My Reflection on the Ban of Ethnic Studies in Arizona

Informed by xenophobia, in 2010 Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer signed into law a ban on ethnic studies in school districts. But this ban on ethnic studies is not on all ethnic studies, it is interesting and telling to note that the ban only encompasses Mexican studies. Some of the reasons policy makers gave for the ban of Mexican studies was that it promoted anti-American sentiments. Yet under this logic, African-American studies, Native-Americans studies and all the other studies which are under the umbrella of ‘ethnic’ studies would potentially foster the same anti-American sentiments. Yet none of these other ethnic studies were banned. The ban on Mexican ethnic studies in the Tucson district reflects the anti-Latino immigrant stance of Americans society.

I am a child of Latino immigrants and only until I got to college did I have chance to read about my Latino culture and history. Additionally, only until I came to college was I able to read articles and books written by Latino scholars. This was completely empowering to me and for the first time in my school career I saw people like myself in scholarly work. This gave me a chance to imagine the possibility that I too, could become one of these Latino scholars. In schools, euro-centric mentalities are fostered by emphasizing an importance on dominant-white history or history which only views events through the perspective of the colonizers. The banning of ethnic studies in Arizona is completely detrimental to students of Mexican decent. The ban itself can potentially continue to generate and create anti-American sentiments that I have experienced are commonly held among young Latinos. Banning Mexican ethnic studies sends the message that Latinos do not have a history worth learning. Moreover, in my experience going to high school with a majority of Latino population, students cannot connect with the books they are required to read. It was only until we read a book with a Latino protagonist, did my peers actually become engaged and read a book. It is easy for students to stop caring and trying when they are unable to connect with the material. When we have no Latino role models who have gone on to higher education, it becomes difficult to believe that we ourselves can go on to higher education. Banning ethnic studies is only further marginalizing a group of students who are overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in higher education.

Yet I come back to this point, why only target Mexican studies? African-American and Native-American studies are no different that Mexican studies. All these ethnic studies have a different take on history that does not comply with the dominant white history. This ban on Mexican studies in a border state is directly tied to the xenophobia which is currently present towards Latino immigrants. The number of people coming from Latino American boomed in the last couple of decades. This boom created fear that they were taking over the United States and culture. This ban, along with SB 1070, which would allow officials to stop people they believe are without documents, is not surprising with the current political and economic climate in the United States. In times of trouble, a scapegoat is necessary. With the economy taking a turn for the worse, Latino immigrants have been blamed for taking away jobs, increasing drug related crimes and overall being a burden to the economy. Targeting the education of Latino youth is just another way of sending the message that we have to assimilate into American culture. Full incorporation seems to be what is required of immigrants. Learning about ones culture is empowering and gives agency, but by banning ethnic studies Latino youth are in schools which pressure them to remove any marker of ethnic and cultural difference.