Earlier this year, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed HB 2281 into law, making it an offense to teach courses at any grade level that promote resentment towards a race or class of people. The law further states that no classes may be designed for any ethnic group or promote ethnic solidarity. This despite the fact that, according to the U.S. Census, 30 percent of the state is made up of Latinos.
This law was the brainchild of former Arizona Superintendent of Schools, Tom Horne, who, according to ColorLines, feels that ethnic studies programs discriminate against white people. The new law will prevent “ethnic chauvinism and division,” he said.
Districts not in compliance risk losing significant parts of their state funding. The law is set to go into effect Dec. 31. It seems this law is aimed at Latinos in Tucson in particular since it has the only district-wide ethnic studies program. American Indian and African-American studies are exempt.
But the ethic studies ban has had the unintended consequence of increasing the courses’ enrollment. Anyone who works with young people could have predicted that. In fact, enrollment has doubled in the newly forbidden subject of Mexican-American studies in Tucson’s 14 high schools, from 781 to 1,400 students. Fifteen people stood on trial on Columbus Day for criminal trespass while staging a sit-in to protest the ban in May in a public building where Horne, the Republican candidate for attorney general, was giving a speech the day after HB 2281 was signed into law.
The law has further inspired people to action. Teachers have filed suit charging that the law itself is anti-Hispanic. According to the Spanish-language news network Univision, there are many 18-year-old Latino students who are children of immigrants who voted for the first time this year. No doubt they were mobilized by the controversial legislation.
Both HB 2281 and the immigration law SB 1070 “touched a nerve” in a community with a traditionally low voter turnout rate of 17 percent. Univision states that there are close to 500,000 Latino registered voters in the state of Arizona. Community action groups such as Mi Familia Vota in Arizona have registered more than 10,000 absentee voters in an effort to counter Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s call for volunteers to watch the polls and prevent voting by “illegal aliens.”
Meanwhile, according to CNN, educators say that the Mexican-American studies program that started in 1997 has been effective in reducing Latino dropout and failure rates. While the intent of HB 2281 was not to mobilize people, it seems to have touched the right nerves to get people fighting for justice and diversity.
Rocha-McCarthy has worked for more than a decade as a translator in schools, district courts and hospitals.