Reflections on NYU Press book banned in Arizona

—Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic

The rapid growth of populations of color, especially relatively young groups like Latinos, has created a number of conflicts over schools and schooling. In Arizona, a successful program of Mexican American Studies in the Tucson school system drew the ire of state authorities who deemed it un-American and biased. Its defenders countered that it greatly boosted attendance, engagement, and graduation rates for hundreds of Latino schoolchildren who made up over fifty percent of the student bodies in many schools in Arizona, and was not at all unpatriotic or divisive.

The Tucson program had increased graduation rates from below half to over ninety percent, with many of the students, most from poor families, going on to college.  Taught by charismatic young instructors, many with degrees in Ethnic Studies from the University of Arizona, the program featured Latino history and culture, including works by well known author such as Rodolfo Acuna, Sandra Cisneros, Paulo Freire, Howard Zinn, and William Shakespeare. Students studied the great empires of Mesoamerica, the War with Mexico, and the colonization of Puerto Rico. They studied the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and the role of leaders such as Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Denver-based Corky Gonzales. They learned to play mariachi music, dance Mexican dances, and create poetry.

When Arizona authorities banned the program under a new bill (H.B. 2281) forbidding the teaching of ethnically divisive material and removed the offending textbooks to a distant book depository in front of crying students, the local Latino community exploded in indignation. A Texas community college professor organized a caravan of “libro-traficantes” (book traffickers) to smuggle “wet books” into Tucson, where they gave them away to bystanders from a taco truck borrowed for the occasion. Librarians and publishing houses across the nation donated copies of the banned books. Sympathetic Anglos wrote columns or spoke at teach-ins supporting the program.

Teachers who were fired or transferred brought a number of legal actions challenging the bill or book ban, which included works by each of the authors mentioned above, as well as our book, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (NYU Press). This straightforward exposition of critical race thought had been in use in a number of the Tucson classes to explain racial dynamics in the United States. NYU proudly issued a new edition of this best-selling book in 2012 and was happy to donate copies to the beleaguered children of Tucson.

Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic are Professors of Law at Seattle University and have collaborated on four previous books, including The Latino Condition, Second Edition (NYU Press, 2010), The Derrick Bell Reader (NYU Press, 2005), How Lawyers Lose Their Way: A Profession Fails Its Creative Minds, and Understanding Words That Wound.

☞ Also, a special congratulations to @writerswriting, winner of our book giveaway of Critical Race Theory during last week’s Banned Books Week!

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