Activist Tony Diaz and other Mexican-American activists are on a mission to bring confiscated Hispanic history and literature books back to Arizona schools.
Supporters have dubbed the movement "Librotraficante," Spanish for book trafficker, and in March will embark on a weeklong road trip from Houston to Tucson, making stops for "Banned Book Bashes" in San Antonio, El Paso, Mesilla and Albuquerque.
The trip is to end on March 16 in Tucson, where they will have a literary showcase and distribute books by Chicano authors from a taco truck.
Diaz, a Houston Community College professor and founder of the nonprofit Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, and others devised the caravan to protest the elimination of Mexican-American studies at the Tucson Unified School District.
The school district was forced to end the Mexican-American studies classes in literature, art, history, government and general Chicano studies because of Arizona's House Bill 2281, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010. The law prohibits classes in public and charter schools that promote overthrow of the government, that incite resentment toward a race or class of people, that are focused primarily for students of a specific ethnic group or that advocate ethnic solidarity.
What angered Diaz was an incident in January in which school administrators walked into a Tucson high school and, in front of students, boxed up books used in the class after the program had ended.
"That really hurt us," Diaz said. "To us, that was a cultural offense that pushed us to get organized. I think people don't realize how hurtful that action was to those students."
The textbooks were in a cabinet at the time they were removed from the classroom, and students were not using the books, said Cara Rene, director of communications and media relations at the Tucson school district.
"I'm not saying that still wasn't upsetting for a student," Rene said. "We understand this is a confusing time. Principals are working with teachers to help through this transition because we want to make sure learning is minimally disrupted."
In June, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal ruled the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson violated state law because it promoted racial resentment by being designed primarily for one ethnic group and advocated ethnic solidarity instead of students as individuals.
Huppenthal determined that classroom materials repeatedly referred to white people as "oppressing" Hispanics. Some texts used in the classes presented only one perspective of historic events -- of Hispanics being oppressed by "white America," according to an official statement of finding issued by Arizona's Department of Education.
An independent audit conducted by Cambium Learning of Tucson's Mexican-American studies curriculum, which Huppenthal's department commissioned, found that the classes did not violate the law.
Huppenthal could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening, a spokesman said.
The district appealed the superintendent's ruling, but an administrative law judge upheld the decision.
Failing to follow the law would have amounted to a $15 million state funding loss a year, Rene said.
Tucson school district officials insist that there is no book ban in their schools.
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