06 May 2012


Last night I discovered treasure ~ the most recent episode of the PBS show Moyers & Company featured an interview with writer Luis Alberto Urrea, who grew up in the border culture between Mexico and the United States.  Urrea is affable and eloquent, yet his insights into the white and Latino experiences penetrate like a stiletto.  He identifies strongly with those who must struggle under gruesome conditions just to survive.  His manner is gentle, persuasive, sometimes self-effacing.  Born to a Mexican father and a white mother, Luis grew up first in Tijuana, Mexico, then in San Diego.  He is uniquely gifted at piecing through the beliefs and stories of both cultures, and though he self-identifies as American, he can move with ease from one to the other.

Urrea has written award-winning novels, poetry, memoirs, and non-fiction.  His books include The Hummingbird's Daughter, By the Lake of Sleeping Children, and The Devil's Highway.  You can view the entire Moyers interview with Urrea, and click on related links, here.  You will come away wishing this man was your friend.

Part of the discussion touched upon the January 2012 decision by the Tucson Unified School District (the largest in the state of Arizona) to eliminate the Mexican-American Studies program from its curriculum, and to ban a list of prestigious books which were deemed "divisive".  The cowardice and insensitivity of this act cannot be overstated.  Only insecure, oppressive regimes like Nazi Germany feel the need to impose mind control over their citizens.  How sad that the U.S. is no exception.

In order to understand each other, we need to read and ask questions and converse.  Arizona state government in general, and TUSD in particular, appear to think that diversity should be ignored or suppressed.  I consider Arizona my second home, and I'm ashamed of what goes on there politically.  Racism and white supremacy have no place in a gloriously multicultural community.  Here is a summary of the TUSD book controversy, and a list of the titles banned and seized.  They range from Rethinking Columbus:  the Next 500 Years, A Peope's History of the United States, and several books by Urrea and Native American writer Sherman Alexie, to William Shakespeare's play The Tempest.

Far from being banned, this list should be required reading for everyone on both sides of the border ~ not least for the Arizona state legislature, Arizona's reactionary governor Jan Brewer, and the TUSD school board.  In my opinion these are ignorant people, not suited to their roles as lawmakers and educators.  Their actions have made Arizona the subject of satire (see the April 2, 2012 sketch on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show) and ridicule, adding to the grimly racist image of the state created by the anti-immigration law passed in 2010.  The law not only encourages racial profiling by police, it violates the U.S. Constitution by assuming a role reserved for the federal government, and is currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

So.  An eloquent humanist writer, and the banning of books.  Busy day.

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