Conference criticizes AZ law

Shane Finneran

Responding to Arizona’s passage of House Bill 2281, students and educators celebrated ethnic studies during a conference at Mesa College Oct. 1 and 2.

According to critics, the bill aims to eliminate programs like the Mexican-American studies offered at Tucson High School.

Keynote speaker Auggie Romero, Student Equity Director for the Tucson Unified School District, noted that at a time when less than half of students are finishing high school, the students in the Mexican-American studies program have shown a 97% graduation rate.

These students–who take English courses fused with Chicano literature, and history classes with a Hispanic perspective–also get better grades, get in less trouble at school and enroll more frequently in college.

Romero was joined by Sean Arce, a “Critical Raza Educator” in the Tucson Unified district who is a member of the team suing for a federal injunction to halt HB 2281.

The conference was hosted by the San Diego Ethnic Studies Consortium as part of Ethnic Studies Week, which included similar events held across the nation.

Arce and Romero presented a 10-minute excerpt from “Precious Knowledge,” an upcoming PBS documentary focusing on the Mexican-American studies program at Tucson High School.

The footage featured the chief proponent of HB 2281, Tom Horne, who is currently Arizona’s school superintendent, and is running for state attorney general.

Horne says ethnic studies programs such as the one in Tucson High are “divided up by race.”

“We should be teaching that (race) is irrelevant,” Horne said.

Tucson High School students in the documentary say they struggled to relate to standard history courses that offered little or no insight into the history and cultural heritage of minorities.

“It is important when you look in the book and see someone who looks like you,” Shaneeka Thomas, a Mesa College student who attended the conference, said.

During the “teach-in” portion of the conference, ethnic-studies faculty members from colleges across San Diego gave 15-minute demonstrations of how they teach. City College Chicano Studies professor Justin Akers Chacon said that his classes aimed to encourage less “passivity, acceptance and powerlessness” and more “critical thinking.”

May Fu, an ethnic-studies professor at the University of San Diego, said the consortium that hosted the event includes members from seven colleges across San Diego.

Fu said the consortium came to life a few months ago, after HB 2281 became law.

“Sometimes the things that bring us together are painful,” she said. “We’re always going to be able to flip the script.”

Romero explained the specifics of HB 2281, which bans courses that foster “resentment toward a race or class of people,” are designed mainly “for pupils of a particular ethnic group” or espouse “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

Romero said that if the Mexican-American studies program was in any way calling for a coup, he would have heard about it from law-enforcement authorities.

“If this wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable,” Romero said.

He also added that Horne had not sat in on a single class.