In Arizona, we are just days away from a momentous ruling: it is expected that on the basis of an illegitimate audit, State Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal ? who ran on the promise of eliminating “La Raza,” ? will rule Tucson’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) program to be outside of “the law.” The way HB 2281 was designed, the only remedy is elimination.
Incidentally, supporters of the program do not recognize HB 2281 as a legitimate law. In part, this is because this is nothing more than a long line of “laws” meant to ensure our dehumanization. And this is not a new story. A read of Pagans in the Promised Land (Newcomb, S. 2008) gives us this understanding ? that what’s happening in Arizona is not simply a civilizational war, but rather a so-called sacred war ? the same war that brought us the Inquisition, pitting civilized Christians v. uncivilized heathens. In the Americas, it is part of the deep story about how Europeans (Christians) ? via the mind-boggling divine “doctrine of discovery” ? claim[ed] the continent and de-rooted its peoples.
In Arizona, it is also about who is legal and who is not and about whose knowledge is legitimate and whose is not.
This cosmic drama has actually been playing out since Biblical times. This imported drama is how we can also come to understand the meaning of Arizona’s final or Ultima Reduccion ? the unfinished business of colonization. Spain’s continent-wide policy of reducciones of the 1500s-1800s, was about spiritually killing Indians while creating Christians in their place (American Indians will recognize this as the 19TH and 20TH century boarding school policies: kill the Indian, save the man). The belief was that Europeans were Christian and Indigenous peoples were pagan and thus, Christians had the right to claim the land and the peoples’ souls. A reduccion was also the process by which everything Indigenous was demonized, including the astronomical, mathematical and scientific knowledge contained within the ancient calendars. It also demonized the songs, dances, music, ceremonies, medicine and even the food (amaranth).
The entire 300-year colonization era was one huge reduccion and one huge Auto de Fe. The most infamous Auto de Fe in history was recorded in 1562 at Mani, Yucatan, where Bishop Diego De Landa staged a massive 3-day book burning ? proclaiming the ancient codices of the Maya: “Things of the Devil.”
While those policies are officially over, they actually live on. On Dec. 30, 2010, then State Schools Superintendent Tom Horne issued his own 10-page Auto de Fe, declaring Tucson’s MAS program in violation of the 2010 anti-Ethnic Studies HB 2281. He had long charged that Ethnic Studies should be grounded in Greco-Roman values ? the foundation of Western Civilization, and nothing else. On that day, he declared MAS outside of civilization and also, outside of the West. On that day, he metaphorically commenced his own book burning, commencing yet another Inquisition, declaring that books such as Rodolfo Acu?a’s Occupied America and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed promoted hate, segregation and the overthrow of the U.S. government. He also cited hip-hop groups Aztlan Underground and El Vuh for the same.
His declaration actually hearkens back to that “sacred war” brought over by Columbus. On Jan. 3, 2011, Horne read his own Requerimiento; a “legal” finding compelling the district to comply or else. The original 1519 Requerimiento was read in Latin to Indigenous peoples, declaring that if there were no Christians on this land, the land now belonged to the Spanish Crown. If they did not comply, the crown’s representatives would wage merciless war upon them.
On April 26 and then on May 3, the Tucson school board attempted to comply with the state’s wishes by telling the heathens what was good for them (MAS classes were to henceforth become electives) ? since peoples less than human can’t think for themselves nor do they possess equal rights. On the 26th, students prevented the school board from meeting by chaining themselves to the board chairs. In response, on May 3, the board authorized a massive show of force (more than 100 police officers, including SWAT units, metal detectors, a helicopter and a bomb squad) to remind us how imposed laws are enforced: through brute force. Seven participants, attempting to speak were arrested, and many youths and elders were roughed up.
When Huppenthal issues his finding ? his own Auto de Fe or his own Requerimiento ? it will not deter MAS supporters because we too are involved in our own cosmic drama. It comes down to us from the ancient Codex Chimalpopoca (The Legend of the Suns) and the Popul Vuh; it is about how human beings and maiz were created. That knowledge is thousands of years old, it is Indigenous to this continent, it is taught at MAS and freely shared with the world. It is from here that we derive In Lak Ech (You are my other me) and Panche Be (To seek the root of the truth) ? concepts that teach us to respect not just all human beings, but all life. It is how we know that we are not heathen, that we are all human and all deserving of our full human rights. It is also why we will not be complicit in our own [final] reduccion.
If the state wants a solution, it will have to speak to us as co-equals and as full human beings.
Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona.He can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com