Monday, April 30, 2012

More thoughts on AZ HB 2281

Today, in a heroic day-after-Spring-Fling early morning effort, I took the D1 bus from Broadway St., New Haven, to Martinez School, on the other side of town across the river. I had volunteered to speak to a 4th and 5th grade classroom about my college experience, my family’s immigrant background, and how the two conflicted (or didn’t, more precisely). I was excited, and nervous- you never know how people will react to you, regardless of their age.

I introduced myself with basic information- I’m in my second year at school, I’m something called an “Ethnicity, Race and Migration Major”, I’m from San Diego, and my paternal grandparents never went to college. On my mom’s side, my ancestors hail from Pasadena, Hawaii, and, further back, Western Europe. My father’s family is from Sonora, Mexico (this elicited gasps, perhaps because of my white skin).  Besides the moment when the inevitable 4th grade question about my relationship status was asked (or, put by the young girl inquiring, “Do you have boy crushes?”), my mention of the Mexican History seminar I’m currently taking generated the most immediate excitement. From the moment I told them about this class, it was all the students wanted to ask me about. Martinez is 80% Hispanic, and a large number of the student's families immigrated here from México. This is a salient detail as far as it relates to my belief that "Ethnic Studies" classes in public schools are key to engaging students from diverse backgrounds. Young people want to learn about  history that they perceive to be relevant to their own experience. This does not apply just to teaching Mexican and Mexican-American history: as a young boy named Edgar proudly reminded his teacher, there are large numbers of Puerto Rican-American students, as well as other Hispanic groups, learning in classrooms across the nation. In fact, in an ideal world, ethnic studies curriculum would encompass everything from the Mexican Revolution, to the African diaspora, to the modern day relocation of Iraqi Muslims and Christians to the U.S. 

That is one reason why the Arizona school board's and state government's recent and targeted destruction of the Mexican-American Studies classes formerly taught in the Tucson Public School District is so devastating. By refusing to allow instructors to teach their students (the majority of whom are Mexican-Amercian) about the history of indigenous and Hispanic people in the U.S., within a school district founded by a Mexican-American man, Arizona has handicapped a whole ethos of learning which could one day lead to a host of classes that incorporate more than simply white, American-settler and Western European king-type history.

As I fielded questions from the eager 9- and 10-year-olds about whether I was aware of the volcano in México apparently about to erupt (no, run for the hills!!), if I could speak and write in Spanish (mostly, and yes), and what I thought about Pancho Villa (I'll save that for another blog post), I felt happy, filled with their enthusiasm. I only wish that the legislators in Arizona had bothered to visit one of these classrooms before they passed their ignorant law.

For a more in-depth commentary on HB 2281, Arizona's Ethnic Studies Ban, see Yale Daily News Op-ed:

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