On Monday, I sat down with my 2 boys and read them a copy of “Free at Last! The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr.” I read to them about the bus boycotts and the March on Washington. I tried to explain to my 5-and almost 7-year-old boys that sometimes people are so uncomfortable with a group of people that they will do anything they can to keep them down.
My 7-year-old said that Martin Luther King, Jr. lived a long time ago and those things were in the past. But I feel like it’s still a current issue. A startling example in my mind is how the powers that be in Arizona are doing everything they can to keep Latinos down.
Last year, the state passed a law giving police the power to ask anyone stopped for any reason to show proof of citizenship. Just like poll taxes and voting tests in the old South, it’s portrayed as a non-discriminatory measure when in fact it’s clearly intended to be used against a specific group. Does anyone really think that the police in Arizona are going to ask a white person in Scottsdale for their green card or passport? When’s the last time you carried “proof of citizenship” when you walked down the street?
Now, the state is threatening to take away 10 percent of state funding from the Tucson Unified School District if it doesn’t shut down its Mexican-American Studies program. That’s $15 million for a school district already facing financial hardship.
The Mexican-American Studies program came under fire last year after Arizona’s Attorney General Tom Horne (he was the state superintendent of schools at the time) introduced a law that makes it illegal to teach resentment against another race or to have a class that’s specific to one race or ethnicity.
It wouldn’t be so offensive if it affected other ethnic studies classes, but according to the New York Times, no other programs were looked at because no one complained. The only one complaining was Horne and he had the power to force a shut down.
Just like Arizona’s immigration law, I don’t know how this can be called anything but racist. First you tell kids that they have to watch out because they could be questioned by police just because of the color of their skin. Then you tell them that they can’t learn about their heritage because some people don’t like it.
How do I explain that to my kids? This isn’t in the distant past. It’s happening now and it’s happening in a place my kids love to go.
After SB1070 passed, I took my kids and husband with me to march in the May Day Rally in downtown Los Angeles. My kids were too little to understand that we were protesting an unfair law in the state where their Nana and Papi live. That we care about the rights of all people not just the ones who look like us.
I can talk all I want about Arizona, but the fact is, I don’t live there anymore. So I called my friend Olivia, who is Mexican-American and a champion for education in the state, to get her opinion on what is going on there. She had such a different take in on the issue, I was completely taken aback.
Yes, it’s bad that they are cutting the program, she said, but TUSD has already cut art and PE programs. If Mexican-American Studies program continues to be taught, the district could lose $15 million. It’s a disproportionate amount of money to what the program costs, and it’s unfair, but that amount of money is significant.
She said the education issues they have to deal with are so monumental, that frankly, the Mexican-American studies program is at the bottom of the heap.
Arizona is ranked 49th (above only Arkansas) in spending per child on education. She’s not so much concerned with the statement that getting rid of ethnic studies makes as she is with making sure that kids have basic math and reading skills.
And, of course, it’s not just this issue that has the country looking at Arizona. SB1070 made international news. Immigration is a heated debate, but now so is gun control after Jared Loughner shot and killed 6 people, including a 9-year-old girl, and injured 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Arizona has some of the most lenient gun laws in the country, a fact that has been reported over and over on the evening news.
Olivia said she doesn’t want the program cut, but she asked the question, Is it worth $15 million to keep it?
In her view, the way to fight these things is to give kids a good education at school. Teach them about their culture at home, she said. Raise them to be good, intelligent citizens who will vote against the kind of regime that is destroying her state.
I see her point, but I still despair that an underfunded school district would be forced to make that choice. Kids need math and reading skills, but they also need to learn about history, society, and the world we live in, both good and bad. I want our kids to understand that our country can do amazing things, but that we need to be vigilant to make sure the rights of all people are respected.
Now, that is something I can tell my kids.