Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tucson, Ariz., high school youth fight racist attacks

By Paul Teitelbaum
Tucson, Ariz.
Published Feb 26, 2010 8:34 PM

A coalition of students from high schools throughout Tucson held their first encuentro — a community meeting — on Feb. 19 to build support and alliances in the struggle against the mounting right-wing attacks on public education.

In addition to enacting extreme budget cuts to public education, the Arizona Legislature has taken up two racist anti-education bills. One would eliminate the ethnic studies program, while the other would collect the identities of all non-documented students.

The Social Justice Education Project student coalition addressed a crowd of 300 people, detailing the dangers of each of the legislative bills. House Bill 2281 states that a school district may not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that either are designed for pupils of a particular ethnic group or that “advocate ethnic solidarity” instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals. State funds will be withheld from any school district that does not comply with this law. None of the bill’s sponsors has ever set foot in an ethnic/Raza studies classroom.

Senate Bill 1097 states that the Department of Education will collect data on school districts’ populations of non-citizen students and their identities. This bill will force teachers and other school employees to indirectly enforce immigration law by disclosing the identity of students who cannot produce residency documents.

SB1097 will deny many Latino/a youth the right to an education. Moreover, based on the collected data, the state superintendent of instruction can withhold funding from schools in proportion to the non-documented student population of the school.

Ethnic studies teaches Ariz. history before 1848

SJEP also countered the racist lies being made about the ethnic studies program, explaining the importance of oppressed youth learning their own peoples’ history. At least a dozen ethnic studies students and alumni recounted how important the program is/was to their academic success.

Students explained that the ethnic studies program combats the mythology incorporated in euro-centric history books that does little or nothing to portray the lives and history of the Indigenous people of Arizona. Ethnic studies programs teach oppressed youth the true history of how their land was stolen, their lives uprooted and their culture all but destroyed. Studying the rich history of the Indigenous peoples reveals the actual historical events that led to the ceding of one-third of Mexico to the expanding U.S. empire, and the forced removal of peoples from their ancestral homelands. “What we learn is the unique experience of Mexicanos who lived through the circumstances surrounding the defeat of Mexico and theft of Mexican land in 1848,” one student explained.

Another student explained how the classroom was based on the Mayan tradition of “In Lak’ech’,” which means “I am you and you are me.” The students and teachers are equals, each learning from the other. This helps explain why so many graduates of the program remain committed to it long after they graduate from high school. The ethnic studies program teaches culture, which represents the life of the Latino/a people of Arizona. To eliminate the ethnic studies program and deny youth access to their history and culture is a form of genocide.

Organize the community

This encuentro was the first of many meetings planned by these students to organize the Tucson community to fight back against the continuing right-wing attacks. Hated Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio continues his racial profiling and neighborhood sweeps while the Department of Homeland Security spends millions on technology and Border Patrol agents, in order to funnel border crossers into the deadliest part of the desert and then incarcerate those they detain in private prisons.

The 20,000 people who marched in Phoenix against Arpaio in January; the student movement that is now forming in Tucson; and the Tucson May 1st Coalition, which is gearing up for May Day 2010 — all are all signs that the attempts to divide workers based upon an arbitrary possession of documents is not going to succeed. People are uniting to oppose the economic crisis being dumped on their backs. “¡Ya Basta!” Enough!

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