A Broken Community

What happened to in lak ech and panche be and the movement for Mexican-American studies?

What I remember most about the UNIDOS action that took place on April 26, 2011 is how fast it happened. That and the face of the Tucson Unified School District police officer as he tried to keep Leilani Clark from sitting down with the eight other students who took over the school board meeting that evening.

Tucson attorney Isabel Garcia stood on the other side of the dais and shouted, "Don't touch her. Don't you touch her." The officer let go, and Clark and the rest of the students proceeded to reach under their T-shirts to pull out the chains and locks they used to chain themselves to the board member's chairs and to each other.

That image—students rushing to the dais as if out of nowhere to shut down a vote on a measure proposed by board member Mark Stegeman that was intended to change the status of Mexican-American studies classes and make them electives—brought the MAS fight to a national audience.

The next school board meeting had a world of heartbreaking images of its own, but it was clear that the community had the students' and the MAS movement's back. Hundreds showed up that evening and so did more than 100 Tucson Police Department officers, some dressed in full riot gear. Seven women were arrested during the call to audience inside the board room. And outside, TPD officers were accused of grabbing and tossing as well as hitting protesters who surrounded the TUSD administration complex.

This was the meeting that introduced metal detectors to TUSD headquarters and limited the number of people who could attend the board meetings. It also provided that classic image of revered educator and activist Guadalupe Castillo being escorted from the room by police after she stood up to read Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

Old news, right? Not really. It's history. Tucson's history. MAS history.

But now, more than two years later, the next history lesson is shaping up to be about the lines drawn by different members of Tucson's Chicano community. There are fractured friendships, and even family members who no longer talk to each other. There have been deep lessons about effective organizing—or the lack of it—and people once thought of as leaders who may never be taken seriously again.

It's obvious that there is something wrong now, and some are asking whatever happened to "in lak ech" and "panche be."

In lak ech (you are my other self) and panche be (to seek the root of truth) are Mayan concepts taught in TUSD's original MAS classes through a Luis Valdez poem students recited at the start of each class:

Tú eres mi otro yo/You are my other me.

Si te hago daño a ti/If I do harm to you,

Me hago daño a mí mismo/I do harm to myself;

Si te amo y respeto/If I love and respect you,

Me amo y respeto yo/I love and respect myself.

Then there's the other elephant in the room—what happened to the MAS movement? What happened to those students who packed that April 26, 2011 board meeting? What happened to the community members who packed the May 3, 2011 meeting despite the police presence?

History Repeats Itself

It would be simplistic to say that what is going on right now in the Chicano community is just history repeating itself, but what happened to Anna Nieto Gomez during the Chicano movement in the mid-1970s easily comes to mind. She was denied tenure at California State University, Northridge, when Chicano writer and scholar Rudy Acuña was head of the Chicano studies department. That incident helped create a focus on Chicana rights and works, and called attention to the misogyny that exists in the movement.

No, what's happening in Tucson isn't anything new, says Devon Peña, a National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) past board member and an anthropology professor at the University of Washington.

It's important for the Chicano community to address misogyny and the gender violence that often comes with it. That's part of what Peña and his colleague Michelle Tellez were thinking when they wrote a letter dated Dec. 11, 2011, to Save Ethnic Studies in Tucson. It was also reportedly sent to those associated with the documentary Precious Knowledge.

The documentary is about a year in the life of a group of Tucson Magnet High School students in MAS studies classes and how the classes transformed their lives. The movie has been screened at hundreds of college campuses since it premiered in Tucson at the Fox Theatre in March 2011. The film is still being shown, often accompanied by talks that include some of the students featured in the documentary as well as MAS teachers.

In their letter, Peña and Tellez asked that SES, the fundraising arm for the federal lawsuit filed by the MAS teachers in effort to have the anti-Mexican-American studies law declared unconstitutional, and local community activists investigate allegations of sexual harassment and assault by one of the documentary's filmmakers. The letter also made it clear that there needed to be more support given to one of the alleged victims, and three other women who made harassment claims.

"While it is our understanding that no legal actions have been undertaken and none of the declarants has filed a police report, we are uneasy and actually shocked that this matter has not been given more attention by supporters of the program, including the SES community."

"We are also troubled by reports of the response to these allegations, which have included endless demeaning innuendos and allegations against the purported victim of the assault, who has been characterized by some, including members of SES, as promiscuous and mendacious. Such responses often constitute unacceptable expressions of sexist and patriarchal attitudes. We expect our community of activists to know better than to embrace or tolerate attacks on the character of a victim of sexual violence."

So what was the response to the letter?

Peña recently told the Weekly that the NACCS board refused to speak out more on the subject after it received a letter from an attorney representing the documentary's filmmakers. At that point, Peña and Tellez were told to lay low and see what took place next.

But what took place next wasn't what Peña had hoped for. The Tucson community never addressed or investigated what took place or tried to shed "light on the alleged events." Instead, copies of the letter co-authored by Peña and other correspondence between NACCs and others in Tucson, made their way around the community.

"If this were to become public," I was told by a MAS supporter not long ago, "this will damage the movement."

Another letter began circulating not long after Peña and Tellez original Dec. 2011 letter from three women featured in the documentary that charge that the allegations are false and that the NACCS board has "spread unfounded allegation causing extensive damage to the careers and reputations of the filmmakers. ... Three out of the four 'victims' of sexual harassment have disclosed to us that they were not sexually harassed in March of 2011 ... We have been unable to speak directly to the fourth woman but have plans to do so. ... We have done extensive research about the woman who claims we was assaulted and due to the multiple versions of the story that she has personally told us, combined with evidence from the evening in question, we have concluded that she is spreading false allegations with a vengeful intent."

The Weekly first contacted the filmmakers last year. They responded, but asked that it be off record. They did not respond to our latest request for comment.

Blame it on the women

When former MAS director and teacher Sean Arce faced domestic violence charges last winter, the strongest reaction came from a collective calling itself malintZINE. But those early entries on its website, reactions to gender and gender violence issues surrounding the MAS community in Tucson, were not just about Arce. It was as if there had been issues building up the past two years, and women finally got together and said enough.

Kim Dominguez, a former MAS student and program director of the Social Justice and Education Project, or SJEP, in the UA's MAS department, says it's easy for people to focus on the division that exists in the community right now rather than address issues, or even acknowledge that malintZINE is not separate from the Chicano movement.

"It isn't separate. That's what critics want you to think. No, it's part of the movement. It's telling an important story of what is taking place right now in the movement," Dominguez says. She is one of several women who helped start the collective, which describes itself as a "community made up of radical mujeres, some of color and some queer, based in Tucson."

Other issues that may have led to the creation of malintZINE center on the summer of 2012, dubbed Tucson Freedom Summer by organizers who brought in volunteers from all over the country with the purpose of organizing more support around MAS. Rather than build that support, however, women met at the end of the summer to discuss gender and gender violence issues that allegedly occurred—mostly complaints from women volunteers who felt they weren't given enough work or better work assignments. Other women complained of unwarranted advances and said that alcohol played a huge role in creating a hostile environment for women.

Often, what has been written about allegations surrounding Precious Knowledge has only fueled divisions, and there's a perception that those who wanted to talk about it were silenced.

"When people started to hear about the (allegations) ... it was obvious that people were scared this would affect the movement," Dominguez says. "I remember feeling the same way. But as more began to happen in the community, misogyny and gender violence finally needed to be discussed—not silenced."

Wounded warrior

At a coffee house off Campbell Avenue, Leilani Clark takes out a stack of journals of all sizes. These have helped her cope, she says, as well as document what has happened from the time of the alleged assault to today. On their pages are details about the loss of friendships with those whom she protested with against Arizona's SB 1070, the "papers please" law that profiles undocumented immigrants, and HB 2281, the law state Attorney General Tom Horne championed that made Mexican-American studies illegal.

Clark says she eventually left the country because she felt ostracized by friends and people she looked up to, especially the MAS teachers.

"I left in December 2011 ... I finally felt so disconnected from the Tucson community," Clark says.

Yet Clark was touted as a warrior in the immigration and MAS movements. There's an image of Clark, chained on the steps of the Arizona Capitol building, protesting SB1070, that fueled that image.

"People know me around the community," she says.

The first version of Precious Knowledge, which premiered in Tucson in March 2011, showed that warrior Clark had become known as. But when the film recently premiered on PBS, Clark was noticeably absent from the documentary.

In an interview with the Weekly, Clark said she received emails from people who used to be her friends accusing her of concocting a story, or telling her that she needed to move on. There were also accusations that she had a drinking problem, that she was promiscuous and that she dressed provocatively. Clark also remembers being scared that if the allegations came out, she would be blamed for potentially discrediting the April 2011 action as well as the movement that had been built up around the sole purpose of saving MAS.

Last September, rumors of Clark's return to Tucson surfaced, coinciding with an October screening of Precious Knowledge at the John Valenzuela Youth Center. Rumors spread that Clark and others were planning a protest to prevent the screening. Organizers of the screening told the Weekly at the time that they were being pressured to not show the documentary. Others told the Weekly that an agreement had been in place that was supposed to prevent the documentary from being screened in Tucson because of the allegations.

The screening was canceled, but Clark says there was never a protest planned. She was focused on trying to get on with her life and continue with counseling. She had also decided at the time to remain silent until she felt ready.

However, Clark says it was the creation of the malintZINE collective that motivated her to break her silence, especially because many of the stories and poems in the online magazine centered on gender violence.

At a March 8 community accountability forum hosted by malintZINE at a packed community room at the John Valenzuela Youth Center, discussion of gender violence and accountability was front and center. Clark stood up and read a statement and it was obvious there was no turning back—the silence had been broken. It was also the day of US District Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima's ruling on the teacher's lawsuit. Wallace didn't rule on behalf of the teachers and a legal team in Seattle is working on an appeal.

"I always had the idea that I wanted to get my story out there. When I came back and found out matlinZINE was established, I had talked with Kim (Dominguez). It felt good," she says.

"I was completely vilified. When this came up, people were saying this happened because of my problems with alcohol. When I got back, I learned that alcohol problems in the community for other people had never been addressed. They were not vilified. No one said to them they had to check their behavior."

Other statements

After Clark spoke at the forum, Roberto Rodriguez, a MAS associate professor at the UA wrote an essay, "In Tucson, the sky has not fallen," which is about Clark, as well as a criticism of the MAS movement. A few days later malintZINE published an essay on the controversy titled, "Girl Code, Responsibility, Accountability and In Lak Ech," an account of what happened through the eyes of a friend Clark lost, then regained when she returned.

Peña once again came forward, but instead of writing another letter, he posted an essay on his blog, mexmigration: History and Politics of Mexican Immigration. The post, titled "Arizona Update: Beyond 2281," went viral, Peña says.

It included his essay, as well as the essay from malintZINE and the one from Rodriguez.

"All social movements suffer setbacks, challenges, and—often—internalized friction and conflicts. This is part of the history of social movements and not at all unusual," Peña wrote in an introduction to the post. "This is also the case with the movement to defend MAS in Arizona and I am presenting four documents to illustrate what some of the current challenges involve. This is done in the spirit of journalistic reporting. These statements do not at the time reflect the official policies or positions of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) or any other organizations with which I am affiliated. NACCS is not responsible or aware that I am making this series of documents available to the public in one place. The three documents that follow my statement are already available to the public at other sites."

Peña also added, "As an academic scholar and teacher I have a right to express my views on matters of existing public interest and indeed under the law I am required as an educator to share and report on my knowledge of any incident of sexual abuse or violence."

In the post, Peña discusses what happened in response to the December 2011 letter he co-authored and how he believes the issues brought up with SES and others in Tucson were never handled properly,

"I personally have felt a lingering deep sense of frustration and disgust at how we were all targeted by abuse and threats; we were silenced for so long. I am very disappointed by the Arizona-based men—activists and professionals who have done a lot to advance the movement for social justice and civil rights but when it comes to sexual violence against women retreat into a retrograde old-school posture that threatens our movement," Peña wrote.

"I want to be clear to them: You accused NACCS, Michelle, and myself of betrayal and endangering the movement. It is you, with your reckless and feckless macho attitude and failure to stand in solidarity with the very students you purport to support and defend; you are responsible for undermining the movement and allowing hate-filled right wingers to use this (alleged) rape and the response to it as a weapon against a legitimate campaign to save ethnic studies in Arizona and elsewhere across these states of exception and institutionalized violence."

Peña says that since that post was published on his blog with its supporting documents, there has been no letter asking for it to be taken down or further threats of legal action. But the idea that the controversy over the alleged incidents has led to divisions in the community troubles him.

"Get over it," he says. "Let's not forget the source of the problem of HB 2281, white-supremecist lawmakers."

In a follow-up email from Peña, the professor wrote that what needs to happen now locally and nationally, is a focus on the defense and development of the culturally relevant curriculum making its way through the TUSD school board. And making sure it's taught by teachers who understand the curriculum

"This means that the curriculum at all levels of instruction needs to address the history of and struggle against structural violence including sexual violence. It also needs to address environmental and food justice issues more directly, the way I see it," Peña says.

"As higher education teachers we are required by law to report such incidents and that is why we (Michelle Tellez and I) wrote the letter to call for an investigation," he wrote.

Those early threats from the filmmakers' attorney ended up not keeping Peña silent. What it did do, he said is force a painful shift in strategy, which led to his mexmigrantion blog post that went viral.

"We should now focus on strengthening the struggles (for MAS) and against sexual violence (including domestic abuse) and stop feeding fodder to the right-wing partisans who seek to destroy the good works built by the teachers and students in Tucson and everywhere else we teach and study Chicana/o Studies," he wrote.

"It is a grand enterprise worthy of respect and celebration."

Next steps back to MAS

Tuesday, July 9 was H.T. Sanchez's first TUSD governing board meeting as the district's new superintendent, and it also may have signaled a new strategy by the district. Rather than talk about fighting different facets of the court-mandated desegregation plan, Sanchez admitted that the district was out of compliance with the current plan.

Right now, while the teacher lawsuit is appealed by a legal team in Seattle, the only way any form of MAS returns to TUSD classrooms is through the ongoing desegregation plan mandated by federal court. The plan calls for the development of a district-wide multicultural curriculum as well high-school level culturally relevant classes on Mexican-American and African-American literature, social studies and history.

Augustine Romero, director of TUSD's multicultural education department, presented three Culturally Relevant Curriculum (CRC) classes to the board for approval, including a Chicano literature class. The board approved the classes in a 3-2 vote, with Mark Stegeman and Michael Hicks voting no.

Romero explained to the board that the classes were developed in four months and reviewed by 37 experts from 22 different institutions—all experts in CRC and urban education. "The unitary status plan (deseg) mandates we create CRC curriculum and we were asked to review it through that lens ... we did just that," he told the board.

Sanchez said the district isn't where it should be in the CRC development, but the classes approved will be offered at three high school in the upcoming school year. And "in the spirit of knowledge," any student who wants to take the classes will be provided transportation to the high school where they are taught.

Romero told the Weekly recently that the overtures from the superintendent and the fact that TUSD now has a board majority that supports MAS and CRC—Cam Juarez, Kristel Foster and Adelita Grijalva—means that the CRC classes won't replace the MAS classes dismantled by the district last year. No, he says, the classes will be better.

Former MAS teachers were involved in helping to put the curriculum together. The teachers who helped out included Maria Federico Brummer, Sally Rusk, Yolanda Sotelo, and Norma and Jose Gonzalez. Romero contends that all the former MAS teachers were offered positions to return to teach CRC classes in the fall.

"I did extend the opportunity to all (the past MAS teachers) to return to do the work. After all, if we are truly about what we say we are about, and the opportunity was given to do that work—jump on or jump off—only one of them decided to jump on," Romero says.

That teacher joining Romero's team this year is Maria Federico Brummer.

The Weekly tried to reach former MAS teacher Curtis Acosta and other teachers, as well as the teachers' attorney, Richard Martinez, but heard back only from Sally Rusk, who teaches at Pueblo Magnet High School. Rusk says it's difficult to talk about everything that's taken place this past year because "everything is so fraught with hard feelings and frustration with what happened and how TUSD has been handling the deseg order for the classes," she wrote in an email.

Rusk says the teachers did start to work on the curriculum with Romero, but it was hard to create something different, or at least something that appeared to be different.

"And then I chose not to continue because of being busy and because of mixed messages and ... comments and decisions that I thought lacked integrity ... discussions I found troubling. I feel uncomfortable talking about others, especially in this situation," Rusk says.

And from her point of view, not everyone from the former MAS classes was offered positions. Yet still, Rusk has a positive feeling about the beginning of the school year and the CRC classes. She says she feels that kids at Pueblo will be in a good position when school starts.

"We are lucky to have a young woman whose dream is to teach the American history from Mexican-American perspectives class, and she student-taught with me for the American government SJEP class and did a wonderful job. Honestly, I wish I felt comfortable going back to teach my favorite classes, and if I was told to do so, I would," Rusk says.

There have been criticisms that what the CRC offers in the desegregation plan will not come close to replacing the beloved MAS targeted by the state. Romero says it's true the classes are not the same—that they are not replacements for what the district once had. Romero says the classes are actually better.

"We need, want and should do better than what we had before," he says. "In terms of what the haters say, really? I've heard that I don't know anything about the curriculum, yet that's what I did when I first started working in the MAS department. That was my first role and that is the main reason I was recognized for the role I have now."

Romero says he's gotten a lot of flack for saying these new classes are better, but he thinks that, combined with the other parts of the desegregation plan, the CRC classes can produce better outcomes for the students they are targeting.

Romero says he's disappointed that more of the former teachers won't be involved. He also wishes they would be involved in helping to train new teachers to understand why this is important.

Responding to criticism of his efforts, Romero says he's used to the haters. Last year, the Weekly did a story on the split that occurred between Romero and the MAS teachers. Arce lost his position in the district, but Romero kept his and said he'd continue working for the district even though his fellow MAS teachers thought he should consider resigning in protest. He faced a lot of criticism from the teachers he thought he was once close to and people in the community who decided it was fair to label him a vendido or a sellout.

"I told you back then and I'll say it now, I am not the enemy of any of those people. At the time I thought we were friends and I was willing to still operate as a friend and willing to have a dialogue. I asked to constantly meet with them, but I was told to constantly fuck off," Romero says.

Of course if Martinez had won the lawsuit, everything would have been different, with or without the desegregation plan. But that didn't happen, Romero says. Instead, a character assassination began not long after Tashima's March 8 ruling and he was still considered an enemy, as well as Sylvia Campoy, the Mendoza plaintiff representative in the desegregation lawsuit for Latino students. Other enemies, it was decided, were school board members Foster, Juarez and Grijalva, Romero says.

"It's never really hurt me, but it does hurt my wife and kids. Some of us weren't just friends, but we were also family."

Does Romero think the community has learned any lessons?

"No. Mistakes that were made in this movement were the same mistakes made previously. And the issues being brought up about gender violence are real issues. The idea of silencing ... for all intents and purposes, I will say this: One of the things we need to learn is that there is no (single) strategy ... we need to learn to embrace ideas that come from different places, come from different perspectives, come from different realities, different angles. There should never be one holy voice," Romero says.

Making other people in the movement into enemies is only divisive, he said.

"Somehow in this movement, embracing other perspectives was lost."

Romero says now he wants to ask what has happened to in lak ech?

"Was it in theory only or were we really living it," he says. "If you are my other me and I'm your other you—what gives?"