Let us now praise what's right with Arizona -- starting with one nationally celebrated Tucson educator who has steadfastly defended the interests of school children and held his ground amid the swirl of crazy national headlines and relentless attacks on Tucson's acclaimed but now outlawed Mexican American Studies: Program co-founder Sean Arce.
As Arizona celebrated its centennial this week, few outside observers probably knew that the state of Arce's ancestors burst onto the scene in 1912 with one of the most progressive constitutions and enlightened legislatures in the nation.
That was then, of course, and this is now.
The Arizona Gone Wild party never seems to end in this state, from Gov. Jan Brewer's recent assault on public unions or tarmac gesture to President Obama last month, or the number of hair-brained bills churning out of Arizona's legislature this month -- from Cold War warrior and pink-handgun-toting Sen. Lori Klein's drive to snuff out "liberals, socialists and Marxists" and "dirty words" in schools, to extremist right-wing Sen. Sylvia Allen's plan to arm a militia to fight the huge buildup of Hezbollah on the U.S.-Mexico border, just to name a few.
But, let's set aside these media-obsessed Wild West buffoons.
In the footsteps of legendary Tucson Mayor Estevan Ochoa, who also fought against a hairbrained legislature to bring public education into Arizona, Arce has emerged as one of the most beloved leaders in the state today.
"By constantly placing himself on the front line and standing for our students and educators, who, like Mr. Arce himself, are now targets of unbridled racists attacks in our state," said Tucson education activist Becky Harvey, whose daughter graduated from the Mexican American Studies program,"he has become an essential civil rights leader in this struggle."
From calmly debating and debunking the misinformation of Attorney General Tom Horne on National Public Radio, to methodically explaining the facts in the state education chief's misrepresentation of an independent audit, to diplomatically handling a school board member's erratic behavior, among non-stop attacks in the media, Arce has gained the support and trust of an unusually broad alliance of interests in Tucson's diverse community.
"Sean Arce is a hero and a viral educator," said New York Times bestselling author Luis Urrea, who will headline the Tucson Book Festival next month. "Far from being assaulted and reprimanded, he should be given honors. The current rulers of Arizona dig their graves deeper with every idiotic and indelicate act they foist upon the reeling populace."
When the White House Hispanic Community Action Summit came to Tucson two weeks ago, in fact, Arce emerged as one of the most esteemed voices -- as a respected parent, beloved educator, and trusted community member -- at the gathering.
In a family that traces its roots back to the city's 18th century founders, Arce's long-time involvement and commitment have not gone unnoticed by thousands of students, parents and community leaders.
"For 20 years I've been teaching about Martin Luther King, Jr. & Rosa Parks, as many, many teachers do," said Tucson educator and school board candidate Kristel Foster. "Every year we teach kids about these important historical figures so that we instill in our young people the courage to stand up in the face of controversy and do the right thing. But, we don't teach how hard it actually is to do this. Watching what's happening here in our community right now, who is standing up, who's taking risks and who isn't, is a lesson for us all."
"Sean Arce treats his students like family. He genuinely cares for the advancement and productivity of our community. You cannot find a more caring, intelligent, and energetic person like Mr. Arce," noted Selina Rodriguez, a MAS alumna who now directs a youth center. "You also cannot pay in monetary terms for that kind of dedication to students, their parents, and future generation."
Long-time community activist and school board candidate Miguel Ortega added:
Of all the advocates defending the education of our youth in Tucson today, Sean remains the most consistently and passionately committed to the well-being of our kids. He was a big presence back in the '90s and he continues to be a big presence today. The community loves and supports him for the historic stance he continues to take for educational justice in Arizona.
At one of several community forums sponsored by Arce and other Mexican American Studies teachers last summer, he explained how a culturally relevant curriculum had been developed over a decade of dedicated work:
Video courtesy of D.A. Morales
"The gifts that Mr. Arce and the MAS teachers have given to my daughter, my family, and so many others, will last a lifetime," Harvey concluded, "and though they gave without a thought of repayment, we owe them: our gratitude, our voices and our support. As I watch my child continue to grow, find academic success, and master life skills like critical thinking and compassion, it's a debt I'm honored to pay."
As the federal court-appointed Special Master for desegregation now sorts through the regression of civil rights in Tucson's largest school district, and as a federal court challenge over the constitutionality of Arizona's state law proceeds, and as the fallout over the "suspension" of the Mexican American Studies program continues into harrowing censorship violations in the national headlines, one thing remains for sure: Sean Arce will remain a celebrated national hero on Tucson's front lines for education and civil rights long after the crazy antics of the state legislature and Tucson school board vanish into the footnotes of history.