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Ariz. bans ‘Bless me, Ultima,’ NM students take action

An Arizona law that effectively shut down ethnic studies programs at K-12 schools across the state in 2010 has spurred UNM students to build an underground library of banned books.

The library is in response to Arizona law HB 228, which states: “public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races.” The law also says that programs that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” are in violation of the law.

An Arizona administrative law judge ruled in December 2011 that ethnic studies programs violated the law. This ruling effectively dismantled ethnic studies programs, such as the Mexican-American programs in the Tucson Unified School District.

Faculty members and students discussed the importance of these programs and the texts that are associated with them at the A Right to Speech=Right to Know event held Tuesday at the SUB.

The banned books and programs involve the teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona’s public schools. The banned books include Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima and Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, as well as 90 others titles. The UNM community got involved by contributing to the building of an underground library that contains the banned books.

The event was sponsored by the Africana, Chicano Hispano Mexicano and Native American studies programs.

Dr. Jamal Martin said students and schools need to recognize the importance of these programs.

“Ethnic studies programs are essential,” Martin said. “They may have been marginalized, but they have their identity and impact.”

Because students in Arizona no longer have access to these programs and books, nonprofit organizations intend to build a collection of banned works to donate to underground libraries in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Librotraficante Caravan is holding a book drive to collect the banned books, and students were asked to contribute to the libraries.

The Caravan is making its way from Houston to Tucson, starting on March 12 and arriving in Arizona on March 17. The Caravan will be stopping in Albuquerque on March 15.

For a schedule of events, visit Several of the speakers said the banning of ethnic studies programs reflects racist attitudes.

“You think of the Deep South, but get over that,” said John Crawford, a guest speaker at the event who helps publish works by minorities at Weston Press. “There are closer problems.”

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One speaker said the UNM administration can do more to recognize ethnic studies programs.

“We are fighting for precious knowledge,” said Sixtus Dominguez, a Native American student who wants UNM to acknowledge the rights of indigenous peoples.

He said students should call on the University to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which outlines the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, including their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues. He suggested UNM form a college to house the school’s different ethnic studies programs.

Native American Studies professor Tiffany Lee said despite the fact that this law is exclusive to Arizona, students should not think that New Mexico’s ethnic studies programs are completely secure.

“We can’t think that New Mexico is isolated,” she said. “We need to protect our cultural perspectives and experiences.”

Mario Atencio, a UNM alumnus and member of the Navajo Nation, said protecting ethnic programs is crucial to maintaining cultural identities.

“An attack on one is an attack on all,” he said.

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