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Beyond Books: Tucson School District Tries to Block Annual Cesar Chavez Celebration

Posted: 03/29/2012 1:42 pm

Nearly derailing one of Tucson's most cherished traditions, Tucson Unified School District officials have attempted to block the staging of the annual Cesar Chavez March and Rally, according to a press release from the Mexican American Studies Community Advisory Board today, "by setting impossible preconditions on public access to Pueblo High School."

"Chavez is a civil rights icon with deep connections to our local community, and represents an ongoing struggle that continues to this day," said Laura Dent, with the Cesar Chavez Coalition. "TUSD's callous disregard for this celebration is indicative of their past treatment of our community, and something the coalition could not tolerate as part of this event."

For over a decade, The Cesar E. Chavez Holiday Coalition has collaborated with TUSD to celebrate the life and legacy of this civil rights icon by staging the march at Pueblo High School on Tucson's south side," according to the released statement. "The Mexican American Studies Community Advisory Board is appalled by the censorship TUSD has elected to impose on this traditional celebration. We sincerely hope that TUSD administration will take the time to reconsider the treatment of all its' students and the community at large.

While schools across the country celebrate United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez's March 31st birthday this week, Tucson students reassigned from the recently outlawed Mexican American Studies program will also be forced to deliberately ignore Arizona's most famous native son. Four years ago, presidential candidate Barack Obama joined a campaign to make Chavez's birthday a national holiday. Today in Chavez's home state, as part of the Tucson Unified School District's (TUSD) indiscriminate sweep of all textbooks, videos and Mexican American Studies curricula from the classrooms, Chavez's powerful "Address to the Commonwealth Club of California" has been banished from any teacher-led discussions.

According to the Tucson advisory committee:

TUSD has demanded there be no reference to the elimination of the successful Mexican American Studies program, an issue that has deeply affected the Latino community. They have also demanded that no disparaging comments be made about District administration, and that an emcee of their choice be selected to enforce this inexcusable level of censorship.

Pueblo High School students, in fact, had joined other Tucson-area students earlier this year in walk-outs to protest the dismantling of the acclaimed Mexican American Studies program.

In an even more troubling admission of disinterest in the Chicano/Mexican American heritage of the majority of their students, Pueblo High School officials said today that the school had never celebrated Chavez's birthday.

As Arizona state superintendent John Huppenthal now launches an extraordinary new attack on Mexican American Studies on the university level, Chavez's prophetic speech in 1984 has never seemed more timely-and more dangerous to the extremist Tea Party elements behind Arizona's witch hunt of Mexican American Studies and their Tucson enablers like TUSD superintendent John Pedicone.

"These trends are part of the forces of history that cannot be stopped," Chavez admonished his listeners. "No person and no organization can resist them for very long. They are inevitable. Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. Our opponents must understand that it's not just a union we have built. Unions, like other institutions, can come and go. But we're more than an institution. For nearly 20 years, our union has been on the cutting edge of a people's cause-and you cannot do away with an entire people; you cannot stamp out a people's cause."

Looking back at his long-time work with the United Farm Workers and their struggles, including child labor, environmental injustice and workplace safety, and basic civil rights, Chavez defiantly framed how the union workers had "sent out a signal to all Hispanics that we were fighting for our dignity. Chavez declared:


"The consciousness and pride that were raised by our union are alive and thriving inside millions of young Hispanics who will never work on a farm," Chavez concluded. "Like the other immigrant groups, the day will come when we win the economic and political rewards which are in keeping with our numbers in society. The day will come when the politicians do the right thing by our people out of political necessity and not out of charity or idealism. That day may not come this year. That day may not come during this decade. But it will come, someday!"

The full text of Chavez's removed speech can be found here.