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TUCSON HIGH SCHOOL: As I prepare to speak to an innovative class here about Indigenous philosophies, the students begin their class in the following manner:
In Lak Ech – Tu eres mi otro yo – You are my other self. I am you and you are me. If I hurt you, I hurt myself. If I hate you, I hate myself. If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.
Students here, part of Tucson Unified School District’s highly successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) K-12 program (the largest in the nation), are taught this and other Indigenous concepts, including other ways of measuring time (Aztec & Maya calendars). Not coincidentally, academically, MAS students – many of who were doing poorly prior to entering this program – consistently outperform their peers, and it is virtually a college-bound factory.
State capitol, Phoenix, Arizona: 518 years after Columbus initiated the theft of a continent, Arizona’s state superintendent of schools, Tom Horne has just declared, via the passage of HB 2281, that Indigenous peoples and Indigenous knowledge are [still] outside of Western Civilization.
In his relentless campaign against Ethnic Studies, the would-be governor has just engineered the passage of a new draconian state law that seeks to ban the teaching of ethnic studies [by withdrawing its funding]. This is the same state that recently passed the racial profiling SB 1070 law; the primary targets would be Mexicans and Central Americans with Indigenous features, suspected of being “illegal aliens.”
Despite the success of the MAS program, Horne has long expressed the view that the only things that should be taught in Arizona schools are things that originate in Western or Greco-Roman Civilization. While his bill affects the whole state, his actual target has long been Tucson’s program.
HB 2281 causes the geographic dislocation of the continent. Acting as Royal cosmographer, Horne has ruled that maiz (Mesoamerican) knowledge – indigenous to this continent and the philosophical foundation for MAS – is subversive and not part of Western civilization and does not belong in the West. Through the bill, he also mischaracterizes the program by claiming that its teachers preach hate, segregation, anti-Americanism and the violent overthrow of the government. The bill sets up an inquisitorial mechanism that will monitor books and curriculum. Horne has been especially critical of Rudy Acuña’s Occupied America and Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (Separately, the Arizona Department of Education has banned teachers with heavy accents from teaching English classes).
Welcome to Apartheid Arizona. Despite Arizona’s oppressive climate, many claim that the use of the term apartheid is overblown.
Tucson federal courthouse: Like clockwork, at 1:30 p.m., 70 short, brown men (sometimes a few women) occupy the left side of the courtroom, shackled at the ankles, the waist and the wrists. Within one hour, they are charged, tried and convicted en masse of being illegally present in the United States. After being dehumanized, they are then paraded out of the courtroom. Most have either served or are sentenced to the private detention facility, operated by the Correctional Corporation of America. This drama unfolds everyday here, every weekday of the year.
Welcome to Operation Streamline. Its goal is to criminalize every migrant that steps into this kangaroo court, while enriching CCA to the tune of some $15 million per month.
Southside Tucson: Several days BEFORE the state legislature passes SB 1070, a massive raid involving 800 military-clad U.S. federal agents swoops into this primarily Mexican-Indigenous community, occupying and terrorizing its residents, all for the purpose of arresting 48 suspects in a human smuggling operation.
Maricopa County: While Sheriff Joe Arpaio denies a racial motivation, over the weekend, he showcases his 15th major “crime sweep” since early 2008 in Phoenix. The sweeps – which target Mexican-Indigenous communities – may have actually backfired. They provide a glimpse to the world as to how the entire state and nation could look like if SB 1070 is affirmed. To conduct these sweeps, Arpaio utilizes the state’s anti human smuggling law, accusing migrants of being accomplices in their own smuggling. Such a use of the law smacks of official kidnapping and terror.
While there were undoubtedly many Arpaio’s in South Africa during the apartheid era, there were no Operation Streamlines there. Kangaroo courts yes, but not daily one-hour mass-show trials.
The Arizona/Mexico border: In the realm of violence, Arizona is no South Africa, but we do have our own killing fields. For the past dozen years, some 5,000 migrants have been found dead in the inhospitable desert; medical reports confirm that many have died due to violence, including blunt trauma to the head (go to: http://www.derechoshumanosaz.net/). That many thousands of migrants are funneled through the desert annually has long been official policy by U.S. immigration officials. Under international law, at best, this could be construed as negligent homicide.
Washington D.C.: Ironically, in response to these draconian laws and measures, even Democrats have been cowed into pushing for more apartheid measures (walls, more agents and the further militarization of the border) as a solution.
Just solutions for the problems listed here require calling for [international] agreements that place human beings at the center, without losing their citizenship, culture, rights or their humanity.
ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at XColumn@gmail.com