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Demonizing Mexican-American Studies


I pick up the phone at my office at the University of Arizona and learn that I have three recorded messages waiting for me. The first one begins with the caller claiming to be half White and half Native American, addressing me as an “(expletive) Mexican” and a “Raza (expletive).” This while injecting a .357 Magnum into his rant.

The second and third calls are similar. The vitriol is inexplicable and virtually incomprehensible, except for the threats of extreme violence.

As a lifelong writer, receiving vicious hate mail is not new to me, including receiving a registered letter to my house from the Ku Klux Klan. But receiving death threats as a professor — this is new.

Just the week before those calls, a video was placed on YouTube by right-wing elements, accusing me of being the ringleader of the movement to defend Mexican-American Studies (MAS) from being eliminated by the state, via House Bill 2281. In reality, that six-year effort has primarily been a student-led movement.

The funny thing is they invented the things that I supposedly did: standing on top of a table while directing the students to chain themselves to the school boardroom chairs and screaming at my students if they didn’t read precisely what I wrote for them to read at the board meetings.

Complete fabrications are indeed funny to me, but I can’t say the same thing about death threats.

In April 2011, when high-school students took over the Tucson Unified School District boardroom, within a few days, a YouTube video was posted of the students chaining themselves, with music in the background, referring to them as zombies and imploring viewers to “shoot them in the head.”

Just a few months before the threats, 19 people were shot in Tucson by a mentally deranged loner, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Six died. Just recently, a renowned anti-immigrant neo-Nazi, J.T. Ready, killed four people, plus himself, in Gilbert.

This is the poisoned environment we were/are living in. In Arizona, the land of political extremism, racial profiling and political vigilantism, death threats and political violence are no laughing matter, but when the Tucson Police Department investigated the “shoot them in the head” video, the lead investigator concluded that the incitement to violence against the students was but a “joke.”

When I received the death threats in May 2011, I decided that I would press charges against the perpetrator, to send the message that death threats have no place in civil discourse.

In early June, the person who issued the threats against me will be standing trial, facing misdemeanors. I would like to believe that my life is worth at least a felony.

The threats, innuendo and slander against MAS educators, students and me are ugly, but that’s actually the smaller story here.

What precipitated the six-year battle is the state’s insistence that the MAS curriculum is outside of Western civilization, and that the teaching of the maize or indigenous-based curriculum, with an emphasis on social justice, had to be shut down.

The attempt to demonize a discipline, claiming it promotes hate and the overthrow of the U.S. government, and the subsequent dismantling of MAS-TUSD this January, is a threat not to individuals, but a metaphorical attempted assassination against an entire culture, a culture that has been here for many thousands of years. That said, anyone issuing death threats should always be held accountable.

Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, and a member of the MAS-TUSD community advisory board, can be reached The column is also posted at:


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