Monthly Archives: February 2012

On the Banning of Books: Arizona in the Vanguard

Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil's Highway

Thanks to my good friend Cetti Cherniak for sending me this link on the latest bombshell out of Arizona: It seems that the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), in contradiction to a recent school board policy pretending to encourage an increased emphasis on teaching Mexican American literature, history, and culture, has responded to the state’s new law banning “ethnic” courses by not only eliminating the highly successful and popular Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, but by removing all of the program’s books from every classroom. The school superintendent claims that no books were banned, calling the reports erroneous, but the fact remains that while school was in session, and in front of crying students and teachers, administrators visited every classroom (and presumably library?) and boxed up and removed the books in question. The books remain in storage, inaccessible by anyone who might wish to read them. Explain to me in what Orwellian linguistic distortion that does not constitute a banning of books!


Among the officially “un-banned” books is a particular favorite of mine, Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway, an impeccably researched and even-handed account of the death of a group of “illegals” attempting to traverse the desert (a relatively conservative account, wholly non-ideological, as sensitive to border control agents as to the modern-day nomads whose lives they try to save while simultaneously enforcing federal law – the book, as proof, well received among those agents themselves).


Also banned, among countless others, are such books as Sandra Cisneros’s widely beloved book of a Mexican American girl’s coming of age in Chicago The House on Mango Street; that old radical champion of agricultural workers Cesar Chavez’s “Address to the Commonwealth Club of California”; Jonathan Kozol’s seminal treatment of funding inequities in American schools Savage Inequalities; red-eyed extremist-historian Howard Zinn’s indispensable A People’s History of the United States; Laura Esquivel’s bestselling Like Water for Chocolate; and that flaming multi-culturalist William Shakespeare’s anti-colonialist play The Tempest.


The Potomac Spring 2011

cover of #11 Spring 2011, Brett's story inside

I was late on learning of this latest Arizonian madness and am even later in responding to it. I was shocked to hear of it, though now that I think about it I should not have been at all surprised. It seems, after all, that my recent satirical fiction “Like Water from Cactus” (with all respect to newly-banned Esquivel) was quite prescient. In that story a young community-college student is arrested for “eating Mexican food and drinking Mexican beer while reading the pinche revolutionary shitbag Che Guevara, scum of the earth and [cause] of all our problems.”


If you are not scared away by the previous sentence’s colorful language (there is much more of an uproariously obscene nature in the whole story: context is everything, amigos!), then you can read the story in The Potomac: A Journal of Poetry and Politics (issue #11, Spring 2011) at the following address: Just scroll to bottom-left of the page and click on Like Water from Cactus / by Brett Alan Sanders.

Of course it should be said in closing that we cannot let ourselves be too smug about the shenanigans inArizona. After all, that state is only the vanguard of what has in recent years become a national trend. Let’s hope that in 2012 we will begin in earnest to vote against the politics of irrational fear and hate. A revitalized Republican Party with a good dose of the Progressive politics of Teddy Roosevelt could only be a blessing to our precariously divided nation and the horrendous state of our shared discourse.