Courage and Solidarity to Fight Arizona’s Oppression

I recall a Latino educator telling me that I would be professionally marginalized because of my journalism and media literacy work focused on challenging racism, in all its forms, that targeted Indigenous peoples. Our conversation occurred at a 1999 conference in Phoenix, Arizona, called “Weaving a New Beginning,” organized by the National Conference on Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution. He was correct.

Becoming marginalized, however, already had established itself as my reality, during a considerable span of my life dedicated full time to cross-cultural healing. Little did I know, when embarking on freelance journalism in 1982, that my investigations would unveil cultural racism systemically in every institution, as well as the news media and popular culture throughout mainstream North America.

I certainly lost my intellectual, and cultural, innocence along that road of seeking the truth of what really happened in Canadian and American history – acts of oppression based upon Euro-western worldviews – that continue to cause ruptures in contemporary cross-cultural relations today.

Fighting injustice, and particularly a history of oppression, requires tenacity and a deep conviction to stand up for what is ethical. As a journalist/educator, through the 1990s I was invited to facilitate media literacy workshops around North America, at conferences for teachers, conflict resolution professionals, and fellow journalists, on news media and pop culture stereotypes.

But, despite my deep involvement in Indigenous culture, I was not Indigenous. I therefore was treated as an outsider by many Native people, yet on several levels felt like an outsider as well within my own Euro-western culture, as a Canadian of Celtic ancestry.

Being a foot soldier on the battleground of social justice eventually wore me out. Of necessity, I shifted gears to focus on healing rather than suffering. This emphasis makes all the difference in relation to how we sustain ourselves, by paying attention both to our inner and outer life. We do so through understanding how to maintain health holistically, taking time to reflect on what really matters, and developing our consciousness so that our personality becomes more closely aligned with our soul.

Healing rather than suffering is the wiser path, whether we speak about a journey of personal transformation or global transformation, or the multiple levels in between that embrace reconciliation among the diverse cultures within the human family.

I suggest that cultural healing is at the heart of all ethnic studies programs that exist academically in the United States, and elsewhere. Ethnic studies are totally justifiable and essential on that sole basis. Other good reasons could be added, such as freedom of expression, which one would assume is a given in any democracy, yes? Actually, no.

The very existence of the label “ethnic studies” speaks to the problem. Namely, Euro-western colonial nations, since the 19th century creation of social sciences such as anthropology, henceforth classified the rest of humanity as “ethnic,” to distinguish `them’ from Euro-western culture, which imposed its hegemonic dominance.

Worse, the Tucson book banning in Arizona schools and, moreover, termination of the Tucson Unified School District nationally-acclaimed Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, illustrates that the only worldview still considered acceptable to be taught in schools must be based on a Euro-western trajectory that originates in Graeco-Roman culture.

But, what aspects are glorified, and from what periods? All human cultures continually evolve, in which some periods are more democratic and egalitarian while others clearly are not. Western history overall is not a pretty picture. Consider whose version gets told, and whose voices have been marginalized and/or silenced throughout history.

Yet here we go again. How dare the political and educational authorities in Arizona, or any other American state, have the audacity to continue oppression in the 21st century by trying to repress cultural awareness among the original peoples of North and South America. Their ancestors inhabited these lands thousands of years prior to the arrivals of Europeans! Descendants of mixed ancestry also are carriers of stories that illuminate the cultural complexity and richness, albeit fraught with conflict, of cross-cultural histories.

I have news for those Americans who appear to be socialized into a life of paranoia. It is not global terrorism, nor even any terrorists living among you, that will destroy your democracy. Instead, through xenophobia and ignorance, you are doing a jolly good job of undermining your own democracy. Tea Party supporters most of all make a mockery of democracy, and are the folks to be feared if their candidates gain more power.

How individuals such as John Huppenthal, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Tom Horne, Attorney-General, got elected at all is chilling, not to mention House Bill 2281 getting passed in order to use it to oppress Americans who are ethnic. In watching interviews with Huppenthal and Horne, respectively, by Democracy Now and CNN, how these two men both distort the purpose of MAS and also the perspectives of famous and award-winning authors is very disturbing, as well as Horne invoking the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. (In my next blog, I will `deconstruct’ these distortions and more, by demonstrating media literacy as a tool to name and challenge cultural racism.)

Where the hope of an authentically democratic America resides is, first of all, in promoting freedom of expression through the availability of books written in the voices of all cultures and, furthermore, strengthening the presence of ethnic studies for all Americans and new immigrants to enjoy and develop cross-cultural understanding.

On that note, I applaud the solidarity already demonstrated by many American organizations, schools and individuals who are proactively and vocally challenging the cultural racism so virulent in Arizona, and wherever else it exists. For example, browse the long list of organizational supporters published on the website of the National Coalition Against Censorship at http:www.ncac.org/Censorship-Arizona-Style, and read their joint statement opposing the book ban. Also, educational groups across America are holding teach-ins, while a growing number of citizens join in solidarity by using social media for its highest purpose – to challenge all forms of injustice.

Huppenthal’s and Horne’s fear-mongering, and dictating that books cannot be studied that focus on race, oppression and ethnicity, because it victimizes ethnic peoples and makes them resentful towards `white Americans,’ is an insult to any intelligent person. The truth is the opposite, that the study of oppressive histories, however painful, opens two doors, first of all, for the oppressed to take back ownership and cultural pride in revitalizing values, practices, and awareness of their peoples’ under-recognized contributions to the world – to be acknowledged as equal human beings.

The second door opens insights to the root causes of fear and prejudice by the oppressors, as one step toward cross-cultural healing. The only way to resolve any anger and resentment also calls upon all Americans to be exposed to the dark side of their history, followed by the will to engage in reconciliation through cross-cultural dialogues. Such dialogues must be safe and respectful spaces where participants bring an intentionality to listen with good hearts and open minds, rather than be accusatory and/or defensive.

Here are a few links selected from many, to help you find accurate information rather than misinformation. Go to http://saveethnicstudies.org, to see a chronology of events leading up to the termination of MAS, profiles on the educators and information about MAS. Also go to http://rethinkingschoolsblog.wordpress.com to look up several articles in recent months written by Bill Bigelow, co-editor of Rethinking Columbus, one of the banned books.

Finally, go to the blog of Dr. Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, a professor at University of Arizona and one of the banned authors, to read his love message to the world, and related blogs, at http://drcintli.blogspot.com/2012/02/from-ground-zero-in-lak-ech-and-love.html. He communicates the spiritually-grounded worldviews of the Latino and Indigenous peoples – namely, it is love and forgiveness directed at the oppressors rather than the latter’s fear and hate that will facilitate walking the road, as equals, toward reconciliation.

By the way, feeling like an outsider (culturally speaking), as I mentioned earlier, has not bothered me for a long time. The reason is, Indigenous people offered opportunities for me to experience Spirit, and instilled the belief that we all are spiritual beings who come from, and return to, the same cosmic Source, however diverse spiritual paths name it. I find my kindred souls among those fellow human beings who hold the same belief in their hearts.

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