Saving Ethnic Studies With My Tucson Homeys

by on December 29, 2011 · 11 comments

in Civil Rights, Education, Popular

Saving Ethnic Studies is my latest enterprise because my home state, Arizona, just can’t shed itself of Jim Crow kind of thinking, going back to long before I was born and all through my growing up in Tucson in the 40’s and 50’s. Then the 60’s came along and the state had to sing a different song. But Jim Crowness doesn’t go away easily.

Someone came up with the idea of honoring Martin Luther King and His Dream with a holiday and Arizonans screamed “No way!” Yet it happened and I thought that signaled that my beloved state had begun to see the way.

But along came SB1070, a law that basically gives cops of every stripe and kind the authority to profile Latinos. And before I could go “What?” Ethnic Studies, via HB2281, were banned in the Grand Canyon State.

To me what has happened is particularly sad because the central target of this injustice is the Mexican American Studies Program at Tucson High, my alma mater. A place I love dearly. Their curriculum is one of the best of its kind in the land. It’s like Arizona can summon Jim Crow mentality on command.

What an abuse of power, an attempt to get brown citizens to toe the line, to be American but by “The Man’s” definition of what that means. They talk of the academic gap between Blacks and Browns and students of other ethnic backgrounds and then ignore facts like: how MAS students are making measurable differences compared to other like groups; how juniors taking the courses are more likely than their peers to pass reading and writing tests if they had previously failed those tests in their sophomore year, and how seniors are more likely to graduate than their peers. The dropout rate in the program is 2.5 percent as opposed to 56 percent nationally.

Such accomplishments mean nothing to the powers that be. Tom Horne, now the attorney general, vowed when he was the Arizona superintendent of public instruction to eliminate the Tucson School Districts’ Mexican American Program and his successor, John Huppenthal, ran on a platform of eliminating “Raza Studies” in Arizona and Jan Brewer signed their sinister wishes into law.

I’ve been in close contact with my high school over the years, a proud member of its Hall of Fame, a speaker at the Class of 2000 graduation, one who drops by every now and then when I’m in town to get a feel for what’s going on and I know from all I’ve heard and seen just how dynamic a learning environment Mexican American Studies students have enjoyed. The lessons, so relevant to their very lives, have excited them and turned them on to higher learning.

They’ve learned to embrace the diversity inherent in their society; they’ve learned about who they are, where they’ve been, how they fit in and the haters deride their lessons as “promoting resentment of other races.” They’ve learned how to better serve their communities, their towns and their state and their country, their world. But Arizona politicians see this as “promoting the overthrow of the government.”

The school district offers them no support and the students with no recourse took over a a school board meeting a while back. At the next meeting they were met with massive police force. So good luck on overthrowing the government and we can only hope that resentment of other races doesn’t rise up in their impressionable souls as a result of how they’ve been treated by the “system.”

What it comes down to is there is a significant number of so called representatives of “the people” who don’t want Latino kids to understand that knowledge is truly power and start feeling “uppity” and equal to THEM.

But I’m working with eleven Tucson Unified School District teachers administrators and students who are suing Arizona to bring back Ethnic Studies. And I’m asking people who care for justice to come together for the rights of all children to enjoy learning experiences that help them to learn about their heritage along with the histories of others.

Join us when we show PRECIOUS KNOWLEDGE, a powerful documentary that tells the story of how Mexican American Studies are changing students’ lives on:

Saturday, February 25, 2012

at 2:00 PM

at the Lincoln High School Theater

4777 Imperial Avenue

 Bring friends, a $10 donation, a checkbook and a commitment to spread the story and support the cause!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

wendyEllen December 30, 2011 at 6:29 am

Right on Ernie!


Ernie McCray December 30, 2011 at 10:28 am

And on and on.


Stan Levin December 30, 2011 at 9:51 am

Ernie …
I am so proud to call you friend … do you realize how far we go back now ?


Ernie McCray December 30, 2011 at 10:43 am

And I, too, am so proud to have you as mi amigo – and it goes back to the 60’s. The 60’s. Like wow, man, there was something called the 60’s? Where was I (smile)?


Willie Horton December 30, 2011 at 10:14 am

The program is too successful, for certain people of color.


Ernie McCray December 30, 2011 at 10:28 am

You got that right, my man.


Dr. Gustavo V. Segade December 30, 2011 at 5:19 pm

In 1970 I was chosen to chair the first Mexican American Studies department in the nation. It was at San Diego State University, where I served as MAS chair, then chair of the Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese (1975-780). I retired after thirty-three years of service. I did my B.A. (1961), my Masters (1967), and my Ph.D. (1972) at the University of Arizona.
I never thought the Jim Crow mentality had quit. I know better than that. They will be there till the end of time.
I wish you every success in your efforts at working with the teachers, and their lawsuits against the racists.
The success of such studies is all the proof you need—I hope.


Ernie McCray December 31, 2011 at 11:05 am

Jimmy C does have a tendency to lean towards infinity. We’re sure hoping the success of the program will win out when it has its day in court.


Shirley January 5, 2012 at 7:32 am

Well spoken, Mi Amigo. Here’s my favorite quote in regards to situations like this one:
“For a web, once begun, God provides thread.”

Best wishes to the students in our hometown!


Ernie McCray January 5, 2012 at 10:34 am

And they’re taking the thread and sewing like crazy. The kids are hanging in there well. Go, Badgers!


Linda Buffington January 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Your words are powerful! Racism has to be fought. It cannot be allowed to show it’s ugly head. Ethnic studies, whether it be Jewish, African-American, or of other groups is not only important for the groups it represents, but for others to learn about each other. How can we survive in this world if we don’t learn to respect each other. Our differences can unite us. So speak on, Brother!


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