January 13, 2012

Tucson bans Native books, Shakespeare play

Banning of Books Signals Revolution in Tucson

Banned book includes Leslie Marmon Silko, Buffy Sainte Marie and Winona LaDuke

By Brenda NorrellOutrage was the response on Saturday to the news that Tucson schools has banned books, including "Rethinking Columbus," with an essay by award-winning Pueblo author Leslie Marmon Silko, who lives in Tucson, and works by Buffy Sainte Marie, Winona LaDuke, Leonard Peltier and Rigoberta Menchu.

All books and materials of the now forbidden Mexican American Studies classes were seized from the classrooms. This follows the 4 to 1 vote on Tuesday by the Tucson Unified School District board to succumb to the State of Arizona, and forbid Mexican American Studies, rather than fight the state decision.

Students said the books were seized from the classrooms and out of their hands after the vote banning Mexican American Studies, including a book of photos of Mexico. Crying, students said it was like Nazi Germany and they have been unable to sleep since it happened.

The banned book, "Rethinking Columbus," includes work by many Native Americans, as Debbie Reese of Nambe Pueblo reports. The book includes:

  • Suzan Shown Harjo's "We Have No Reason to Celebrate"

  • Buffy Sainte-Marie's "My Country, 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying"

  • Joseph Bruchac's "A Friend of the Indians"

  • Cornel Pewewardy's "A Barbie-Doll Pocahontas"

  • N. Scott Momaday's "The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee"

  • Michael Dorris's "Why I'm Not Thankful for Thanksgiving"

  • Leslie Marmon's "Ceremony"

  • Wendy Rose's "Three Thousand Dollar Death Song"

  • Winona LaDuke's "To the Women of the World: Our Future, Our Responsibility"

  • All books in the Mexican American Studies classrooms were seized. The reading list includes two books by Native American author Sherman Alexie and a book of poetry by O'odham poet Ofelia Zepeda.

    Jeff Biggers writes in Salon:The list of removed books includes the 20-year-old textbook “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years,” which features an essay by Tucson author Leslie Silko. Recipient of a Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, Silko has been an outspoken supporter of the ethnic studies program.Biggers said Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest," was also banned during the meeting this week. Administrators told Mexican-American studies teachers to stay away from any class units where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes."
    Rethinking Columbus

    By Bill BigelowImagine our surprise.

    Rethinking Schools learned today that for the first time in its more-than-20-year history, our book Rethinking Columbus was banned by a school district: Tucson, Arizona. According to journalist Jeff Biggers, officials with the Tucson Unified School District ordered that teachers pull the book from their classrooms, evidently as an outcome of the school board’s 4-1 vote this week to abolish the Mexican American Studies program.

    As I mentioned to Biggers when we spoke, the last time a book of mine was outlawed was during the state of emergency in apartheid South Africa in 1986, when the regime there banned the curriculum I’d written, Strangers in Their Own Country, likely because it included excerpts from a speech by then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Confronting massive opposition at home and abroad, the white minority government feared for its life in 1986. It’s worth asking what the school authorities in Arizona fear today.
    And:In our introduction to that first edition of the book (edited by Bob Peterson, Barbara Miner, and me) we wrote, “Why rethink Christopher Columbus? Because the Columbus myth is basic to children’s beliefs about society. For many youngsters the tale of Columbus introduces them to a history of this country, even to history itself. The ‘discovery of America’ is children’s first curricular exposure to the encounter between two races. As such, a study of Columbus is really a study about us—how we think about each other, our country, and our relations with people around the world.”

    Twenty years later, these still seem like pretty sound reasons to “rethink Columbus.” And we would ask school officials in Tucson: Why not rethink Columbus?

    What’s to fear? Rethinking Columbus offers teaching strategies and readings that teachers can use to help students consider perspectives that are too often silenced in the traditional curriculum. For example, in 30 years of teaching, virtually all my high school students had heard of the fellow who is said to have discovered America: Christopher Columbus. However, none had heard of the people who discovered Columbus: the Taínos of the Caribbean. That fact underscores the importance of teachers having the resources to offer a fuller history to their students. Further, it points out the importance of developing teaching materials that ask students to interrogate the official curriculum about what (and who) it remembers and what (and who) it ignores—and why?

    Of course, the suppression of our book is only a small part of the effort by Arizona school officials to crush the wildly successful Mexican American Studies program in Tucson. The program itself exemplifies an effort to address critical questions about stories sorely lacking in today’s corporate-produced textbooks and standardized curriculum. Students in the Mexican American Studies classes will now be dispersed to other classes, according to the resolution passed this week by the governing board of Tucson schools.
    Other well-known books on the banned list include:

  • A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present (2003), by H. Zinn

  • Ten Little Indians (2004), by S. Alexie

  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven (1994), by S. Alexie

  • Zorro (2005), by I. Allende

  • Women Hollering Creek (1992), by S. Cisneros

  • House on Mango Street (1991), by S. Cisneros

  • Like Water for Chocolate (1995), by L. Esquievel

  • Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (1991), by J. Kozol

  • Civil Disobedience (1993), by H. D. Thoreau

  • Zoot Suit and Other Plays (1992), by L. Valdez

  • Comment:  News flash: Tucson bans any book written by someone other than a white male Christian because it provokes resentment. "How dare they act all uppity and try to rise above their station?!" asked one school official.

    I'm glad they included that subversive Shakespeare on the list. He probably was a secret Jew or Muslim. Or perhaps a brown-skinned proto-terrorist wrote The Tempest for him. Who else would be clever enough to try destroying the United States almost two centuries before it existed?

    Clearly, Arizona's racists want Columbus taught as a noble white Christian discoverer and nothing else. And Indians should be taught as drunken savages, just as the mainstream media portrays them.

    I don't know if I've mentioned Rethinking Columbus before, but it's a great resource. If I could, I'd post about a dozen essays from it and suggest you read them all. The book should be mandatory reading in any history class that covers Columbus.

    For more on the subject, see Tucson's Mexican American Studies Rejected and Ethnic Studies Ban Is Political.

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