El Paso played host Wednesday evening to a group of so-called "book traffickers" hoping to raise awareness about a controversial Arizona education law that led to the dismantling of a Mexican-American studies program and the removal of several related books from classrooms.
The event was held at the Mercado Mayapan in South-Central El Paso and was part of a multi-city "Librotraficante Caravan" starting in Houston and ending in Tucson. Librotraficante translates to "book trafficker." Several local El Paso organizations helped put on the event.
"Arizona has passed a law to prohibit our culture," said Tony Diaz, one of the caravan's leaders.
Diaz's goal as a "book trafficker" is to collect and exchange Hispanic-themed literature in the wake of a controversial 2010 Arizona education law. The law bans courses that "either promote the overthrow of the United States government or promote resentment toward a race or class of people."
As a result, a Mexican-American studies program at the Tucson Unified School District was recently shut down, and several of the program's books were removed from classrooms and/or packed up and put in storage.
TUSD put out the following statement on its website after receiving backlash about its actions:
"Seven books that were used as supporting materials for curriculum in Mexican American Studies classes have been moved to the district storage facility because the classes have been suspended as per the ruling by Arizona Superintendent for Public Instruction John Huppenthal. Superintendent Huppenthal upheld an Office of Administrative Hearings? ruling that the classes were in violation of state law ARS 15-112.
The books are:
?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
None of the above books have been banned by TUSD. Each book has been boxed and stored as part of the process of suspending the classes. The books listed above were cited in the ruling that found the classes out of compliance with state law.
Every one of the books listed above is still available to students through several school libraries. Many of the schools where Mexican American Studies classes were taught have the books available in their libraries. Also, all students throughout the district may reserve the books through the library system."
Regardless of the statement, several of the Mercado Mayapan event attendees felt Arizona students are being subject to an unfair law.
"I really am a believer in academic freedom," said Benjamin Saenz, the chair of the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso. "Books don't hurt people. Books don't overthrow governments."
Saenz and other authors read excerpts form their books at the event in solidarity with the authors whose works were removed from Arizona classrooms. An Aztec dance group performed to kick off the event.
To read more about the Librotraficante Caravan, visit its website at www.librotraficante.com.