State of the Re:Union, hosted by Al Leston, visited Tucson and explored the region and its many complexities, including TUSD’s Mexican American Studies classes. Leston visited with parents, students, teachers, administrators, TUSD Governing Board member Miguel Cuevas, and activists to gain a better understanding of the issue and the community caught up in the political storm.
The district’s Mexican American Studies classes were found to be in violation of state law which prohibits the segregation of students based on race.
Leston visited with two students from Tucson High who found the classes beneficial. According to Leston, one young interviewee, Camille, said “she that she didn’t just learn about Mexican American history, but she learned about her own history too.” The young woman said that the classes “showed her where she actually came from.” The girls demonstrated the “Chicano clap” that usually began and ended all of the Mexican American Studies classes, for Leston’s listeners.
“We should all note that Camille, the pro-MAS student, did not say she learned anything about American history that did not directly involve Mexican-Americans. That means the American Revolution, the Federalist Papers, the ratification of the US Constitution, and the struggle to give women the right to vote were among the many important subjects completely absent from the Mexican American Studies’ American history courses,” said long time public education advocate, Rich Kronberg. “These courses were offerd by TUSD for state graduation credit in American history. In what alternate universe could a history course that omited so many of the events that shaped the America we live in now be offered for graduation credit in American history?”
Leston also visited with a Tucson High student, Mariela, and her mother, Irene, who objected to the politically charged Mexican American Studies literature class. Mariela described classes that were politically motivated and what she believed to be racist. Mariela had been excited to take a Literature class. She was forced into the Mexican American Studies class because her surname is Hispanic. Irene and her husband, who are conservatives, strenuoulsy objected to Mariela’s teacher’s insistence that Republicans hate Hispanics.
Leston’s conversation with Miguel Cuevas reveals the difficult choices the young school board member faced after the state found the classes in violation. “You have to stay strong and do what’s right even though you might have 500 hundred people screaming at you and calling you certain epithets or bad words,” said Cuevas. “The term that they would call us is ‘vendido’ that is a sell out, that is the rough translation.” Despite the abuse and harassment, Cuevas voted with fellow board members Mark Stegeman and Michael Hicks to end the classes.
Leston spent time talking with public school advocate Loretta Hunnicutt, who said that the classes were more about indoctrination rather education. When asked if the abuse she and Cuevas and others have taken for their stand against the indoctrinating classes, Hunnicutt told Leston, “I have met bastards of every color. I have met angels of every color, and until we accept that we are lost, and we have lost years of beautiful children learning because adults can’t have the difficult conversation.”
Leston concludes that is the difficult conversation that all “of us need to have, now more than ever.”