If you know know the number of one Arizona legislature bill, it probably is SB 1070, the anti-immigrant bill that mostly thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court. But you also should be aware of Arizona House Bill 2281. Passed by the Arizona House in 2010, then the Senate and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, the new law bans high school courses that:

  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.

This law was enacted to ensure that Mexican-American studies were banned from the Tucson Unified School District and to “prevent the overthrow of the government” (House Bill 2281).

Tony Diaz, a Librotraficante, Spanish for “book trafficker,” has since pushed against the banning of Mexican-American Studies and has encouraged others to fight against censorship. He has smuggled the very books removed from the Tucson classrooms back in to Arizona. He has also established underground libraries in cities such as Houston, Albuquerque, and San Antonio, to secure public access to works such as Bless me, Ultima, Like Water for Chocolate, and Mexican WhiteBoy.

On Friday, September 21, 2012, communities around the nation gathered together to spread awareness of this outrageous statute by reading passages from the targeted books. Other activities included live theater performances, displays of works of art, and the selling of books. In Las Vegas, the ACLU of Nevada and other organizations hosted a public reading, and Barnes & Noble displayed the books and sold them to the public. Books were also bought and donated to the underground libraries.

When I was a little girl, growing up in my small community of Lovelock, Nevada where everyone knows everyone, I never thought of myself, a Hispanic female, as an outcast. I was always very outgoing and would talk to anyone, and if I felt something was wrong or someone was being treated unfairly, I would be the one to speak up. As a child I would look forward to going to school because I was so excited to hang out with my friends, go to recess, run around and play Red Rover.

Respect for my culture in no way gave me a desire to learn how to “overthrow the government.” The study of our history is crucial to our young blood. With Arizona’s ban of Mexican-American studies in its classrooms, some youths are being deprived of studying their own culture, while others are being denied the chance to learn about a different culture. This ban represents an attack on the heritage and participation of Mexican-Americans in the cultural schools. The Librotraficante movement strives to get Mexican-American studies back into the curriculum of the Tucson Unified School District and to ensure the continued vitality of our cultural history.

We must fight to know our own personal story, but to do that we must also know where we come from. Our ancestors must be recognized and remembered. To suggest that understanding and valuing one’s ethnic background and cultural history somehow undermines her devotion to our political and social institutions represents the worst form of bigotry, and a true form of ignorance.

by Jaqueline Alvarado, a Masters in Social Work Student Intern with the ACLU of Nevada
Jacqueline will graduate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in May 2013.