Giving Hypocrisy a Bad Name: Censorship in Tucson

occupied americaFor the past six years or so I have heard constant threats from Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (Canada) and Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal (Indiana) that they were going to ban, destroy and wipe out Mexican American Studies, as well as Occupied America. Now after disregarding a $177,000 report that refutes their charges that the program and the book are racist and un-American, the nativists carry out their threats. They destroy MAS and snatch the books from on looking students. Their stupidity exposed them, so they now say it wasn’t so.

The problem is that witnesses saw Tucson Unified School District Superintendent John Pedicone’s (Illinois) swaggering thugs “remove” the books from MAS classes as students looked on.

Their cowardly behavior reached new lows when blogger Jeff Biggers wrote that the books had been “banned.” They protested that they were not “banned” but only “removed.”

Let me see if I understand: If the books would have been put on a prohibited list of readings they would have been banned, or better still censored. But, because they were already there and ripped from the sight of students, they were removed.

I have been visiting Tucson for the better part of my life. I could always understand white folk there, although I did not always agree with them. For example, Barry Goldwater was my ideological opposite, but he had an affinity for Arizona that few of the carpetbaggers such as Pedicone have today. He knew many of my relatives, and recognized that you better talk the talk.

Not so with the Arizona carpetbaggers (as distinguished from those of the 1860s who had a purpose). This recent bunch has moved there for the sun and the cash. They do not respect the environment, its traditions or the people. Witness the systematic destruction of Mexican American barrios. What is Old Town Tucson but a pseudo replica of Disneyland?

It is difficult to dumb down language to the level of the locust. So to start with, censorship is thought control. The First Amendment reads,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances…

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison argued that this freedom was critical to a free society.

What is happening in Tucson is a political act designed to control what students and the community read and think. It is not a question of good taste or what is true or not. It was the intentional use of naked political power to suppress a particular people.

Huppenthal was elected on the platform of “stopping La Raza [the people].”

On May 12, 2010 Horne said, “The bill [HB2281] was written to target the Chicano, or Mexican American, studies program in the Tucson school system.” According to the Los Angeles Times, “He singled out one history book used in some classes, ‘Occupied America: A History of Chicanos,’ by Rodolfo Acuna, a professor and founder of the Chicano studies program at Cal State Northridge.”

Horne continued, “To begin with, the title of the book implies to the kids that they live in occupied America, or occupied Mexico.” Horne’s language was pretty clear. He did not say remove but targeted the book and MAS.

As with Horne, others have labeled the book Marxist. A prominent scholar of European history labeled Occupied America, a Marxist book. When pressed on what he based this assumption, he fumbled around and finally said in a deposition that I used the term “hegemony” several times in the text.

In Horne’s case, he did not like the title because, according to him, it “implies” that the United States invaded Mexico – a historical fact. Evidentially, Horne has not read the autobiography of Ulysses S. Grant or Abraham Lincoln’s take on the war.

The truth be told, Occupied America does not refer to occupied Mexico; it refers to occupied America. If Horne had a grasp of Latin American history or geography, he would know that Argentines, Peruvians, Cubans, Central Americans and Mexicans are Americans. Indeed, U.S. secretaries of state have exploited the notion of Pan Americanism for economic advantage. Thus the occupation began in 1492 not 1836 or 1848.

The touted Cambium Audit, which Horne’s successor Huppenthal ordered and the citizens of Arizona paid for, said,

Occupied America: A History of Chicanos is an unbiased, factual textbook designed to accommodate the growing number of Mexican-Americans or Chicano History courses. It is the most comprehensive text in this market according to Amazon. The Fifth Edition of Occupied America has been revised to make the text more user-friendly and student-oriented., while maintain its passionate voice. This text provides a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the major historical experiences of Chicanos that invokes critical thinking and intellectual discussion.

The curriculum auditing team refutes the following allegations made by other individuals and organizations. Quotes have been taken out of context. Therefore, the ‘controversial’ aspects are indicated in italics to demonstrate the claims made by concerned constituents.

Thus the nativists’ hypocrisy gives opportunism a bad name. They care nothing about the truth, they care nothing about Latino students; what they care about is controlling thought by “removing” books and killing a highly successful program.

They want to specifically suppress the thought of Latinos. The reason that they have not targeted Native, African and Asian Americans is that these groups are smaller and consequently more manageable. Latino public school students comprise 43 percent of the public schools, and they want to genetically engineer them.

Everyone in this country should be concerned about the removing or banning of books. They are euphemisms for censorship. What happened in Tucson constitutes an attack and constraint on everyone’s freedom.

The locust have a history of trying to control Mexican American Studies through prior restraint. When this did not work, they demolished the program and banned the books. This banning will have a chilling effect on the publication of future books. Usually, there is the opportunity to dispute the charge in court. This has not happened in Arizona – there was no trial.

Aside from Occupied America, Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado, 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures edited by Elizabeth Martinez, Message to Aztlan by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales, Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales. Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson, William Shakespeare, The Tempest, more than a dozen other books have been banned.

The charges of censorship have shaken the administration. After acting brazenly they are drawing the distinction between “banned” and “removed.” However, the record is the record. The banning of the books did not occur in a vacuum.

I have personally never experienced this level of hypocrisy in over fifty years of activism. It seems as if the locust and I do not speak the same language. It is also frustrating because up to now no one seemed to be listening. How do you deal with people who lie with such impunity?

As for me, it is a badge of honor to appear on the same list as the other banned authors. But what I resent is the draft dodgers, Pedicone, Horne and Huppenthal questioning my patriotism. I volunteered for the draft during the Korean War although I had a student draft deferment. They should check the records; they will learn that Mexican Americans served at a much higher ratio than any group in Tucson.

rodolfo acunaSo my advice to them is not be so be opportunistic and hypocritical. The Tucson cabal is giving these words a bad name. Horne said that 2281 targeted Mexicans and specified which books it was going to get rid of. Huppenthal has not listened to facts and pressured the TUSD to ban MAS and the books. As for Pedicone, he is the bagman.

Rodolfo F. Acuña

Published by the LA Progressive on February 5, 2012
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About Rodolfo F. Acuña

Rodolfo F. Acuña is the founding Chairperson of the Chicana/o Studies Department at California State University, Northridge and author of Occupied America.