adios, Sherman Alexie, Leslie Marmon Silko, adios Ofelia Zepeda–winner of the infamous anti-American MacArthur genius grant.  That Thoreau was banned is to be expected.  I mean, c’mon.  He’s Thoreau!  Shakespeare?  That seems a bit much, frankly.  I guess if you put Shakespeare into brown hands something really bad will happen.  So he had to go.

Lots of people have been acting up about this.  Over at the Progressive’s website, a slew of us have posted commets. Although it pains me, I concede that Sherman has written the finest piece.  Even in banishment, we like to compete!  Here:

The Progressive is featuring the issue on its front page. Read everything here.

The issue isn’t me, nor is it books.  I happily suggest they keep all my books off their reading lists–but do not deny Ofelia Zepeda a voice.  Do not deny Rudolfo Anaya his place.  Don’t keep my homeboy the gang-banger Guillermo Shakespeare out of school.

The issue is the attempt to edit out an entire ethnicity and culture under twisted “patriotic” propaganda.  Ethnic Studies do not divide Americans–they unite.  They offer a gateway INTO greater American culture for people who were locked out by the Jan Brewers, the Apartheid school boards, to begin with. I know.  I have been in those courses as student and teacher–I can show you the PhD raza who came through those rooms. But it might be folly on my part–a Beaner PhD is probably just what those people fear.

There is a lot of good reporting on the issue out there. But not enough. I don’t understand why there isn’t national outrage over this issue. It’s worth your time to search out stories in the Huffington Post (where Jeff Biggers is doing a great job) and on Salon. The Arizona Daily Star, on-line Tucson Citizen and  its Mexican-American issues blog the Three Sonorans (shoutout to D.A. Morales for his righteous anger) are trying to keep the issue in the public eye. Make sure to friend Save Ethnic Studies and Three Sonorans on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter. Make this your issue! It’s not about Mexican-American studies, it’s about education, it’s about the history of this land, it’s about the people of this land, it’s about literature. Be angry!

The irony for me is that AZ is the place my work is afforded the greatest kindness.  Just weeks before the banning, I was awarded the Southwest Books citation for best work about the Southwest.  In Tucson.  Ahem.  Next month, I will go frolic at the Tucson Festival of Books.  What is happening here?  What it is ain’t exactly clear….

It’s about the kids.  I don’t care about your politics.  I’m a proud Independent.  Lost faith in all parties.  Political agnostic here.  And it’s not about my career–doing fine, thanks.  Selling books, right there in Arizona.  But I cannot stand by and see kids kicked around by people more ignorant than they ever were. Kids stepped on because somebody else has a bigger pair of boots.

There have been teachins and walkouts and small organized protests to what is happening in Tucson. The best response yet — and one which seems to be geared to the kids — is the Librotraficantes movement organized by Tony Diaz, founder of Houston’s Nuestras Palabras: Latino Writers Having Their Say. Tony’s idea is that we need to show the kids that they do not stand alone, that we are right beside them, hands on their shoulders. You can get involved by donating books, money, time, or support. Check him out:


I was told at the TFoB last year by media types that the school board was going to take The Devil’s Highway out of schools.  Why?  There were complaints about “Devil” in the title.  I thought they were kidding.  They weren’t.  Hmm, I thought:  you’d better go through your maps and history books and make sure all disquieting words are removed.  Perhaps the ancient Camino del Diablo can be changed to McCain Alley?  Or Tinkerbell Lane?

The Tucson school district is 61% Latino.  Oh-oh. Hear those kids–they’re starting to rise.

God bless them.  And God bless us. They are us.


This entry was posted in Books, Culture, People, Politics by sesshu. Bookmark the permalink.

About sesshu

The woman slapping tortilla shapes makes like the rain hitting the cement floor. I like the smell of charcoal smoke, rotting vegetables and sheet metal rust. I think about it when it's 100 degrees and I'm driving in the desert.

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