Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Photos: Tucson Ethnic Studies Students Rise Up Again and Hold Their Ground

4 p.m.--Belting Out "Woke Up This Morning" Other songs heard, "We Shall Overcome, This Land is Your Land, Native American songs, and Mexican ballads

It's considered the most popular course at Tucson High and the other schools where it is taught and the results have been dramatic. Mexican-American Studies (MAS), as part of the Ethnic Studies Program, has led to impressive results: students are motivated, performance improves, graduation rates go way up.  Now the State of AZ and the local school board (TUSD) are seeking to dismantle the program. The students are fighting back. They have an organization "UNIDOS." A week ago they chained themselves to the school board members chairs preventing a vote to gut MAS. Two of the board members solidly back the students, but the other three don't. Last night the students won another partial victory--their impressive mobilization prevented the board from voting. The struggle goes on.  

In 2006 the students also rose up in Tucson as thousands walked out of class as part of the massive national mobilization protesting anti-immigrant legislation. Years of backlash have followed and Arizona has led the way with the harshest anti-immigrant legislation in the country. The federal government has done its part: last year over 300,000 immigrants were deported, a record number.
5 p.m. The Protest Keeps Growing. Hundreds Outside and More Inside

One speaker compared the School Board's proposal to weaken MAS and satisfy the state to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's appeasement to Adolf Hitler during World War II.. Another speaker said he was thankful for the massive police presence at the meeting because the public needed protection from the "scary" people on the school board. People were arrested just trying to speak. Chicana activist Lupe Castillo was arrested before she could begin reading Martin Luther King's "Letter from the Birmingham Jail."

6 p.m.--The Police Holding The Line
8 p.m. Tensions Mount As People Are Arrested Inside
8:30 p.m A Human Chain Encircles The Building
9:30 p.m. A Peaceful Sit-In In Front of a  Police Car. Students were highly disciplined and completely nonviolent.

10 p.m. The Meeting Ends Without A Vote

A couple of quotes from the Tucson newspaper:

"When prisons are growing and growing and schools are closing, it affects everybody."
Ryan Velasquez, senior, City High School

"These classes have had such an impact on me, I see the world through a critical lens now."
Mayra Feliciano, senior, Rincon High

So will there continue to be a place in Tucson for an educational program that liberates, that inspires, and transforms those who participate?  The powers that be certainly don't want it, but these courageous and inspiring students in Tucson have risen to the occasion for the fight of their life. We all owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

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