March 14, 2013

Hispanic legislator in New Mexico endorses banning books by five Hispanic authors


Nora Espinoza

Next up in the banning brigade — New Mexico! According to an article by The Huffington Post, Republican state Representative Nora Espinoza went on a rant against Antonio Maestas’ proposed memorial to honor diversity in New Mexico’s state curricula. In addition, Maestas (also a state Representative) had denounced Tucson’s 2010 decision to “ban seven ethnic studies books from classroom use.”

A report about the 2010 decision in American Libraries noted that the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) voted “to disband MAS [Mexican-American Studies] so the district wouldn’t lose 10% of its state funding. The penalty would have been imposed by an Arizona statute enacted in 2010 that bars public and charter schools from teaching ethnic studies programs that “promote the overthrow of the US government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

Out of the seven books banned that year, five were written by Latino authors. The TUSD justified the ban by saying that the books would only be pulled from classroom curricula, not from school libraries. So the books would still be available to students, just not advertised as anything educational.

A Tuscon Weekly story compared these events to “an allegory based on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible” and Chicano-literature teacher Curtis Acosta said, in a discussion with his department head and principal, that it “might be best to stay away from The Tempest and other books that have these names. Acosta figured if this classic play is off-limits for those reasons, the works like Huckleberry Finn are probably off-limits, too,” as well as  To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Color Purple, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Antonio Maestas

In response to it all, a library caravan called “Librotraficante” (translated into “BookTrafficker”) was launched last March. Basically a “let my people go” for books, the caravan of cars driven by activists and writers traveled from Houston, Texas to Tucson, Arizona carrying books that were allegedly banned from the TUSD.

Tony Diaz, the caravan’s organizer and a writer, was quoted by Fox News Latino saying, “Obviously, someone on the state level designed this law to end Latino studies, because this law says specifically that it will not apply to Native American studies nor to the Holocaust.”

As another HuffPo story notes, the caravan was primarily a response to Tucson’s book ban, but also to the overt and insensitive way in which the books were removed from one Arizona campus – the Tucson High Magnet School – while classes were in session.

But in her recent attack, Representative Espinoza — who is herself Hispanic — said “These are extremely racist and hate books.” Addressing the state’s House Education Committee on Monday, she read from one of Corky Gonzalez’s poems. “My culture was raped,” she began, adding that the poem’s themes were too mature for children.

“What happened in Arizona recently was so un-American, and it’s particularly un-New Mexican,” Maestas says in a HuffPo report. “New Mexico is a state that takes great pride in celebrating its diversity.” Maestas originally suggested the memorial when a judge ruled Arizona’s 2010 law constitutional last Friday. Supporters of the suspended classes, including teachers and students, hoped it would be overturned. The curriculum had once “emphasized critical thinking and focused on Mexican-American literature and perspectives” but “conservative opponents accused the teachers of encouraging students to adopt left-wing ideas and resent white people.”

Espinoza’s arguments are aimed more at the anti-Hispanic sentiments that the literature might stir up, but perhaps this is one of those you’re-in-America-so-speak-English arguments.

Books Banned in Tucson, Arizona, 2010:

  • Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado
  • 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures edited by Elizabeth Martinez
  • Message to AZTLAN by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
  • Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales
  • Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuna
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
  • Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow

A slideshow of the banned books is available here.



Khiara Ortiz is an intern at Melville House