¡Ban This! motivates ethnic studies protestors
Chicano authors, who support the Mexican American studies program that was banned in Tucson, were busy last month during Banned Books Week (September 30 through October 6). The American Library Association created the event to celebrate the freedom to read in the United States. Most books that land on the banned lists of school districts do so based on content related to sex, profanity, nudity, violence, religion, culture and politics.
Books banned by the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) included works that feature material about Latino culture and U.S. politics. The books were pulled after a state law threatened the district with a loss of state funding.
The timing of the promotional tour for ¡Ban This! during Banned Books Week ironically disputed librarians’ belief that Americans enjoy total freedom to read, especially in Arizona. The ¡Ban This! book-signings also were in keeping with a Chicano tradition of small presses that publish advocacy works in response to laws aimed specifically at Latinos.
Publisher Santino J. Rivera said the collected fiction, poems and essays were dedicated to the Tucson students who were deprived of the books.
“I wanted to show them, to the kids who had their books taken away from them, [that] you can ban our books, but you can’t ban our minds,” he said.
Rodolfo Acuña, a professor emeritus at California State University-Northridge, also reads his essay in ¡Ban This! on the book tour. His book, Occupied America, was banned by TUSD.
“We wanted to give hope to students; we wanted to give hope to a community; we wanted to tell them they couldn’t single out a person,” he said.
Acuña says he is encouraged by the growth of Latino voter registration in Arizona, and hopes that one day TUSD board members, supported by Latino voters, will reinstate the ethnic studies curriculum in TUSD.
In Tucson, 12 candidates are on the ballot for the TUSD board. Four of the candidates say they support re-instating Mexican American studies. Seven oppose it, saying the district can’t afford to lose the $14 million in state funding.
Ironically, a candidate debate was scheduled for October 1, the date of the Banned Books Week launch. The three who get the most votes in the November 6 election will take the open seats.