ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Eva Longoria blasted the ban of a controversial Mexican American Studies curriculum in public schools in Tucson, Ariz., calling the conservative-backed censorship "criminal" in comments to The Huffington Post on Sunday.

Latino intellectuals have widely criticized the move by the Arizona state legislature to prohibit the curriculum. The body has become a focal point of Anglo-Hispanic political tension since the passage of SB 1070, a 2010 law cracking down on illegal immigration.

“I think it’s even more tragic than SB 1070,” Longoria told The Huffington Post. “This is where our communities can learn about our history and to prevent anyone from doing that is criminal.”

Longoria made the comments after moderating a panel on the Latino vote at the annual meeting of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in Anaheim, Calif. She earned a Master's degree in Chicano Studies from California State University, Northridge, in May.

The Arizona legislature voted in 2010 to ban courses that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, that foster racial resentment or promote ethnic solidarity. The law, conceived by then-Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne (R) and piloted through the legislature by then-State Sen. John Huppenthal (R-Chandler), targeted the Tucson Mexican American Studies curriculum specifically. Horne currently serves as the state's attorney general and Huppenthal moved on to become the new superintendent of public instruction.

Facing the loss of 10 percent of the district’s funding for failure to comply -- about $14 million over the fiscal year -- Tucson's school board voted to suspend the classes in December of 2011. Tucson administrators plucked seven books, almost all of them by Latino authors, from the city’s classrooms and prohibited them from instruction, citing concerns over litigation.

A group of progressive teachers influenced by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire developed the curriculum, which emphasized critical thinking and centered on the history of race and socioeconomic conflict in U.S. history. Independent research found that the classes helped increase student achievement and a state-commissioned audit conducted in 2011 recommended expanding the courses.

But conservative leaders accused the teachers of politicizing their students with leftwing ideology, a charge the teachers deny. Huppenthal has also toyed with the idea of restricting Mexican American Studies at the university level.

Supporters of the classes are challenging the law in the courts. They experienced a setback in March when a federal judge largely upheld the law, but that decision was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, administrators at Tucson Unified School District have struggled to implement a replacement for the Mexican American Studies class. Though a federal judge has ordered them to offer culturally relevant classes to the district’s majority-Mexican American student body, pursuant to a decades-long desegregation case, within days of approving a newly designed multicultural literature course in June, TUSD received a memo from the Arizona Department of Education raising concerns over the class, citing the 2010 law restricting ethnic studies.

Two founders and former teachers of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program, Curtis Acosta and Sean Arce, have teamed up with Prescott College to offer an independent, after-school course based on the prohibited curriculum this fall. Students of the tuition-free classes will earn college credit.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuña

    The most successful book written by professor Rodolfo Acuña, "Occupied America" represents all that Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne opposed in the Mexican-American Studies program when he launched the attack against it. Horne viewed the curriculum as separatist and ethnically divisive. HB 2281, the law used to <a href="http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/hb2281s.pdf " target="_hplink">ban TUSD's Mexican American Studies</a> program, prohibits courses that "promote the overthrow of the United States government" or "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group." "These people think you're a separatist if you want to teach and include people," <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/14/local/la-me-0114-tobar-20110114" target="_hplink">Acuña told the <em>Los Angeles Times</em></a> in 2011. "I don't want to be part of Mexico ... That's a stupid thing to argue."

  • 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, compiled by Elizabeth Martinez

    This compilation tells the story of Chicano history from before the European conquest of North America, through colonization and into the present day. The book describes the Southwest as "Occupied America" -- a term that Arizona conservatives often view as unjust and disparaging. Actor Edward James Olmos felt differently: "If young people read this book, they will be strong and proud in new ways," he said on the dust jacket to the 1990 edition. "It's a real education, in the true sense of that word."

  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire

    This seminal work by Brazilian education professor Paulo Freire argued that students learn best when treated as equals and engaged on their own terms. Freire argues against the "banking model" of education, in which teachers treat students as passive recipients of knowledge. His work is studied by education specialists throughout the hemisphere. In a 2012 interview, <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/04/19/neither-banned-nor-allowed-mexican-american-studies-in-limbo-in-arizona/" target="_hplink">Arizona Superintendent of Education John Huppenthal </a> explained why he viewed the book as problematic: <blockquote>The title of Paulo Freire's book is 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed,' and so the question is, who is the oppressed? And as we looked at what was going on in the classroom and looked at what was in the materials, we saw they were putting together a Marxian model in the classroom in which the oppressed are the Hispanic students and the oppressors are the white Caucasian power structure. We came to the conclusion that it wasn't O.K. to be preaching that model in the classroom.</blockquote>

  • Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelow

    A collection of essays, interviews, lesson plans and other materials, <em>Rethinking Columbus</em> aims to change the way students understand the first interactions between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Europeans. One contributing author, <a href="http://www.salon.com/2012/01/13/whos_afraid_of_the_tempest/" target="_hplink">Tucson's own Leslie Silko</a>, boasts a Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation genius grant.

  • Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado

    The academic field of <a href="http://spacrs.wordpress.com/what-is-critical-race-theory/" target="_hplink">critical race theory challenges</a> traditional ways of looking at race and racism. The field's theoreticians argue that supposedly neutral concepts and institutions, like meritocracy or the legal system, mask systemic inequality and institutionalized racism. Richard Delgado's books is one of the discipline's classics. Some conservatives <a href="http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/03/11/What Is Critical Race Theory" target="_hplink">view critical race theory as "dangerous"</a> because some of its proponents view the Constitution and the fabric of American democracy as imbued with racism. During the course of several interviews in 2012, Julio Cammarota, a professor of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona, "You can see the problem, can't you? One side doesn't want to talk about race, the other side wants to talk about race all the time."

  • Message to Aztlán: Selected Writings of Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez

    The term "Aztlán" refers to the mythic homeland of the Nahua of Central Mexico. Intellectuals of the Chicano movement adopted the term to describe the southwestern United States. Mexican-American Studies teachers at Tucson Unified School District taught those concepts with books like this one, by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez, a writer and political activist who helped found the Chicano Movement in the 1960s.

  • Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, by Arturo Rosales

    This well-regarded study of the Chicano movement serves as a companion to the 1996 PBS documentary of the same name.