LATINO VOICES
01/24/2013 06:11 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2013

Librotraficante Awarded For Protesting Mexican American Studies Ban In Tucson, Arizona

Sometimes fighting the law will win you an award.

The activist group known as “Librotraficante” -- Spanish for “book smuggler” -- won the 2012 Downs Intellectual Freedom Award, according to a release from the iSchool at Illinois.

“Librotraficante, a movement led by Tony Diaz, is being recognized for its efforts to oppose the censorship of ethnic and cultural studies materials in Arizona,” the release says.

"I'm torn," author Tony Diaz told The Huffington Post. "I'm ecstatic that the work I started 14 years ago with Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, which led to the team that would create the Librotraficante movement, is being recognized... However, I'm also mortified because Arizona House Bill 2281 is still on the books."

Diaz, journalist Liana Lisa Lopez and multimedia artist Bryan Parras banded together to form Librotraficante to combat the removal of Latino literature from Tucson public schools.

The Arizona legislature passed HB 2281 in 2010 banning public school courses promoting ethnic solidarity. Aimed squarely at a controversial Mexican American Studies curriculum in Tucson Unified School District accused by conservatives of politicizing the students, state officials told the school board to drop the program or face losing $14 million in funding over the fiscal year. When teachers and students challenged the decision in court, the school pulled seven books from classrooms -- all but two written by Latino authors.

The courts have yet to decide the case. Mexican American Studies courses may return to Tucson public schools under a new plan to comply with a desegregation order, but it’s not yet clear whether the courses will use a similar curriculum to the one banned by the Arizona legislature.

The caravan went on a road trip to Tucson to “smuggle” the literature into Tucson, where they established a library and held events celebrating Latino letters.

Librotraficante will be honored at a reception in Seattle during a meeting of the American Library Association on Saturday.

The ALA has condemned Tucson’s banning of Mexican American Studies and the removal of the books used in its curriculum from Tucson public school classrooms.

This post was updated on Friday, Jan. 25, to add comment from Librotraficante co-founder Tony Diaz.

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