Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Book banning in Arizona
Remember that old curse: "may you live in interesting times."
Well, the First Amendment is certainly going through interesting times in Arizona.
Today I learned that one of my favorite authors has had five books banned from Arizona schools.
His name is Luis Alberto Urrea, author of the "The Hummingbird's Daughter." His books are often based on Mexican characters. They offer a fascinating insight into the history of the Indians of Mexico, their customs and culture, relationship with the land and with nature. For those of us who see books as bridges into other worlds - Luis Alberto Urrea gives you a first class ticket to a land you've never seen or imagined...and it's beautiful. The soaring landscapes, the dark-eyed people, and their stoic philosophy toward the hardships of life draw you in. "The Hummingbird's Daughter" hypnotizes you with a story about a mysterious girl born to a rancher in Mexico and her rise to sainthood. "The Beautiful North" charms readers with its depictions of villagers in Mexico who connect to American culture via the village's only Internet cafe. To read Urrea's tale about Goth girls, Youtube and emo music in rural Mexico makes the world feel small but preserves that sense of the exotic. The story centers on a teen girl trying to bring Mexican men back to Mexico from the United States, so it's puzzling that immigrant haters are so incensed by it. There's no obscenity, no strings of vulgar language in these books, yet a new Arizona state law has forced schools to pull Urrea's books from Tucson classrooms. There is no hate preached in these books. Their sole crime is to be about Mexicans. Mexican American Studies departments were banned and dismantled because of that most peculiar law, HB2281. Books about Mexicans in the United States that foster prohibited ideas ( thought crime) were placed on a list, and at least seven, possibly more were purged from classrooms in Tucson. The state official who pushed for that law is now trying to do the same ban Mexican American studies in state universities.
How can this happen in the United States. Because we were not paying attention to the extreme right wing. They are as dangerous as the Taliban in Afghanistan. We do not take them seriously and they are rewriting our laws and eroding our constitutional rights, starting with the First Amendment.
HB2281 literally banned ethnic studies in public schools. There really is a list of "inappropriate" books -- which bloggers now call the list of banned books, because those books were no longer permitted in the classrooms. You can see the list for yourself on pages 37 and 38 of the Cambium Report, the result of an audit to ensure that Tucson could comply with Arizona's ethnic studies ban.
Arizona's new state law banning ethnic studies prohibits the use of texts that could foster "ethnic resentment." (I guess Huckleberry Finn is out of the question. So is Gone with the Wind. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Most literature, in fact, fosters ethnic resentment. Check out Irish novels about life under English rule. Yikes. But they are also exquisite literature.)
[Please note, in a press release issued Jan. 12, 2012, Tucson school officials claim they did not BAN the books, they merely boxed the books and put the books in a storage facility. Ummm...sure. The boxes in photographs show the words "banned books." School workers took the books away from classes. School workers, trying to conform to the new state law against ethnic studies, cannot allow the students to read them in class. The press release says the books were placed in storage but students can get the books at the library, therefore it is not book banning. I guess you can argue it's not book banning if you change the definition of book banning, but it would not be a sincere argument. Arizona banned these books from classrooms to silence discussions and ideas. If a teacher assigned students to read the banned books from the library, the teacher would be breaking the law. Ergo, the books are banned.]
According to a book publicist, the banned books were packed up in front students and carted out of the schools. "Students were crying," she said. It's strange to hear that high school students cried over books, but it's not surprising either. Those students know that the Constitution was trampled by that law.
In response, the book proponents started giving books away to share the messages and ideas. They drove a "taco truck" into Tucson on Saint Patrick's Day, but delivered books instead of tacos. There's an entire Tumblr blog dedicated to Arizona's ban on ethnic studies books called hb2281.
The auditor that reviewed Tuscon's ethnic studies program searched for evidence that the classes fostered ethnic resentment, but arrived at the opposite conclusion. The audit summary states wituout qualification that the Tucson ethnic studies program promoted tolerance instead.
Here's a photo of the audit's summary:
Book censorship is flat-out unAmerican.
I'll keep reading Urrea, and I hope you give his books a try as well. Enjoy. (Thank me later.)