Houston Caravan To Protest Tuscon's Removal Of Hispanic History Books From Classrooms

One week from today, a caravan of protesters will set off from Houston to Tuscon. The group is upset over Tucson's recent decision to end its Mexican-American studies program. Tucson's program used books published at the University of Houston.

In January, the Tucson Unified School District suspended its Mexican-American Studies program.  It had been taught in a dozen middle and high schools.

Arizona's superintendent of public education ruled the program violated a state law banning classes that are designed for a particular ethnic group, or could promote racial dissension or resentment.

After a brief legal battle, Tucson schools terminated the program.

"Studies have shown that these Mexican-American, or ethnic, studies programs help students stay in school.  Because they find something in the curriculum they can relate to."

Nicolas Kanellos is a Brown Foundation professor of Hispanic Literature at the University of Houston.

He's also the founder and director of UH's Arte' Publico Press, which published two of the books and several supplemental materials Tucson used in its Mexican-American studies program.   

One of those books covered the history of the Mexican civil rights movement.

"Scholars from different walks of life examined the text, challenged it, forced the authors and publishers to improve it.  And then it gets reviewed, and is used throughout the country.  So, we've never had a problem with any of these books."

The Tucson Unified School District pulled the books on Hispanic history from classrooms when the program ended.  

The caravan to protest the removal will include Houston Latino writers, students, and activists who refer to themselves as librotraficantes, or book traffickers.  Kanellos says the goal is to get the books back in the hands of students.

"We're donating books to Nuestra Palabra to take them and distribute them by hand, in Arizona.  There's a caravan leaving on March 12 from Houston that's going to take books and pick up authors along the way.  And they’re going to have sit-ins and teach-ins and poetry readings all along the way.  And, hopefully, they'll raise the level of consciousness among voters and community to demand that this repressive action be reversed."

We contacted the Tucson Unified School District and Arizona Superintendent of Public Education John Huppenthal.  Neither office responded to our request for a comment or interview.  A Tucson schools spokesperson has told other media outlets that none of the books on Hispanic history was banned.  But the books had to be removed to comply with the order suspending the Mexican-American Studies program.  The books are still available at several Tucson public school libraries.  The Hispanic studies classes have been converted to general history courses.

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