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5 Ways to Fight Back Against Arizona's Racist Ethnic Studies Law

Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies hasn’t stopped organizers and educators in Tucson from fighting back against the law. Here’s how they’re doing it.

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Among the big races organizers are watching this fall are several seats on Tucson’s school board.

“We’re focused on the school board race,” Mireles said. “There are three board members up, and all of them have voted to get rid of Mexican American Studies.” Mireles said that for a community of people of color who are not wealthy, leveraging their power through the electoral process is a key part of their strategy to change the game. Voter registration and get out of the vote efforts are on the calendar for later this summer and into fall.

“We’re not millionaires. We don’t have a lot of money, but what we do have is people. The important thing is figuring out how to move them,” he said.

Bringing Art to the People with La Cultura Cura

The cultural is political, as well. Tucson Freedom Summer is holding music, poetry and art events alongside its canvassing and civic engagement work. One of the events will be a two-day poster-making workshop led by political artists and activists Favianna Rodriguez and Julio Salgado later this month.

For Rodriguez, it’s about more than sharing her visual communication talents. “Art offers a way to share a vision for the kind of community we want to create,” she said. “Art can be the tool to expose an issue and fight back. And art can serve to mobilize others.”

The workshop, which is a project of Culture Strike, will be just one of the many cultural components to the month. Locals are emphatic that art is central to the work. “Art has always been a critical component in any social movement, and it’s central to what we’re trying to do here,” Arce said. 

“Culture speaks to people’s hearts, in a way that policy and legislation cannot,” Rodriguez said, “visual art in particular … can offer people an alternative way to see the world.”

Cracking Open Those Banned Books

Arizona’s Mexican American Studies crackdown included a list of banned books which were removed from Tucson classrooms. Shakespeare, Sherman Alexie and Luis Alberto Urrea were among the authors whose books were deemed too incendiary for public instruction, boxed up and banned from Tucson’s ethnic studies classes. 

Writers whose works were stricken from course curricula spoke out. Outraged activists called for “wet-book” caravans to transport those titles back into the city. 

But the downtown branch of the Pima County Library hosted a book club whose reading list was built off those banned books. The Mexican American Studies Book Club, organized by recent University of Arizona Ph.D. graduate Marissa Juarez, held its first meeting in May. As Arce says, his work as an educator is about practicing the lessons of the textbooks he assigned his students.

Their first book club selection? Paulo Freire’s seminal work, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

Julianne Hing is a reporter and blogger for ColorLines.com covering immigration, education, criminal justice, and occasionally fashion and pop culture.