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Arizona Students Protest New Law Banning Ethnic Studies Classes

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Just three weeks after signing a highly controversial anti-immigrant bill that orders police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has signed a new law banning ethnic studies in Arizona public schools. The law could shut down a popular Mexican American studies program in the Tucson school district. It will also affect specialized courses in African American and Native American studies. In response, students have taken to the streets to voice their opposition to the bill. On Wednesday, fifteen people, most of them students, were arrested protesting the law at the state offices of education in Tucson. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Just three weeks after signing a highly controversial anti-immigrant bill that orders police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has signed a new law banning ethnic studies in Arizona public schools. The law would shut down a popular Mexican American studies program in the Tucson school district. It will also affect specialized courses in African American and Native American studies.

In response, students have taken to the streets to voice their opposition to the bill. On Wednesday, fifteen people, most of them students, were arrested protesting the law at the state offices of education in Tucson.

AMY GOODMAN: Kim Dominguez was one of those arrested. She’s a graduate of La Raza studies. She joins us now from Tucson, along with Isabel Garcia, who also took part in the protest. Isabel Garcia is the co-chair of the Coalition for Human Rights, which is based in Tucson. She’s a legal defender of Pima County, Arizona.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Kim, let’s begin with you. Explain what La Raza studies are and why you were arrested.

KIM DOMINGUEZ: Well, the program is actually called Mexican American Raza Studies. When I enrolled in the class in 2002, it was titled Hispanic Studies. And so, Mexican American Raza Studies, junior year, is American history through a Chicano perspective, and we look at several different issues, not just nationally and not just within the Chicano community, but globally. And senior year is American government through a social justice perspective, so we learn how to do different methods of looking at social injustices, such as video documentation, photo documentation, blogging, different things like that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the proponents of this legislation have claimed that this kind of ethnic studies program is creating divisions among the American people, among youth, in terms of how they see their role in the United States. What’s your response to that?

KIM DOMINGUEZ: Well, I don’t think — I don’t think it’s creating any division, and I don’t think that this process of, like, division starts between the students in the classes. I think that if anything is promoted in the classes, it’s solidarity among humanity, not any — between any ethnic group.

AMY GOODMAN: Isabel Garcia, can you talk about how this fits into your whole campaign around human rights? I mean, this is the second bill that has been passed in the last month. You first had the bill around immigration, and maybe you can talk about that and how that has fueled the response to this second bill that would ban ethnic studies in the public schools of Arizona.

ISABEL GARCIA: Yes, for the last ten, fifteen years, this state, of course, has seen a dramatic increase in like the anti-immigrant, anti-immigrant Mexican sort of hysteria around here. And as — following 1070, like you say, 2281 was also approved. If you can imagine, this is a Republican government and legislature that portends to or pretends to say that all control should be local. Here we have a local successful Chicano, Mexican American studies program that has proved over and over and over again that the students who take these classes not only do much better in the high stakes testing system that they have here, but these are students that come out into the world and the relate to the entire — all cultures because they’ve been able to learn something about Mexican Americans. So it is totally tied to this anti-immigrant fervor that has gripped the state because they have come here.

Tom Horne, who is now running for attorney general, has come here to focus on TUSD and what we believe is sort of like a cultural cleansing, an ethnic cleansing. It’s very, very clear what this legislature is up to. They’re trying not only to drive immigrants either underground or out of state, but all of us to put us in — really in our place. These measures are absolutely racist measures, backed by racist tendencies on the part of these legislators, and they’re absolutely lying about everything that they say about Raza studies. They’re totally lying.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Isabel Garcia, you mentioned Tom Horne. He’s the state superintendent of public instruction. He fought for years to end Tucson’s ethnic studies programs. Horne is a Republican who, as you mentioned, is running for attorney general. He was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN yesterday, where he staunchly defended the bill.

    TOM HORNE: The standards that we promulgate require that all social studies classes teach different cultures. We want all kids to be exposed to a lot of different cultures. But what I’m opposed is dividing kids up, so they have La Raza studies for the Chicano kids — “La Raza” means “the race” in Spanish — African American studies for the African American kids, Asian studies for the Asian kids.

    ANDERSON COOPER: But what’s wrong with that? If an African American kid wants a class that, you know, has a focus on African American studies, what’s wrong with that?

    TOM HORNE: What’s wrong with it is that it divides students up by race, and I believe that one of the principal ideas of the American public school system is we bring kids together and we teach them to treat each other as individuals. What matters about a person is what does he know, what can he do, what’s his character, or hers, not what race was he born into.

    You know what? I was on that March on Washington in summer of 1963 — I just graduated from high school — where Martin Luther King gave his famous speech saying we should be judged by the quality of our character and not the color of our skin. And that has been my most fundamental belief my entire life, that we are individuals. We are not exemplars of the race we were born into. And this philosophy that’s preached by this program in Tucson and by your other guest, that’s a race-obsessed philosophy, and it’s a downer philosophy, teaches people that they’re oppressed, make them angry, make it so that they don’t have hope for their future.

AMY GOODMAN: That, again, was Tom Horne, who is running for the state attorney general. He’s the superintendent of schools. Isabel Garcia, your response to his points?

ISABEL GARCIA: Well, as you can hear, to be able to get Martin Luther King’s quote about judging everybody on the content of their heart and character is absolutely outrageous that he can use to defend this. To say that an African American kid, because, in fact, he’s African American, he can then not take African American studies — I guess that’s what he’s saying — is absolutely preposterous.

This program is so successful that every school in the United States of America should take this class. That’s what we believe. It should be expanded. He’s absolutely right. It should be open to everybody, and in fact, here in TUSD, it is open to every student. We have many students that are white students that take this class and have come to give testimony about how valuable it is. Can you imagine if every student took this class in the United States? We wouldn’t have 1070. We wouldn’t have 2281. We wouldn’t have any of these anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, anti-human measures we have in Tucson —-

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask Kim -—

ISABEL GARCIA: — in Arizona.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask Kim Dominguez, first of all, you and the other students who were arrested, how were you treated after your arrest? And what was the response of either fellow students or other folks in your community to your actions?

KIM DOMINGUEZ: I think the whole community and fellow students were supportive of the arrests, not because we got arrested. That wasn’t the intentions. The intentions were to do the right thing and to ignite a spark within the nation that we have to demand to move to the next step to protect these classes, to protect our communities against HB 2281, SB 1070. We’ve done petitions. We’ve done letters. We’ve done calls. We’ve done everything that this American United States system has asked us to do. We vote. I vote. And I think it’s time to move to the next step.

Tom Horne came to grandstand here at TUSD and, you know, promote that this bill had been passed. And he canceled that meeting, and he ignored us. And so we moved to the building where he was having a press conference, in hopes that he would hear our demands. Although Tom Horne has a lot of allegations about what the program is and what the classes do, he’s never visited a classroom, he’s never had a conversation with any of the students or the alumni. And so I think it’s time to move to the next step. I think Tom Horne needs to hear our demands. He needs to speak with the students. He needs to speak with the alumni. He goes around saying, “Read this bill, read this bill, before you make any judgment,” but he hasn’t read any of our books. He hasn’t talked to us.

And so, I think the community was supportive of us moving it to the next step, as the Capitol 9 did and as the fourteen who were arrested in LA have. You know, it’s not just about ethnic studies. It’s not just about SB 1070. It’s beyond that. This is a blatant attack to the Latino, Mexicano, Chicana indigenous community, and we’re stepping up our game. And the students are not going to take this kind of violation of our community’s rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Kim, though, now you’ve been arrested. You have a record. How do you feel about doing that for — well, for your education?

KIM DOMINGUEZ: Well, I mean, being arrested, it really means nothing to me. I feel like if I didn’t have these classes, if I didn’t have a voice, and if I wasn’t able to do the right thing and be a role model for my daughter, who I hope can someday take Chicano studies and take Chicano literature, and that, you know, she doesn’t have to feel that she’s reading books that are banned, banned by her own country, banned by her own state and her own city, you know, getting arrested is nothing to me. It’s really nothing. It’s doing the right thing.

And, you know, having a record or having court or having to deal with any of that, it’s really a minor thing in what really happens in our communities and the attacks that I feel every day and the attacks that our communities feel. People are crossing the desert and dying. There’s kids all over this country who don’t identify with their curly hair, their dark skin, the literature, their parents, the Chicano culture, the indigenous culture, and I think those are far worse than, you know, being arrested. So, you know, it’s just something that happened because we took a stand, and, you know, I don’t feel — it was a small offer. I offered a small piece of myself to the community.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to ask Isabel Garcia about a related issue, a video that has been published on the internet showing a former Bush administration attorney training police officers in Arizona on how to detect undocumented immigrants. The training is conducted by Kris Kobach, a Kansas-based attorney who helped draft Arizona’s law that orders police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is undocumented. During the training, he listed twenty ways police officers can detect undocumented immigrants.

    KRIS KOBACH: Indications from the dress or appearance of an individual that he has been — has recently — that he’s an illegal alien and perhaps that he has just entered without inspection, based on the totality circumstances. Number nineteen, related indications that the vehicle and/or its occupants have been on a very long trip. And number twenty, the individual avoids making eye contact with the officer, and this, of course, can give rise to reasonable suspicion, not only in the immigration context, but in other law enforcement contexts, as well.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Kris Kobach also has claimed that he was in some way responsible for drafting the legislation in Arizona. I’d like to ask you, Isabel Garcia, about this video and about the continuing battle that you’re waging there around the Senate bill that was passed recently.

ISABEL GARCIA: Well, you heard his description. It’s unbelievable that people are identified based on their clothing. I mean, clearly we have eleven, twelve, I don’t know how many million people that are working hard in this country, in their communities, every single day, many people who have lived here for a long time, other people for a short time. And for him to say that that is how you identify an undocumented immigrant, well, that means you’re identifying so many working men and women here.

Yes, Kris Kobach is one of their favored consultants in this legislature, and we’ve recently, you know, surfaced an email when the state of Arizona was under such fire and attack because of the issue of racial profiling. What he did was he made some cosmetic changes, and in order to make sure to be able to arrest as many people as possible, he even indicated that any violation of any city code or ordinance — and he gave examples that, you know, some poor people have cars up on blocks — that that kind of violation could trigger the suspicion of an officer in order to investigate this new alleged crime of trespass. It’s very clear where this man comes from. And it’s really — he’s done an incredible disservice to this community. I think he should take Raza studies at TUSD, and maybe he would learn a little something about history in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Isabel Garcia, you’re a longtime human rights activist in Arizona. What do you think is going to be the fate of this new Arizona law, of this law that tells police they have to stop immigrant — any immigrant they think is undocumented and check their papers? You have, what, in the headlines today, another prominent Latino hip-hop artist, Pitbull, he’s canceled his concert. Cypress Hill canceled their concert. You have the Suns wearing the Los Suns jerseys as they played, the Arizona basketball team, the boycotts that are being passed in one city after another. What’s going to be the fate of this law?

ISABEL GARCIA: Well, we believe really strongly that this law cannot survive in the courts. It’s clearly unconstitutional. It is clear attempt to have a power grab from the federal government to try to enforce immigration law. We believe that this will be defeated in the courts. But, you know, obviously the courts are also political entities. I think that the reason it will be is not only because the law states that that’s the way it should be ruled unconstitutional, but I think that because there are also political entities that this entire movement and ridiculing of Arizona, I think, is going to have an impact.

Clearly, Arizona and our communities are suffering, because we are being placed in a really untenable situation where you would not believe the discussions that are already being held. One of our local Pima colleges is already attempting to enforce 1070. Police officers are enforcing it left and right. And even individuals, just civilians, feel free to make racist comments, to question anybody that looks brown. It’s really a pretty amazing thing here, considering the history, especially of this particular region. All of this was Mexico. It was Tohono O’odham lands. It was the other Indian lands, Mexican lands. And here we are being subjected to a law of racial profiling.

We believe it will be defeated. We have absolutely no doubt that, one way or another, our community will not accept our rights, our very basic rights, to be put up for either legislative action or even for voter approval.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for being with us, Isabel Garcia, co-chair of the Tucson-based Coalition for Human Rights, legal defender of Pima County, Arizona, and also thanks so much to Kim Dominguez, an alumni of La Raza studies who was arrested protesting yesterday in Tucson.

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