Monapily’s Milieu: When I’m Banned, I’m Better

By Ramona Pilar Gonzales
Senior Editor

The first instance of book censorship in the United States was in 1650. William Pynchon the founder of Springfield, Massachusetts wrote a theological book called The Meritorious Price of our Redemption in which he condemned the Puritanical doctrine of atonement (which basically states that Jesus died for the sins of Christians, but not anyone else). Considering that, the Puritans were the heads of government (this being before the separation of church and state and all), they weren’t all that tickled by his publicly challenging the status quo.  The book was ordered to be burned publicly, and as of now, only 5 copies remain in the US (although, if you’re really curious, there’s a PDF version on the internet. Of course there is).

The relentless, puritanical legacy of the United States continues, healthy and strong, into the current day, for it seems that wherever an opinion is expressed that does not worship at the altar of a ruling class, the immediate impulse is to violently obliterate is existence. Arizona is having a bit of an identity crisis right now. Case in point:  the state’s decision to completely eradicate Ethnic Studies programs. One of the programs targeted is Tucson Unified School Districts (TUSD) nationally acclaimed Mexican American Studies program. Spearheaded by State Superintendent John Huppenthal (who will get no link from me, thank you very much), HB 2281 and ARS §§ 15-111 and 15-112 make it a criminal act to teach internationally acclaimed authors. Huppenthal, a member of the highly extremist and reactionary Tea Party party (which, I might add, is named after a group of people who employed cowardice and scapegoated Indigenous people, in the dead of night, to throw boxes of tea into the Boston harbor, as a means of protest. That’s some leva business if ever I heard it), won his seat by vowing to “stop La Raza.” In compliance with the Huppenthal-backed legislation, TUSD has banned 20 books by progressive authors and authors of color.

Well, not “banned,” says TUSD. Just “removed” and “cleared from all classrooms.”

Oh. Okay. Not banned. Just criminalized.

And you know what, AZ, thanks! Seriously. THANK YOU for “not banning” yet still making award-winning authors of color and progressive politics verboten amongst high school kids.

Rule #1 with high school kids (and rebels of all ages): tell them not to do something and it will be the first thing they do. And the will love it in spite of you.

Banning (or being “removed”) is nothing new for Sherman Alexie, Luis Alberto Urrea, Luis Rodriguez, Noam Chomsky, Paolo Freire, Junot Diaz and Ana Castillo. Before now, however, maybe their “removal” had been relegated to small, scattered communities throughout the country. But now, because of the attack on ethnic studies specifically, these writers, along with the rest of the writers on “the list” have brought the absurdity of these laws into national attention.

By “not banning” these authors, and making ethnic studies illegal, Arizona has driven the whole of La Raza further on down the path towards iconoclasm!  Just like the Marquis de Sade (whose books are still banned in several countries almost 200 years after his death), or sci-fi badasses Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, or children’s and young adult authors like Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak and crazy, sexy Judy Blume!

As long one state in my own country has the ability to try to pretend that my ancestors had no point of view that differed from the Euro-American version of history, all I have to do is breathe and be alive in my own country, and that makes me a rebel.

¡Que viva La Raza!

(Read responses from some of the “not banned” authors at The Progressive.)
The “not banned” book list includes:
  • Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement, by Arturo Rosales
  • Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado
  • 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez
  • Message to Aztlan, by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
  • Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuña
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire
  • Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson.
  • Rodolfo Anaya, The Anaya Reader
  • Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands
  • Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
  • Jimmy Santiago Baca, A Place to Stand, and five other books by him.
  • James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time
  • Ana Castillo, Loverboys and So Far From God
  • Cesar Chavez, Address to the Commonwealth Club of California
  • Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek
  • Junot Diaz, Drown
  • Martín Espada, Zapata’s Disciple
  • Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate
  • Bell Hooks, Feminism Is for Everbody
  • Dagoberto Gilb, The Magic of Blood
  • Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities
  • Luis Rodriguez, Always Running
  • Roberto Rodriguez, Justice: A Question of Race
  • Luis Alberto Urrea, By the Lake of Sleeping Children and Nobody’s Son
  • Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States

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