U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima has ruled that, yes, racism was behind the Arizona legislature’s ban on a popular Mexican-American studies program, concluding “that both enactment and enforcement were motivated by racial animus,” in turn violating the First and 14th Amendment rights of students. In seeking a safe space from brown people, Judge Tashima found that ban’s creators had more than just discrimination in mind—they were also trying to fearmonger in order to boost their own political careers:
Tashima was critical in his ruling of former state education leaders Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, who railed against the program and helped pass the law that ended it.
“Additional evidence shows that defendants were pursuing these discriminatory ends in order to make political gains. Horne and Huppenthal repeatedly pointed to their efforts against the [Mexican-American Studies] program in their respective 2011 political campaigns, including in speeches and radio advertisements. The issue was a political boon to the candidates,” Tashima wrote.
Huppenthal said Tuesday he was not surprised by the ruling and said it was meaningless because the law is not likely to be enforced in the future.
“The concern about what was going on in those classes was very real,” Huppenthal said.
The truth is that Latino students were finally seeing themselves reflected in their coursework, and in an area that was once Mexico. Students saw their grades and self-worth boosted after participating in the program. In fact, “students who participated outperformed their peers in grades and standardized tests.”
“Many of my students would say it was the first time they saw themselves in the material,” said Curtis Acosta, one of the program’s founders and the first witness to testify in the lawsuit, initially launched by students from the Tucson Unified School District. “For many of them, it was the first time they read a book at all.”
In a Latino USA op-ed, activist Tony Diaz writes why the judge’s decision is “a major victory”:
Just a generation or two ago, this racist law would have decimated our community. Other states would not have heard about it until similar laws would have spread into their schools—and by then it would have been too late. Instead, through social media, Tucson’s students told the world what was happening as the state rounded up textbooks from classrooms to enforce the MAS ban.
All these developments clearly demonstrated the power of this new generation of Chicana and Chicano scholars, activists, writers, students, and community members. We have the talent to write the books that were in the curriculum. We have the brilliant educators who devised the curriculum, we have the gifted scholars who researched the results of the curriculum. We have the civil rights lawyers who fought the case.
We have the powerful students who stood up for their education—the powerful community that suffered the brunt of this cultural crises, the Tucson familia who inspired us Tejanos and others from every state to defy great odds for the greater good.
And as the AP notes, Horne “never visited a Mexican-American studies classroom” before drafting the ban as superintendent of schools, instead testifying during the trial that a statement from civil rights icon Dolores Huerta during an Arizona speaking engagement that Republicans “hate Latinos” is what set him off. But, judging from who the party’s standard-bearer is now, Huerta will go ahead and take that apology now.
“A hearing will follow within the next three weeks to determine how the ruling will be enforced,” notes the Huffington Post. Attorney Richard Martinez “expected the ethnic studies law to be scrubbed from the state statute.”