A caravan of cars, full of activists and writers will be heading soon from Houston, Texas, to Tucson, Arizona.
It's cargo: books that were allegedly banned from the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). The event, called 'Librotraficante' --which translates from Spanish to 'BookTrafficker'-- is set to take place between March 12th-18th. Among the participants of the caravan will be some of the authors whose books were banned in Arizona, together with advocates concerned with preserving First Amendment rights of equal protection and freedom of speech, according to the event's website.
It sounds romantic--the ultimate anti-establishment literary movement, people fighting for their right to access intellectual material. It was a slew of controversial events surrounding ethnic-studies which prompted the convoy.
The 'Librotraficante' caravan is instigated by the alleged banning of books from Mexican-American Studies (MAS) programs by the Tuscon Unified School District (TUSD) earlier this month. Amid protests, these ethnic-studies programs were suspended after Arizona State Superintendent John Huppenthal ruled that the high school MAS courses were in direct violation to ARS 15-112, a segment of the controversial law Arizona HB 2281, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010, according to a TUSD press release.
ARS 15-112 focuses on "prohibited courses and classes; enforcement" and it states that a program in a school district or charter school in Arizona shall not:
- Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
- Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
- Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
- Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
Based on this criteria, TUSD suspended its MAS program onJanuary 10th. The reaction was immediate, and many TUSD students, 60% of which are of Mexican descent, fled the streets in protest.
But further controversy erupted after books from the Tucson High Magnet School--part of TUSD-- were removed from the MAS course while the class was in motion, in the presence of young students.
There is a debate over the semantics, and over who is to blame for the spectacle of books being taken out of the students hands.
Cara Rene, the Communication Director of TUSD, said in an email sent yesterday to The Huffington Post that "there is not book ban."
In a press release issued by the school it states that the "books were removed from classrooms because the curriculum has changed in accordance with the ruling from the state superintendent."
The confiscation of books only increased the uproar caused across the state by the law.
"This has been brewing for about a year," said Tony Diaz, founder of Nuestra Palabra, an organization that promotes Latino literature and leader of 'Librotraficantes', to the The Colorado Independent.
"The boiling point was actually canceling the classes and quantifying the books. What really offended us down to our soul - they took the books out of the classes in front of the kids and boxed them up, and that was such a cultural offense we felt we had to do something."
Some of the titles that were taken away from the class were:
- '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
The list of banned books is extensive, and it includes important Latino authors and activists' books that are being banished from classrooms.
Nicolàs Kanellos, Brown Foundation Professor of Hispanic Studies at University of Houston and Director of Arte Público Press (APP), the largest publisher of contemporary U.S. Latino literature, labelled Corky Gonzales as one of the "most important civil rights leaders," . And, Professor Emeritus Rudy Acuña is a respected, well-known and distinguished historian of Latinos in the United States.
In response to the removal of these books, Diaz and other activists are now going to smuggle them back into the state.
"We have to be Librotraficantes," Diaz said. "We have to become outlaws again. We're going to take all the 'wet books' that are illegal in Arizona back across the border."
Banned authors who will participate in the 'Librotraficante' caravan include Sandra Cisneros, Guggenheim Fellow Dagoberto Gilb and best-selling author Luis Alberto Urrea.
According to 'Librotraficante's' website, the goal of the caravan is to raise awareness regarding Latino Studies being banned in Arizona, promote books of banned Latino authors and "celebrate many cultures: children of the American Dream must unite to preserve the civil rights of all Americans."