arizona Archives - The Jose Vilson

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Luis Rodriguez

What Luis Rodriguez makes evident in the following excerpt from the preface of Always Running is our responsibility to speak to the injustices of the world from the lens of a common struggle. Check:

Criminality in this country is a class issue. Many of those warehoused in overcrowded prisons can be properly called “criminals of want,” those who’ve been deprived of the basic necessities of life and therefore forced into so-called criminal acts to survive. Many of them just don’t have the means to buy their “justice.” They are members of a social stratum which includes welfare mothers, housing project residents, immigrant families, the homeless and unemployed. This book is part of their story.

The more we know, the more we owe. This is a responsibility I take seriously. My hope in producing this work is that perhaps there’s a thread to be found, a pattern or connection, a seed of apprehension herein, which can be of some use, no matter how slight, in helping to end the rising casualty count for the Ramiros of this world, as more and more communities come under the death grip of what we called “The Crazy Life.”

Last Friday, a bunch of artists, students, and activists convened for the 50 for Freedom Librotraficante event on La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem, USA, to listen to and read excerpts from books that have been banned by Arizona’s legislature for specific (read: Mexican / Latino) teachers to read with students. With writers like Martin Espada and Luis Urrea in attendance (both of whom had some of their books banned in Arizona), performers gave powerful interpretations of texts such Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street and Rodolfo Acuna’s Occupied America.

Under the guise of “universal education,” legislators have walked into classrooms all over the state, pulled these books out of teachers’ libraries, and put them in boxes and cases like some sort of literary internment camp, assaulting the right to a relevant, cultural education for our most disenfranchised students. We’ve already seen how this plays out as a model for civic engagement. How does this fare for teachers in the classroom?

Well, we already have an excess of standardized testing, a battle we need to have ad nauseum until our children win. In Arizona, all the national issues around education only get exacerbated. The law has stripped those teachers of the choice to even present culturally relevant texts, and the students of seeing their histories told through the learning they do. The lawmakers saw it fit to assure that one of the few centers where our most disadvantaged students learn about their people became centers for acculturation, not unlike what happened to Native American / indigenous people in this country in the late 19th century through early 20th century.

Reminding people of their histories starts in the places where we shape our young minds.

Thus, the Librotraficante movement (a play on words meaning “book trafficker / smuggler”) means more to the American people than just an assault on American studies. It’s a referendum for the proliferation of an oral and written tradition, of speaking to civil rights and the necessity to incorporate everyone into the story, and assuring that those of us entrusted with the duty of teaching our youth have a say in letting them know that they belong.

We get to strengthen the common thread, the pattern or connection, that assures of all of us gets the right to an equitable education well before they become a statistic.

Jose, who thanks Rich Villar, Charlie Vasquez, Aurora Anaya-Cerda, and Tony Diaz for having the event …

p.s. – Full disclosure: Yes, I did read excerpt from the aforementioned Always Running alongside Papo Swiggity and Mark Anthony Vigo, and it was an honor …

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Gov. Jan Brewer Has A Mind Of Her Own … Kinda

by Jose Vilson on April 18, 2011

in Jose

Let’s ignore for a second that Arizona has been the hot bed for ultra-conservative rogue policy for the last few years, and still hasn’t done a thing about those undocumented immigrants imprisoned in what networks would have us believe are cushy, metallic lounges. Gov. Jan Brewer, whose administration has been lauded for her right-wing activist stance against the wishes of the federal government, did two things today towards providing evidence to the rest of us that she’s not completely insane.

First, she vetoed a bill that would ensure that any presidential candidate would have to show their birth certificate in order to have their names submitted on the state’s ballot, also dubbed the “birther bill.” I already had a hard time with the word “birther” because it assumes that anyone who doesn’t have a birth certificate actually decided not to be born, but reluctantly did so because their mom needed space. I’m also troubled by the idea that, in a country considering a man whose personal economy hasn’t grown much in the last couple of decades and a woman who has the gaze of highway-crossing deer in a dimly-lit highway, a man legitimately born in this country and whose mother is also a United States citizen still has questions surrounding his own birth.

Secondly, she vetoed a bill that would allow guns on parts of college campuses. She said it’s because, legally, it’s sloppily written. I say because, logically, it’s sloppy thought-out. We can argue for days about the merits of having a gun on you, because I’ve had those discussions with myself. But we can’t argue that a gun has any place in any place of learning. I haven’t been to one college campus that had enough security to ensure that a random domestic terrorist can’t shoot up a public gathering that they don’t agree with. Like Jared Lee Loughner, for example. Plus, I’m sure that those college frat parties become less popular knowing that the guy with the funnel in one hand might brandish a semi-automatic in the other.

I have some of these discussions with my conservative friends and respect their right to their opinions. Some of us in this country, however, haven’t set guidelines for what we consider extreme policy. De-legitimizing a human being for the color of their skin or their non-standard name is inappropriate. So is grabbing iron irresponsibly in a place of learning. I’m happy for Jan that common sense kept her from making these bills law. Now, if only we could do something about her approval of the immigration bill, the ban on ethnic studies bill, budget cuts on transplants …

Jose, who is taking a break from education this week, because he’s taking a break from education this week …

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On January 1st, 2011, Arizona instituted a set of directives against certain segments of educational curricula in the state. This bill follows the already tenuous relationship between underrepresented people in their state and their government, with officials like Governor Jan Brewer in the forefront. People reporting on the bill have called it a “ban on ethnic studies,” a misleading title if I ever read one. While it serves well to draw attention to this story, the ramifications of this obfuscating bill reach far greater than the small district in Tuscon this bill was meant for.

Reading this bill, I noticed this section here (Subsection A):

A. A SCHOOL DISTRICT OR CHARTER SCHOOL IN THIS STATE SHALL NOT INCLUDE IN ITS PROGRAM OF INSTRUCTION ANY COURSES OR CLASSES THAT INCLUDE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
1. PROMOTE THE OVERTHROW OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.
2. PROMOTE RESENTMENT TOWARD A RACE OR CLASS OF PEOPLE.
3. ARE DESIGNED PRIMARILY FOR PUPILS OF A PARTICULAR ETHNIC GROUP.
4. ADVOCATE ETHNIC SOLIDARITY INSTEAD OF THE TREATMENT OF PUPILS AS INDIVIDUALS.

Compare that to the language of this piece a few sentences down (Subsection E and F):

E. THIS SECTION SHALL NOT BE CONSTRUED TO RESTRICT OR PROHIBIT:
1. COURSES OR CLASSES FOR NATIVE AMERICAN PUPILS THAT ARE REQUIRED TO COMPLY WITH FEDERAL LAW.
2. THE GROUPING OF PUPILS ACCORDING TO ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE, INCLUDING CAPABILITY IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, THAT MAY RESULT IN A DISPARATE IMPACT BY ETHNICITY.
3. COURSES OR CLASSES THAT INCLUDE THE HISTORY OF ANY ETHNIC GROUP AND THAT ARE OPEN TO ALL STUDENTS, UNLESS THE COURSE OR CLASS VIOLATES SUBSECTION A.
4. COURSES OR CLASSES THAT INCLUDE THE DISCUSSION OF CONTROVERSIAL ASPECTS OF HISTORY.
F. NOTHING IN THIS SECTION SHALL BE CONSTRUED TO RESTRICT OR PROHIBIT THE INSTRUCTION OF THE HOLOCAUST, ANY OTHER INSTANCE OF GENOCIDE, OR THE HISTORICAL OPPRESSION OF A PARTICULAR GROUP OF PEOPLE BASED ON ETHNICITY, RACE, OR CLASS.

The writers of the bill clearly tried to include language to confuse people into thinking this bill doesn’t bolster the legacy of the dominant culture in this country. Yet, in more pragmatic terms, it fails the logic test, something I’m sure the lawmakers let happen on purpose. For instance, how can a class specifically addressing Chicano culture not be designed in one way or another for pupils of a particular ethnic group, especially in K-12 education during a child’s formative years? Learning about the legacy of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, a student might violate the tenets of Subsection A: the student might advocate for ethnic solidarity, might feel resentment toward a race or class of people, and perhaps might want to overthrow the United States government.

Even the word “might might not be enough.

After all, once a community empowers its citizens to think of the underrepresented cultures in this country, they might ask questions, like why The Black Panthers had to exist in the face of Black oppression, why John Lennon’s message of peace often (and literally) put him in the crosshairs of the FBI, or why Frederick Douglass and John Brown were so important to the discussions of slavery in this country as Abraham Lincoln. If nothing in this bill restricts or prohibits the instruction or discussion of controversial topics in the history of the United States, then wouldn’t the discussion of these groups and figures have to violate Subsection A in at least 2 out of 4 ways?

Unless of course, this law prohibits actual discussion. Then, this bill should state that, when discussing these topics, the teacher should read a few prescribed facts about the topics, sugarcoat it, have the teacher say “I went through this struggle, too” with no deep comparison or contrast, then give a multiple choice test where all the answers are given word for word before the test. That’s how I learned history for the majority of my years.

Plus, I also question what their definition of “overthrow” means when, throughout history, anyone seeking social or cultural equality has been called every synonym for anti-American, even as they ascend to the top of the most American post possible. Indeed, the current status quo promotes unity under the dominant culture’s perpetual dominance and its histories sacrosanct to the American identity instead of embracing the diversity of our histories, struggles, and progress in empowering everyone accordingly. When it comes to the solidarity of those who desperately need to understand their identity in the American context, lawmakers create bills to ensure division and directly peg those who seek community as anti-American.

Thus, it’s not a ban on ethnic studies; it’s a ban on education progress from the status quo. That’s a crime within itself.

Jose, who’s laying it all on the table …

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We Fight We Love [On Immigration]

April 29, 2010 Jose
Arizona arrest

A couple of days ago on the train, I saw a young Black man with a Cubs hat, a multi-colored jacket and a Black t-shirt that read, “You’re in the USA: Now SPEAK ENGLISH!” A large segment of Black communities (and by Black, I mean from African-American, Caribbean Black, etc.) find this meme so self-evident […]

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