Tuesday, January 15, 2008

All Hail Aztlan! All Hail Aztlan!

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2008 at 5:53 PM

Lee Ewing from the Arizonans for Immigration Control called this morning to discuss a protest taking place tonight in front of the Tucson Unified School District about raaasa.

"Raaasa?" I asked. "I'm not sure what you mean. Can you tell me what Raaasa is?" 

"Raaaasa studies in our schools," he replied. 

It clicked. La Raza.

I didn't jump down his throat because he mispronounced the word or assume he was some bad old fart. He said he'd been living in Tucson for 12 years, so Spanish words can be difficult for those Southwest newbies. I remained kind. I thought about the Arizona Superintendent of Public Education Tom Horne, and wondered if Mr. Ewing  concerned the school district was buckling to Horne's criticism of Tucson schools for teaching ethnic-studies classes (Mexican-American and African-American). 

Horne had said he was concerned about ethnic chauvinism--that kids in these classes would think they were better than everyone else and have a stronger identity with their race and culture than the rest of their classmates. (At least that's how I interpret ethnic chauvinism). White people in the classic Western-civilization sense--we started it all, and we control it all--may be guilty of ethnic chauvinism, too. Although Horne didn't discuss history or humanities classes. 

I digress.

Mr. Ewing is protesting La Raza studies because the books used in the classes are "teaching subversion." He also mentioned they are full of left-wing socialist ideas that are preparing Mexican-American youth to occupy America and "kill the gringos." 

Arizonans for Immigration Control organized a committee that looked at books used in La Raza studies and concluded they need to be taken out of the classroom before kids got any more crazy Aztlan ideas in their head. 

The books that scare Ewing and his friends are mostly history books, many written by Latinos, such as Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuna. It was published in 1972 and is considered the definitive book on Mexican-American history. Another is The Mexican American Heritage by Carlos Jimenez, published in 1994, a history book that goes back to the Aztec, Toltec and Mayan civilizations and discusses how they influenced Mexican-American contributions to society. Sounds like a good read to me.

A third book of concern is Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, which discusses civil rights insights, and law and policy--for everyone.

There is a fourth book, but Mr. Ewing could only remember the word "pedagogy." 

"I don't know if you've ever heard this word before--pedagogy. It's a new word," Mr. Ewing said, or struggled to say. "But this is by some guy from South America, and it’s all about taking over the United States." 

Well, unfortunately, Mr. Ewing, "pedagogy" is not a new word. I think the gentleman who he was talking about from South America is Paulo Freire, an educator who works to inform teachers on how to help their students put pedagogy into action--critically thinking about their education, and coming into consciousness about their role as students in their world, their society, their community.

Pedagogy is good Mr. Ewing. In practice, it's how some people, hopefully in their youth rather than later in life, find their voice--as queer kids, Mexican kids, African-American kids, punk-skateboard kids, Goth Mexican-American kids--any identity out there. It's good for the soul and much healthier than committing suicide or killing everyone in your classroom. 

I think Mr. Ewing must have heard me breathe hard a few times, and then I asked him what these books have to do with immigration control. He told me about the whole Aztlan movement and how Mexicans have a plan to take over the United States. He said San Francisco State University and UC-Berkeley were bases for Aztlan, because the schools taught Raza theory. 

Mr. Ewing said he was hoping to talk to Jim Nintzel, who he said seems to get this stuff. While insulting me (and possibly Nintzel), he also heavily complimented the Tucson Weekly for its balanced coverage on these issues, even if we are left-leaning. 

Thanks Mr. Ewing, I think. Call again, and next time ,ask to leave a message for Jim Nintzel.

Just a suggestion, Mr. Ewing: Perhaps you should catch up on American history and read up on the Chicano movement that took place in the '60s and '70s. The movement, led by Oscar Zeta Acosta, is where the terms La Raza and Aztlan were born. 

Aztlan, in my opinion, boils down to a philosophy I heard my mother and her sisters discuss over coffee and cigarettes: "We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us."

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