Film shows Arizona battle over ethnic studies

The World Cultures Program presented the documentary “Precious Knowledge” at the Saville Theatre Nov. 3.

The film focuses on high school ethnic studies in Arizona, specifically courses on Mexican culture. These classes, called La Raza studies, are viewed as a threat by some citizens who believe that they are promoting anti-American values.

In the movie politician Tom Horne claims that La Raza studies are teaching children to hate America by indoctrinating Latino students with the mentality of “us versus them.”

The documentary disagrees, arguing that by limiting students to an America-centric curriculum we are also limiting their liberty to learn, which is inherently anti-American. Teaching students not to think critically about their government is also a principle that the founders rejected.

These blatant contradictions outraged the audience. Rose Walsh, 28, felt that those opposing La Raza studies were highly uninformed.

“It was saddening to hear the comments from legislators – mostly their ignorance,” Walsh said.

In fact, Horne admitted in the film that he had never attended a La Raza class even though instructors had invited him to witness what they actually teach: appreciation for Mexican culture, heritage, and spiritual values.

“The teachers (of La Raza studies) stood out to me. They were so passionate,” Walsh said. “They called their students their kids and stood alongside them in the rallies. It was very emotional.”

Some in Arizona mistook this passion for revolutionary fever. The brown shirts of La Raza students attending a peaceful demonstration were labeled “revolutionary costumes” at one point in the movie by an opponent of these courses.

An announcer on an Arizona radio station declared that La Raza studies “are turning kids into angry young radicals.” Yet Hispanics in this state claim they just want to feel appreciated.

“We’re being told we’re not part of this (American) culture,” said a Latino protestor in the film.

A student named Gilberto confessed in the documentary that before taking La Raza studies he felt like the education system was working against him. This sentiment has been felt by many Hispanics across the nation and was widely expressed in protests such as the classroom walkouts of 1968 and 2006.

“The mass walkouts a couple years back inspired me to work on this project,” said producer Ari Palos in a question-and-answer session where he also elaborated on the film’s title.

“The title ‘Precious Knowledge’ comes from the Aztec season of studying,” Palos said. “One of the seasons of the Aztec calendar promotes learning … This shows that education has been an important part of Mexican culture for thousands of years.”