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Librotraficantes: Caravan moving through San Antonio on way to protest Arizona's dismantling of Mexican-American studies

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On Monday, March 12, the busses and cars of the Librotraficante Caravan will roll into San Antonio from Houston, making the first stop on their road trip. Up to 200 people are expected to eventually join the journey, which will pass through El Paso and Albuquerque before arriving at their destination: Tucson, where the Mexican American Studies' classes in the public schools have been suspended, its curriculum prohibited by state law. Arizona is playing culture war again, and the librotraficantes, Spanish for "book smugglers," are riding to the rescue.

When Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law on April 23, 2010, the whole country took notice. Known as the "Papers Please" law, SB 1070 made it a crime for non-citizens to be in the state without documents on their person and drafted local law enforcement to enforce the measure. While fears of racial profiling escalated and legal challenges were mounted by the U.S. Department of Justice and others contesting the law's constitutionality, few noticed the governor's pen signing another bill into statute a month later. Directed at school districts, HB 2281 seems at first blush to be just another jumble of desert weirdness. Outlawed by HB 2281 is advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government (don't we do that every four years?) and promoting resentment towards "a race or class of people." But the law wasn't drafted to fight neo-Nazi teachers or the excesses of the Tea Party.

Written by then-Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Horne (now Arizona's Attorney General), the law adds courses that advocate ethnic solidarity to the forbidden list. Reported by the press in several variations, a story that attempts to explain Horne's supposed motives relates that a teacher at Tucson's Mexican American Studies program claiming that "Republicans hate Latinos." When Horne visited a classroom to visit the program, he was met by students brandishing raised-fist salutes. And then, so it goes, he drafted the bill. Feeling that the heat might be directed towards them, in October, 2010, 11 employees of the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) filed a lawsuit in Federal District 5 against HB 2281, Horne, and the Arizona State Board of Education. The suit contended that the law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

They lost their case two days after Christmas last year. The classes taught by the Mexican American Studies at TUSD were declared in violation of state law. Faced with fines and the loss of $15 million in state support, the Tucson school board finally capitulated on January 10, 2012. The contested classes were halted, and the teaching materials were seized as "evidence." The program that had posted an almost 100 percent graduation rate in an all-city school district whose roughly 60 percent Latino student population dropped out at a rate exceeding 45 percent, was in shatters. Teachers and students were kept together, but core curricula like English and social studies replaced the closed classes. No other ethnic studies programs in Arizona were affected by the law.

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