While students crack open their books in literature and history again this week in Chicago, the concerns of the teachers union far from being resolved, an alliance of educators and writers in the Windy City area are joining the nationwide " Librotraficante: 50 for Freedom of Speech" celebration on Friday, as a reminder that students and teachers in Tucson, Arizona still remain without the right to choose their own Mexican American literature and history textbooks under Arizona's controversial Ethnic Studies law.
"Chicago, in this instance could be considered a close sister city with Tucson, Arizona," said Jonah Bondurant, a teacher at the Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy and member of Teachers for Social Justice. "In both cities, the idea that young people and their communities, made up mostly of people of color and low-income, do not deserve to have a strong voice in their education is being promoted by representatives and servants of the upper classes that have a vested stake in the disinvestment of those communities. Also, in both cities, young people have been resilient and creative as they move to the front of this movement, showing TUSD that Raza Studies provides the education they need, showing Emmanuel and the board that Social Justice High School will not be sacrificed to their caprice and by picketing and marching with their teachers, showing the world they understand that their education and their freedom are indivisible."
Bondurant traveled to Arizona recently, as part of Tucson Freedom Summer, which sought to draw attention to the nationally acclaimed successes and contributions of the outlawed Mexican American Studies program, and the still unfolding cvil rights and intellectual freedom violations by the TUSD school administrators and state-level officials.
As one of the most creative and inspiring literary movements in decades, the Librotraficantes movement -- or book smugglers -- was launched last year by Texas literary wizard Tony Diaz when the Tucson Unified School District overruled a federal desegregation order and disbanded the Mexican American Studies program, prohibited the teaching of the esteemed literature and history curriculua, which included several Latino and indigenous American classics, and confiscated books from the outlawed Mexican American Studies classes. A law suit by MAS students challenging the constitutionality of Arizona's censorship practice is currently in the federal courts.
"Arizona banned Mexican American History," said Diaz, who led a caravan of authors and advocates across the country last year, and has collected thousands of proscribed books for underground libraries in Tucson, Phoenix and other cities in the Southwest. "We decided to make more. Arizona officials confiscated books near and dear to our hearts from class rooms -- we're spreading them across the country."
At the Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy in Chicago on Friday, Bondurant will be joined at a special workshop by Northern Illinois University student and librotraficante Adam Lopez, history teacher Jaclyn Rodriguez, and myself. On Friday night, poets and local performers will join the musical group Jarochicanos at a celebration at the Instituto Progreso Del Latino . The Latino Student Alliance at NIU will also be hosting a special "Librotraficante" spoken word event on Thursday evening.
"As the students from Tucson have shown us," Lopez said, "the most powerful weapons we have are our voices, spirit, and mind and we plan to tap into all three at this Thursday's and Friday's events."
Hailed as the largest Hispanic Heritage Month event in the nation, the Librotraficantes 50 for Freedom celebration on September 21 will include readings from Tucson's banished books in venues across the nation, from rural North Carolina to Iowa to New York City, where prize-winning authors Luis Urrea and Martin Espada will join Diaz at 6 p.m. at the La Casa Azul Bookstore in New York City.
"Arizona was the center of the anti-immigrant movement and those laws spread from state to state," Diaz said. "We must not let Arizona's anti-intellectual laws spread."
Author of the newly released State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream, Jeff Biggers can be followed on Twitter @JeffRBiggers