Students, community rally around support for Mexican American Studies on day trial begins
The "save ethnic studies" rally in downtown Tucson featured testimonials, ceremonies and discussions, among other things, over the importance of ethnic studies.
Outside of the federal courts downtown students rallied to share their experiences with the Mexican American Studies throughout the Tucson Unified School District during a trial concerning the bill banning the program.
The United Non-discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies, or U.N.I.D.O.S., gathered participants near the Evo A. DeConcini Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse to protest against HB 2281.
The trial, which began Monday, June 26, will determine if former Arizona Superintendent Tom Horne and former state Sen. John Huppenthal created HB 2281 with discriminatory intent in 2010.
Denisse Rebeil, a U.N.I.D.O.S member and former UA student said the purpose of the event was not only to give updates on the court proceedings but to encourage Tucson’s Hispanic community.
“We want to empower our community and make sure that they know that we’re going to continue the fight,” she said. “This isn’t the end whatever happens, whatever the results are.”
The coalition’s list of demands includes elimination of HB 2281 from the statutes with no copycat laws in the future, restoration of the M.A.S course and expansion of the education. After elimination of the law, the state must also release a public statement acknowledging the racial trauma caused by the bill.
U.N.I.D.O.S. has worked to gather support from other neighboring states like California by visiting and sharing their stories.
“We actually had people who came down from Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley,” said U.N.I.D.O.S. member Leo Herrera. “People that came down here to support not only what’s going down in the court case but also the community here.”
He said people around the country have shown support and understand the struggle they’re going through.
U.N.I.D.O.S organized a “chain in” in 2011 where supporters chained themselves to chairs to protest a TUSD governing board meeting. The meeting was set to make a decision regarding eliminating some of M.A.S classes from the districts’ core curriculum. The meeting was ultimately canceled.
The law, as stated in the statutes, prohibits promoting the overthrow of the United States government, resentment toward a race or class of people, courses that are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group and advocating of ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
In 2012, the TUSD school board voted to eliminate the M.A.S courses due to a notification that the district could lose up to 10 percent of their state aid, although a report identified the courses did help students.
In 2013, Federal Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled the law would be upheld, as plaintiffs Curtis Acosta and Nicholas Dominguez failed to prove it was unconstitutional.
“It’s part of a bigger picture,” Herrera said. “When we talk about critical pedagogues and the ability to come together and have culturally relevant education, that stems more than here in Tucson: It’s all over the globe.”
If she could present her case to the judge, Rebeil would say the classes were truly helpful.
“I would say that us folks that have excelled and have made it through the education system, graduated and went on to further education and made careers of themselves, these are classes that created these pathways to get there,” she said.
Jacobo Ramirez, a former UA graduate assistant, said it’s important that people still remember this subject.
“I think it’s super important that, after seven years, people still recognize the legitimacy of this program and the immense social support and institutional support that it provided for people of color,” he said.
He stated it’s important to have space to find out what it means to be of a particular culture and the U.N.I.D.O.S. event shows the community has not forgotten the impact it can have on students.
The trial, open to the public, will continue until June 30 before taking a break. It will then resume from July 17 to July 21.
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