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Jeff Biggers

Jeff Biggers

Posted: March 22, 2011 02:46 PM

Arizona's Witch Hunt of Mexican/Ethnic Studies Begins This Week?


Only days after the Arizona state legislature voted for punishing budget cuts in education, the now infamous witch hunt and audit of Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American/Ethnic Studies program is readying to commence. Price tag: An estimated $170,000.

In a blistering letter yesterday, Tucson attorney Richard Martinez warned the backpedaling TUSD superintendent John Pedicone that the audit "lacks legal basis," and "should immediately cease and desist." Representing the Mexican American Studies teachers and the Save Ethnic Studies organization in Tucson, Martinez called the investigation a "violation of federal mandates set forth in the Family, Education and Privacy Rights Act of 1974," among other abuses, and called on Pedicone to "confirm without delay that TUSD's cooperation will cease immediately or at a minimum comport with all applicable legal mandates."

Only two months ago, the newly hired Pedicone had referred to Arizona's notorious HB211 law as "unconstitutional." If found in violation of the law, which bans any studies that "promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment of a particular race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals," TUSD could lose an estimated $36 million in funding.

The Mexican American/Ethic Studies ban, like the audit, of course, has nothing to do with kids learning how to overthrow the government -- especially in a state where a radical anti-federal authority legislature has recently introduced bills for nullification of federal laws.

Take state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, who is now marshaling the Mexican Studies/Ethnic Studies witch hunt. Born in Indiana, Huppenthal attended a private Catholic school in Tucson. In his campaign last fall, Huppenthal ran hair-raising ads that he was "one of us," and would "stop la raza." (For some rather embarrassing backstory, check out this video interview with Huppenthal and a high school student, and an interview over the history of "la raza" and Thomas Jefferson with an activist.) In an official statement in January, Huppenthal called the Mexican American/Raza Studies program "an unbalanced, politicized and historically inaccurate view of  American History being taught." 

Makes you wonder if certain lawmakers in Arizona get their way, will Mexican American students and teachers in Tucson's Mexican American/La Raza Program have to hang a scarlet "R" around their necks in a contemporary version of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic (The Scarlet Letter)?

In one disturbing episode of this Arizona soap opera -- a real telenovela -- Huppenthal hired and quickly lost an auditor who had been banned from New Jersey schools over theft.

La raza? As in Raza Studies, of course.

La "raza" is a 20th-century Spanish reference to "the people." A reference, we should add, no different for Arizonans than the word "O'odham," or "the people," for southern Arizona's Tohono and Akimel O'odham Nations that have inhabited the region for a few thousand years.

You sorta learn these things growing up in Arizona -- which, perhaps, is why Canadian-immigrant Tom Horne, the state's Attorney General and driving force behind the Mexican American/Ethic Studies ban, is at a disadvantage and could probably benefit from a course in La Raza Studies.

For example, Horne, whose Jewish family fled Poland for Canada before World War II, might appreciate that Arizona Mexican-American soldier Silvestre Herrera was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his heroic role fighting Nazis on the European battlefields -- and is part of la raza.

Or that American Legion Post 41 in Phoenix, not far from where Horne recently referred to concerned students invoking their First Amendment rights to protest the Ethnic Studies ban as "thuggish," is home to so many other World War II heroes, who returned to Arizona to fight for civil rights for Mexican-Americans as part of la raza.

Either way, as the audit of TUSD's Mexican American Studies program stumbles on, the out-of-town auditors and Horne and Huppenthal might want to attend the premiere showing of the new film on the Mexican-American Studies program in Tucson on Thursday. Here's the trailer for Precious Knowledge: