Censored Books in Arizona

by Merritt Wuchina    /  February 7, 2012  / 4 Comments

Authors and Free Speech Organizations Respond


Seven books have been removed from classrooms in the Tucson Unified School District. Censored writers have responded to the measure in interviews and blogs; others have not yet publically commented.

After the recent suspension of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American Studies Program, seven books have been confiscated from classrooms and put into storage indefinitely.

The seven confiscated books are: Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic; 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez; Message to Aztlán by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales; Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by F Arturo Rosales; Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña; Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow.

School officials argue that the measure does not constitute a ban, and that the books are still accessible through student libraries. Yet, according to a report by CNN, the books might not be as accessible as before. An online search revealed that only several copies of each book were available for student use out of the district’s eleven high school libraries.

School officials claim the suspension came in response to Arizona Law HB2281, which prohibits school districts from offering ethnic studies courses that “promote the overthrow of the US government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people [and] are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.” However, an independent audit of the Mexican-American Studies program in May 2011 did not find the courses in violation of the law. Rather, the study found that the program should be kept because it produced a climate of acceptance in the schools.

In a letter to his constituents, Tuscon Unified School District (TUSD) President Mark Stegeman stated the district removed the seven books from classrooms because the school board did not approve the curriculum. Yet a school board document posted by Three Sonoras blog, revealed that three of the books had been previously approved in 2007, before Stegeman was on the board.

Writer Winona LaDuke commented on the removal of the Rethinking Columbus collection which included her essay “To the Women of the World: Our Future, Our Responsibility.”

“If I were going to ban one of my essays from a public school, this would not be the one,” she writes. “The essay is the transcript of my opening plenary address to the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women in 1995, held in Beijing.”

Dr. Rodolfo Acuña, author of Occupied America and co-founder of Chicano Studies at California State, also commented on the recent measures in an interview with Reader Supported News. He remarked that the audit found Occupied America to be “a standard American text book.” He also noted that, at the time, he did not know of a teacher organization that had spoken out against the actions in Arizona. He advised teachers across the country to “do something about it. They should be visible, they shouldn’t be quiet because this is going to happen to them.”

On January 30, 2012, in line with Acuña’s advice, twenty seven organizations signed a joint statement in opposition to the book censorship in TUSD, including the PEN American Center, ACLU of Arizona, and the National Council for Teachers of English. They write, “The First Amendment is grounded on the fundamental rule that government officials, including public school administrators, may not suppress ‘an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.’ ”

Tony Diaz, a Huston-based writer and founder of literary non-profit Nuestra Palabra, has started a “book smuggling” project called The Librotraficante Banned Book Caravan. Beginning March 12, writers and activists will travel from Texas to Arizona to raise awareness on the issue and deliver censored books to students in Arizona. To learn more about Librotraficante watch its campaign video.

In the meantime, teachers affected by the program’s suspension have yet to receive replacement curriculums. School officials say they are moving toward an integrated social studies program that will “increase its coverage of Mexican-American history and culture, including a balanced presentation of diverse viewpoints on controversial issues.” The new curriculum is scheduled to take effect August, 2012. Mexican-American Studies teachers claim their program already complied with these standards.

Watch Dr. Rodolfo Acuña response to the censorship of Occupied America: A History of Chicanos

About the Author

Merritt Wuchina is an editorial intern at Sampsonia Way and also assists with its Twitter marketing. In April 2012, she will earn a B.A. in English Writing and anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh as well as certificates in Latin American and global studies. She received third place in the University of Pittsburgh’s 2011 Undergraduate Creative Nonfiction Writing Contest for her essay “Between the Sunlight and Salvia: The Life of Khet Mar and Sampsonia Way,” which was also published in Issue 8 of The Original Magazine.

View all articles by Merritt Wuchina

4 Comments on "Censored Books in Arizona"

  1. Catherine February 11, 2012 at 9:57 pm ·

    This is so wrong. And it’s why we need to get out the vote this year at every level. When ideologues get elected, and then hand pick folks who will censor any ideas they don’t want in circulation, there’s nothing but trouble.

  2. Kenya Dworkin February 12, 2012 at 9:28 am ·

    What other parts ‘inconvenient’ parts of American history will be ‘removed’ from our classrooms? Talk about Revisionism. Talk about targeted aggression and erasure.

    I am a member of the editorial board that publishes the Hispanic Civil Rights series at the Recovery Project/Arte Público Press in Houston, and the Corky Gonzales publication “Message to Aztlán” is one of our books, an important landmark in the history of the Chicano movement from a Denver, CO perspective (not the most well known one, like in CA, with Chávez and Huerta, or in Tierra Amarilla, NM, with López Tijerina). He is also the author of “I Am Joaquín,” a beautiful epic poem about the struggle of growing up Chicano in the U.S. Corky Gonzales led the Southwestern contingent to march with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Poor People’s March in Washington, in 1968.

    It may be ‘only’ seven books, but where will this lead? This may be just the beginning. First the history and ideas of Latinos in the U.S. Who and what is next? They even axed Brazilian Paulo Freire, one of the most brilliant educational thinkers of the late 20th century!

  3. Bill Steen, Jr. February 12, 2012 at 10:51 pm ·

    I’m very glad to see this article in SW and it is an issue that was raised at one of the recent focus groups for Alphabet City. We here in the United States can sometimes be smug about our freedoms, as if they will always be, because, because…we’re Americans.

    I remember going to see the Belarus Free Theatre perform “Being Harold Pinter” at Bricolage. While the play is aimed at the repression they and other artists face in Belarus, I remember wondering if the performers were aware of Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Lecture. Were they aware that over half of Pinter’s lecture was dedicated to explicating America’s imperial and anti-democratic crimes? A fact which was delicately overlooked by the always government subservient New York Times in their 1/6/11 review (which only referred to the first half of Pinter’s lecture) of the BFT’s performance at La MaMa in New York.

    Reporters Without Borders’ 2011/2012 Press Freedom Index has the USA ranked #47!!!!

    I hope that when Alphabet City is finished there will be a section reserved for books which have been banned in the USA. The United States certainly isn’t Belarus, but it can happen here.

  4. Michael February 13, 2012 at 2:18 pm ·

    Bill, thank you very much for your input, especially in regards to Alphabet City. We’d like to point out that America’s drop to #47 on RSF’s Press Freedom Index was in large part due to the attacks on press freedom that took place during the Occupy Wall Street movement protests last fall.

    Thanks to all of you for your great comments on this very important issue. Keep them coming!

    - Sampsonia Way

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