Guest Column: 'Banned Books Week' lacked plan for future
From Sept. 30 to Oct. 6, a bold array of academic colleges, departments and community groups dedicated a week of events to focusing on the state of Arizona’s targeting of Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) and the TUSD school board’s decision to ban certain books from schools.
In this way, “Banned Books Week” undoubtedly fostered a deepened personal understanding in attendees regarding the crisis facing the Tucson community and beyond.
But public forums which only discuss book-banning and cultural repression, however well-intentioned, alone will not bring back those books and curriculum for the communities they primarily served.
As many of the youth who are continually affected by cultural repression and book-banning, we wish to ask last week’s organizers, attendees and the Tucson community for a commitment to act with us this week, through the next, again and again onward until the program is reclaimed in TUSD schools.
After two and a half years of silence on the ban from departments like UA English, colleges like Humanities and spaces like the Poetry Center, we appreciate the dedication of time and effort to an event which overflowed the Modern Languages auditorium and outer halls on Oct. 5.
Given that the banned books and program represented people of color, the audience should have reflected this. However, audiences were largely homogeneous.
Furthermore, it is a shame that youth voices were not included to speak at any of the events. There is a disappointing pattern of casting aside youth voices in cross-campus events held in the past such as last April’s ethnic studies forum put on by the Faculty Senate Task Force on Equity and Fairness, which was also a full-capacity event. We take heart in and appreciate the fact that such events garnered vast audiences. But we are tired of the professorial culture of indirect action (or inaction) and we are tired of a larger university culture that separates itself from MAS student needs. Concrete action and youth inclusion is necessary.
After all, it is the students whose critical education was robbed from them who are the best teachers to instruct the UA community about the human impact of book-banning and the State of Arizona’s attempts at cultural destruction in targeting the MAS program.
It is the too-often-ignored youth voices in groups such as MEChA and UNIDOS who are acting to save our studies and who continue to invite peers and teachers to join the charge.
Such work includes outreaching to high school and college students. We are also revamping a South Tucson casita (house) into a community organizing space as a way of creating autonomous, youth-led education in Tucson. We have been developing exciting forms of media (including film/video) as a way of spreading awareness of the ban. We have no intentions of stopping or slowing down anytime soon.
It is in times of increasing isolation and attack that communities must bind together despite oppressive odds. Instead, we sadly observe many on campus — where little to no direct repression exists as it does in TUSD schools — neglecting to take effective stands that proceed well beyond academic forums held at the expense and exclusion of youth voices.
We hope you’ll join us.
— United Non-discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies is a coalition to defend and preserve Mexican-American Studies programs in the Tucson community. The group can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .