The book-banning debacle that occurred in Tucson earlier this year has garnered wide attention and criticism, so I won’t spend much time here explaining the ins and outs of what happened, only to say it’s astonishing to me that an entire school district has banned books whose topics pertain to Mexican-American history. I’m reminded of the slaves who populated this country hundreds of years ago but not that long ago—an entire class of people forbidden to learn how to read lest they discover the injustices already carved in their souls sanctioned in the written word; lest they learn that not everyone believed, as did their “owners,” that slavery was a just and right system.
In college I had the good fortune to enroll in a course called “A History of Mexico,” where I learned of the rich, thousands-years history of our neighboring country: pyramids to rival those in Egypt; the oldest university–National University of Mexico–in all of North America; the amazing giant heads sculpted by the Olmecs; the brain surgery performed by the Aztecs. Mexico is one of the most culturally rich nations in the world, and the following summer I traveled there as a translator, delighting in my newfound ability to recognize landmarks and monuments, the features of famous men eternalized in bronze. I have a weakness for revolutionaries, so it should come as no surprise my favorite Mexican hero was, and is, Zapata, a man who led an uprising against a terribly unjust debt-slavery system.
Here, in the states, we have a plethora of Mexican-American icons: Lori Piestewa, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Ester Hernandez, Martín Ramírez, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Baca Santiago and Ana Castillo, to name but a few. If students in Tucson aren’t granted access to their own history, aren’t taught the countless contributions made by these fine people and others, gifts that have enriched this country—a land traversed by their ancestors long before a European ever set foot in North America—how will they know that deep inside them lives a reservoir of the same great potential?
This is my biggest fear. It’s also the reason the people responsible for the book-banning caravan, a group of librotraficantes that have bussed in $20,000 worth of books in the form of an underground library, are my new heroes. The movement has been likened to the civil rights movement of the ᾽60s, and the historical import can’t be lost on anyone paying attention. I can only hope the politicians in Tucson are paying attention too—and that when the next election cycle rolls around, those who stood in the way of progress, liberty and justice will find themselves without a platform to foist their bigotry into the very place where equitable pursuits should always reside: in our schools.