In Lak Ech – Tu eres mi otro yo – You are my other self. I am you, and you are me. If I hurt you, I hurt myself. If I hate you, I hate myself. If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.
This is how Maria Federico Brummer’s class begins at Tucson High School in Arizona. Students here, part of Tucson Unified School District’s highly successful Mexican-American Studies (MAS) K-12 program (the largest in the nation), are taught this and other indigenous concepts, such as Panche Be (To seek the Root of the Truth), including other ways of measuring time (Aztec & Maya calendars).
I am there, to speak to them about the relationship among In Lak Ech, Panche Be and Hunab Ku – a beautiful Maya philosophy and human rights ethos based on maize. It affirms – contrary to what is taught in schools – that the ancient peoples of this continent were not savages, and clearly understood how the universe functioned and understood what it meant to be a human being.
Not coincidentally, academically, MAS students – many of who were doing poorly prior to entering this program – consistently outperform their peers, and it is virtually a college-bound factory.
In a parallel universe across the 10 Highway at the state capitol in Phoenix – 518 years after Columbus initiated the theft of a continent – Arizona’s state Superintendent of Schools, Tom Horne has just declared, via the passage of HB 2281, that indigenous people and indigenous knowledge are still outside of Western Civilization.
In his relentless campaign against ethnic studies, Horne has just engineered the passage of a new draconian state law that seeks to ban the teaching of ethnic studies by withdrawing its funding. This is the same state that recently passed the racial profiling SB 1070 law; the primary targets would be Mexicans and Central Americans with indigenous features, suspected of being “illegal aliens.”
Despite the success of the MAS program, Horne has long expressed the view that the only things that should be taught in Arizona schools are things that originate in Western or Greco-Roman Civilization. While his bill affects the whole state, his actual target has long been Tucson’s program.
Last year, many of us (mostly young students) defeated a similar bill by running from Tucson to Phoenix in 115 degree heat. The author of last year’s bill, Jonathan Paton, withdrew it, but vowed that he and his allies would kill ethnic studies this year.
This year’s bill, HB 2281, causes the geographic dislocation of the continent.
Acting as royal cosmographer, Horne has ruled that maize (Mesoamerican) knowledge – indigenous to this continent – is subversive and not part of Western civilization or does not belong in the West or in Arizona schools. The bill falsely claims that American-Indian courses are exempt from this bill (in order to comply with federal law), though there are no federal laws that compel the teaching of American-Indian Studies. The bill also exempts African-American Studies courses – as long as they are open to everyone. This, too, is a canard because all ethnic studies courses are open to all. This attempt to exempt American-Indian and African-American courses is a clear signal that it is Mexican-American Studies that is the clear target.
By targeting MAS – Horne also sets himself up as the chief arbiter of who and what is indigenous and what is indigenous knowledge. Maize knowledge – which is the foundation of Mexican-American Studies – is also the foundation of much of indigenous knowledge throughout North, Central and South America. Apparently, Horne has decided that maize knowledge is not part of American-Indian Studies.
Through the bill, he also mischaracterizes the program by claiming that its teachers preach hate, segregation, anti-Americanism and the violent overthrow of the government. The bill sets up an inquisitorial mechanism that will monitor books and curriculum. Horne has been especially critical of Rudy Acuña’s Occupied America and Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (Separately, the Arizona Department of Education has banned teachers with heavy accents from teaching English classes).
Welcome to Apartheid, Arizona
Apartheid in Arizona? Efforts at student mind control and the legalization of racial profiling are deemed not enough to warrant the comparison. Yet, this is the land of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. It is the home of Operation Streamline – a kangaroo court that daily charges, tries and convicts 70 migrants en masse of being illegally present in the United States. It is also where for the past dozen years, some 5,000 migrants – due to intentional US policies – have been found dead in the inhospitable desert.
Apartheid? Perhaps, we should just call it: Arizona: The Dehumanized State