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," loosely translated as book trafficker, and will embark upon a week-long road trip from Houston to Tucson, Ariz., in March, making stops for "Banned Book Bashes" in San Antonio, El Paso, Mesilla and Albuquerque.
The trip culminates on March 16 when the travelers reach Tucson, where they will have a literary showcase and distribute free copies of allegedly banned books 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 book-toting caravan in response to the dissolution of the Mexican-American studies program at the Tucson Unified School District.
The school district was forced to end the Mexican-American studies program classes in literature, art, history, government and general Chicano studies to be in compliance with Arizona's House Bill 2281. The law includes a statute that prohibits classes in public and charter schools that promote overthrow of the government, incite resentment toward a race or class of people, are focused primarily for students of a specific ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity.
What incited Diaz was an incident in January in which school administrators walked into a Tucson high school and began boxing up the prohibited
books in front of students in class.
"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.
Despite that, 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 state law.
Huppenthal could not be reached for comment because he was off site attending an Arizona Board of Regents meeting, a spokesman said.
The district appealed the superintendent's ruling, but an administrative law judge upheld the decision.
Failing to follow the law and thus end the classes would have amounted to a $15 million state funding loss a year, Rene said.
Tucson school district officials insist there is no book ban in their schools.
Seven books that were used as supporting materials for curriculum in Mexican-American studies classes were moved to the district's storage facility after the classes were suspended, but are available in campus libraries, Rene said.
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