Neto’s Tucson

Neto's Tucson: A new defense of Mexican-American Studies

2014-03-09T00:00:00Z 2014-03-13T15:43:07Z Neto's Tucson: A new defense of Mexican-American StudiesErnesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

In the past two editions of the ever-growing Tucson Festival of Books, TUSD’s now defunct Mexican-American Studies program has occupied a sliver of space in the sprawling two-day event at the University of Arizona.

In 2012, the popular author Luis Alberto Urrea, whose books deal with immigration and Chicano history, gave a blistering speech at the festival’s kickoff dinner attended by many of the authors and sponsors of the event. Urrea, who returns to next weekend’s festival, took issue with Tucson Unified School District’s decision to withdraw books, including his, on Chicano history and literature from classrooms after Mexican-American Studies was squashed by state officials.

And last year, author and publisher Santino Joaquin Rivera, who was invited to the festival and who returns this year, presented an anthology of poetry, prose and illustrations to protest the political assault on Mexican-American Studies.

This year will be no different at the festival. This time, however, the subject of Mexican-American Studies will be presented Saturday by two of the curriculum’s key architects.

Julio Cammarota, an associate professor of Mexican-American Studies at the UA, and Augustine Romero, TUSD’s director of multicultural curriculum, will discuss their new book, “Raza Studies: The Public Option for Educational Revolution,” a solid defense of Mexican-American Studies and a critical response to critics and bashers.

In their just-released book, published by University of Arizona Press, the two academic colleagues and educational activists put forth cogent arguments to buttress their long-held position. They say TUSD’s Mexican-American Studies was an exceptionally successful educational program for Latino students, who scored high in achievement tests, acquired strong thinking skills and positively changed their trajectory. In addition, the book takes critical aim at the program’s critics, mainly ideologically driven politicians in the state Legislature and government, who made it their mission to undo the program.

“The book gives the opportunity to get the truth out there ... for anyone willing to be educated,” said Romero, who currently oversees the district’s culturally relevant courses, the successor to Mexican-American Studies.

Cammarota said the book’s main point is that education can be more than students learning reading and writing skills. What their curriculum showed was that students can learn strong communication skills to challenge injustices in their lives and communities, and to make positive changes. Students in Mexican-American Studies became engaged in education, made their community better and became better students, he added.

“This was a successful formula,” said Cammarota, who has been at the UA for 12 years.

The book includes 10 essays written by Romero, Cammarota and other academicians in education and Mexican-American Studies, including Andrea Romero, Anna Ochoa O’Leary, Mary Carol Combs and Nolan Cabrera from the UA. The contributors approach Mexican-American Studies from various pedagogical, political and historical viewpoints.

The book is critical to understanding how the voluntary Mexican-American Studies was developed and implemented in several TUSD high schools with high Chicano enrollment and a long history of underperformance. The authors also detail how the high-achieving program was dragged down by the political agenda and vote-grabbing rhetoric of Republicans Attorney General Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, superintendent of public instruction.

“The evidence is clear in what we were trying to do,” said Augustine Romero. “We were developing a sense of identity, purpose and hope.”

Cammarota and Romero will be at the Nuestras Raíces Presentation Stage on the UA Mall March 15 at 10 a.m. with moderator Mari Herreras of the Tucson Weekly.

Ernesto “Neto” Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. Contact him at netopjr@azstarnet.com or at 573-4187.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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