An Email from Salomón Baldenegro

September 26, 2011

Estimadas/os Colegas: Our fight to save ethnic studies (a misnomer: only the Mexican American Studies curriculum is under attack) continues. The last day of testimony in Tucson Unified School District’s appeal of the Tea Party State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal’s ruling that teaching Mexican American history is illegal, i.e., violates HB 2281, will take place in mid-October. And rulings on the motions filed in federal court by the 11 teachers and two (2) students who are suing the state over HB 2281 are still pending.

This weekend I attended a fundraiser for the Save Ethnic Studies (SES) organization, the support group for the teachers and students who are suing the state. The large turnout and the enthusiasm of those present was a microcosm of the widespread and diverse overall support that the 11 MAS teachers, the students, and the SES movement enjoy.

That support includes teachers-professors, MAS students and alumni, parents, civil-rights-community-political activists, a Who’s Who of elected officials, including Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (who published a great Op-Ed piece on the issue), and many, many others of all races and ethnicities.

The support goes beyond Arizona. Among others, the writings of the following have brought the issue to a national audience: Mexican American Studies icon Rudy Acuña, who is also targeted by HB 2281. Journalists Roberto Rodriguez and Jeff Biggers.David Abie Morales, aka “The Three Sonorans the foremost authority on the dynamics of the MAS issue.

The fundraiser and the discussions there highlighted the fact that SES is a defining issue for our community, which got me to ruminating.

In terms of the attitude of the Tea Party-Republicans who are in control of Arizona government toward people of Mexican descent, Arizona today is for our community what Mississippi was for African Americans in the 1960s.

These people hate us. They hate who we are. They hate our history. They hate that we even exist. They hate us so much they have codified their hate into law by passing abominations such as SB 1070 and HB 2281.

But, as happens always when our community is under attack, history makers have emerged:

Randy Parraz (a Democrat) and Chad Snow (a Republican) and their Citizens for a Better Arizona obtained sufficient signatures to recall Arizona’s chief Mexican hater, Russell Pearce [a known associate of white supremacists and neo-Nazis], the first time in American history that a sitting State Senate president has had to face a recall election.

That the 11 MAS teachers are suing the state—not to achieve any personal gain but to preserve our history and on behalf of our children—is also an historic occurrence.

I cannot say this loudly or often enough: We need to support this kind of courage and integrity—with respect to the 11 MAS teachers as well as Randy Parraz and Chad Snow. We owe these folks a loud and heartfelt THANK YOU!!! [Both groups also need contributions for their respective campaigns.]

Fortunately, the MAS teachers have Richard Martinez as their lawyer. Martinez was involved in the political-community dynamics of the 1974 TUSD desegregation lawsuit and has historical perspective to complement his outstanding legal skills.

The MAS teachers have also called for Superintendent John Pedicone’s resignation, another courageous act [how many of us have held press conferences to call for the resignation of our boss?] The following three things by themselves buttress the teacher’s call for Pedicone’s resignation:

1. It was Pedicone who directed the cops to arrest Lupe Castillo (and the seven others) on May 3 when she tried to address the school board. The video clearly shows Pedicone calling the shots that evening. Yet all the outrage was directed at then-Board President Stegeman, which is a tribute to Pedicone’s skill in manipulating events, in manipulating us. He had us jumping through the Stegeman hoop rather than focusing on his lead role in that reprehensible act.

2. Pedicone was the one pushing to prosecute—as felons!—the young people who engaged in non-violent civil disobedience on April 26.

3. Knowing she is inimical to MAS, Pedicone assigned Assistant Superintendent Lupe Garcia to oversee MAS. A glimpse into Garcia’s attitude and actions:

Even as she admits in a memo to Pedicone that she has never attended a meeting of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán), Garcia asserts that MEChA is “un-American,” subscribes to “dangerous” philosophies, and targets students from bad homes. Her exact words about this latter point:

“We have students who come from strong home environments, and they are not easily convinced (to join MEChA), but we also have students with little or no (family) support who are easily swayed into (joining MEChA and) believing what is expressed in the school building is the truth.”

So, according to Garcia, only those of us from lousy families joined MEChA while people from “good” families didn’t.

[Show of hands from the former Mechistas reading this: does this describe you or your MEChA friends and colleagues?]

It doesn’t take an advanced degree in education to know that it is not ethical, much less accepted educational practice, for an educator to make sweeping, pejorative, stereotypical judgments about a group of students that the educator has never interacted with, and, by her own admission, knows nothing about.

And yet, with Superintendent Pedicone’s full support, this is exactly what Asst. Superintendent Garcia does with respect to MEChA (which, I submit, Garcia is using as a proxy for the MAS curriculum).

Clearly, Pedicone is John Huppenthal’s inside man, re: destroying the Mexican American Studies curriculum. Yet, it appears he’s getting a free pass. The only ones trying to hold him accountable are the MAS teachers.

Yet another reason why the 11 MAS teachers deserve our full support.

HB 2281 is as evil as SB 1070. They both attempt to treat us as foreigners in our own land, to marginalize us in the face of the reality that the history of Arizona, indeed, of the U.S. cannot be told without extensive discussion of the substantial and substantive contributions of our community.

History will record, as a defining moment in our existential evolution, how we responded to the hate mongers. We need to be on the right side of that historical narrative.

These are my ruminations. I’d like to hear your thoughts about this…if enough of you respond, I’ll post the results later. Thanks.

Below are links that you can access to contribute to Save Ethnic Studies or the Recall Pearce campaigns.


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