Dancing for culture: Protesters defend Chicano literature (from the El Paso Times)

Members of Danza Azteca Omecoatl perform a ceremonial dance during the "Librotraficante" stop Wednesday at Mercado Mayapan in El Paso. The group is traveling the southwest to spread the word of what they call the banning of certain Chicano books by the Tucson Unified School District. (Mark Lambie/El Paso Times)

By Hayley Kappes \ EL PASO TIMES
03/15/2012 12:00:00 AM MDT

Book-toting protesters stopped in El Paso on Wednesday night to celebrate literature they claim is being denied to students in Arizona schools.

About 200 people attended the “Librotraficante” caravan’s stop at Mercado Mayapan, 2101 Myrtle, for a rally that showcased readings of poetry and stories by members of the caravan and a performance by indigenous dance group Danza Azteca Omecoatl.

Led by Houston Community College professor Tony Diaz, the caravan of about 35 people on Monday started a weeklong road trip from Houston to Tucson to protest the Tucson Unified School District’s dissolution of its Mexican-American studies classes.

The group, the name of which is loosely translated as “book trafficker,” is bringing hundreds of books by Mexican-American authors, which protesters claim the school district has banned.

Members of Danza Azteca Omecoatl perform a ritual during the Librotraficante event Wednesday night at Mercado Mayapan. (Mark Lambie/El Paso Times)

In June, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal ruled courses in the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson violated state law because they promoted racial resentment by being designed primarily for one ethnic group and advocated ethnic solidarity instead of students as individuals.

The district’s Governing Board in January ended the Mexican-American studies classes to comply with Arizona House Bill 2281, which restricts ethnic studies courses in public schools.

Not ending the classes would have cost the district about $15 million a year in state money, a district spokeswoman said in February.

Shutting down the classes brought together a motley group of protesters along the way.

Dennis Castillo, 18, hastily joined the caravan on Tuesday after attending a workshop titled “The Librotraficante Chicano Lit Trail” in San Antonio, his hometown.

Castillo volunteers with the Southwest Workers Union, a San Antonio-based organization that advocates for low-income workers and families.

“The speakers were defending what they knew was right, and I completely agreed tenfold,” Castillo said. “They’re protecting our culture. They’re protecting our rights. As soon as they were done, I wanted to get in on it.”

Gloria Rubac, 65, of Houston, said she decided to go along with the caravan after taking a Tejano literature class with Diaz.

Rubac taught English as a second language for 25 years at an inner-city elementary school in the Houston Independent School District.

“My kids are biracial,” Rubac said. “They’re half-white and half-Mexican, and I wouldn’t want my grandkids to go to a school that says they can’t read these books or learn about their history.”

Tucson school district officials have insisted there is no book ban in their schools.

Seven books that were used as supporting materials for curriculum in Mexican-American studies classes were moved to the district’s storage facility after the classes were suspended, but they are available in campus libraries, district spokeswoman Cara Rene said.

Supporters of the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson have incorrectly said books were banned to sensationalize the situation and drive media attention to the issue, Arizona Department of Education spokesman Andrew LeFevre said in an email Wednesday.

Diaz, however, said the district was playing semantics games. Arizona lawmakers have instituted a de facto ban on books by Mexican-American authors, protesters say.

Ultimately, a law that prohibits ethnic studies courses in public schools is wrong, Diaz said.

“Americans would not tolerate a direct ban,” Diaz said. “At the end of the day, it breaks my heart that the Tucson Unified School District would play with language to sabotage the American dream for our young.”

Hayley Kappes may be reached at hkappes@ elpasotimes.com; 546-6168.

Members of Danza Azteca Omecoatl perform a ritual dance duirng the Librotraficante event Wednesday night at Mercado Mayapan. (Mark Lambie/EL Paso Times)

Mexican-American books removed
These books were removed from the Tucson Independent School District’s now-dissolved Mexican-American studies classes. The district said the books are available in school libraries.
“Critical Race Theory” by Richard Delgado.
“500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures,” edited by Elizabeth Martinez.
“Message to Aztlan” by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales.
“Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement” by Arturo Rosales.
“Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” by Rodolfo Acuna.
“Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire.
“Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years” by Bill Bigelow.

On Wednesday, March 14, 2012, Librotraficante made its stop in El Paso, Texas at the Mercado Mayapan, 2101 Myrtle from 7-10 p.m. The event featured writers and activists that were part of the Caravan from different parts of the country. It also featured local poets.

The Librotraficante Caravan is a movement that started in Houston, TX and that is responding to the book ban in Tucson United School District after the disintegration of the Mexican American Ethnic Studies Program. The objective of the caravan will be to take banned books into Tucson and bring awareness to Arizona’s unconstitutional law that prohibits Mexican American ethnic studies in schools. Headed by Tony Diaz, the caravan is set to pass through San Antonio, El Paso, TX, Mesilla, Albuquerque, NM, and will finally end in Tucson, AZ.

“The caravan is intended to raise awareness of the prohibition of the Mexican American Studies Program and the removal of books from classrooms, to promote banned authors and their contributions to American Literature and celebrate diversity. Children of the American Dream must unite to preserve the civil rights of all Americans and create a network of resources for art, literature and activism.”
– Tony Diaz (founder of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers having their say)

To learn more about the Librotraficante Caravan visit: http://www.librotraficante.com
Also, please visit http://www.bordersenses.com, http://www.cincopuntos.com, http://www.mujerobrera.org to learn more about participating organizations.

Scheduled Readers/Speakers:

Nuestra Palabra (NP):
Tony Díaz
Zelene Mendez
Gabriel Carmona
Harbeer Sandhu
Liana Lopez

El Paso:
Benjamin Saenz
Minerva Laveaga
Donna Snyder
Richard Yañez
Carolina Monsivais
Selfa Chew
Roberto Santos
María Maloney
Griselda Muñoz

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