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  • Hide It From the Kids
  • Jeffrey R. Di Leo, Editor and Publisher

Teachers in Arizona are advised to avoid discussion of race, ethnicity, and oppression—and to stop teaching works that deal with these topics.

Boxes of books by Native American and Mexican American writers were taken from classrooms—and the teachers who used them will be monitored to assure that the books do not make a return.

Two of the writers whose works now sit in an Arizona storeroom are editors of this publication—and all of the writers banned from these Arizona students are ones we champion.

Arizona's HB 2281 prohibits any courses or classes that "[a]dvocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." This move by Arizona legislators shows how the neoliberal cult of the individual works in the post-9/11 atmosphere of xenophobic fear to deter the public from developing notions of solidarity and community. Proponents of the bill state that the cultural studies classes violate a state law banning classes that "promote resentment toward a race or class of people." This house bill aims to curtail the spread of cultural and area studies throughout the state—and to dismantle the existing programs in schools and universities.

Some opponents of the law see it as a bookend to SB1070, the strict immigration law that was passed in 2010. They believe that this new law is a further attempt to rein in the growing social and political influence of Latinos in Arizona.

The Tucson Unified School District did its part to help the neoliberal cause by recently banning specific books from their curriculum. The banned books were all part of their much-celebrated Mexican American Studies Department Reading List. These works include Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street (1984) and Junot Díaz's Drown (1996).

They also include ABR associate editor Dagoberto Gilb's The Magic of Blood (1993) and contributing editor Rudolfo Anaya's The Anaya Reader (1995).

Arizona's cultural logic seems to be that if these books are taken out of curricular circulation, and if students are not permitted in school to learn about their cultural and literary heritage, then the students' solidarity with their ethnic group will evaporate.

At this point in our cultural history, it seems ludicrous to have to defend the study of culture and critical thinking. We should not need to defend ethnic literature—especially in places like Tucson where 60 percent of the student population is from an ethnic group that is invisible in the general curriculum. But reactionary behavior such as that in Arizona shows that there is still a need.

Cultural and critical studies make our educational system stronger. They provide an interdisciplinary framework to discuss issues of race, class, and gender, a place to consider the prejudices that threaten our democratic way of life. Barring students at any level from creatively exploring their culture and critically examining their society is antithetical to democratic values, and destructive and demoralizing to students.

The emergence and institutionalization of cultural and critical studies in the 1990s paved the way for the many area studies that flourish and are still forming today. This list includes gender studies, race studies, sexuality studies, disability studies, as well as many others. The Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American Studies Department is the result of normalization of cultural studies in America. To see it mangled by myopic and hateful public servants is to view the destructive effective of neoliberal imperialism firsthand.

Area studies allow for critical inquiry into a wide range of aspects of culture. One of their central merits is that they regard the creative explorations of fiction writers as equally valuable to the work of social scientists. Consequently, in area studies, a work of fiction is potentially as capable of exposing social and cultural injustices as the work of historians and philosophers.

This empowerment of creative writers by cultural and critical studies though is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, it makes the work of writers who deal with issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality an important window for viewing society and culture. Such work is noteworthy in the age...


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