Mexican-American Studies Thriving Outside Regular Classrooms

By Alyssa Morones — March 25, 2013 2 min read
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Since an Arizona law banned the Mexican American studies program in Tucson’s public schools, classes of this sort are beginning to thrive outside of traditional classroom, reports The Los Angeles Times.

A group called Librotraficante, which means “book smuggler” in Spanish, has established several “underground” libraries across the country to collect and share Chicano and Latino literature. The group originated as a response to the law banning Mexican-American studies. The group raises money to buy books and open libraries in order to keep Mexican American studies alive.

Originally based in the Southwest, new libraries are set to open in less obvious places, such as Milwaukee and Louisville, Ky.

Earlier this month, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in Acosta v. Huppenthal, ruled to uphold the Arizona statute. The law aims to bar courses that promote resentment against a race or class of people or advocate ethnic solidarity.

The battle over ethnic studies in Tucson has been raging for a few years and reached a critical point last year when the school district agreed to cancel the popular courses after State Superintendent John Huppenthal threatened to retract $15 million in state funding from the district’s budget if it didn’t comply with the law.

The classes have not been offered in Tucson’s schools this academic year, but had been set for a return in the fall as part of the district’s new plan to comply with a decades-old federal desegregation order. Among many other things laid out in Tucson’s “unitary status plan,” is a provision to provide “culturally relevant” courses that focus on the history, experience, and culture of blacks and Latinos.

But in the meantime, some Tucson social studies faculty have been keeping the courses alive by offering them outside of school, according to The Times story. Curtis Acosta taught Mexican-American studies at Tucson High Magnet school prior to the ban. Now a mainstream English teacher at the school, Acosta continues to teach Chicano literature on Sundays at a youth center in South Tucson.

Sean Arce, who used to head the district’s Mexican-American studies program told the newspaper that interest in the subject matter has grown exponentially since the ban. Arce told the paper he has been invited to speak at several colleges, including Harvard and UCLA, to discuss the importance of ethnic studies, and that other urban school districts have asked him to consult with them on building Mexican-American studies curricula.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.