The controversy over TUSD's decision to eliminate Mexican American Studies classes has made Tucson the focus of national attention.

Now, after years of bitter disputes between supporters and detractors of the controversial program, dozens of teachers, artists and activists from around the country are here to join supporters to teach classes, take workshops, and hold special events and retreats about Mexican American Studies and other social issues affecting Hispanics.

They're calling it Freedom Summer.

Named after the seminal 1960s civil rights movement that helped propel minority rights in the South, Freedom Summer is bringing elementary teachers like Michele Hilbert, Stephanie Schneider and Kathy M. Xiong - all from Milwaukee - to town with hopes of attending events and helping local organizers.

They said the event not only fills the gap that was caused by the closure of Mexican American Studies, but also encourages voter participation among Tucson's minorities.

"It's good to be able to show solidarity," Schneider said.

Hilbert, a 5th-grade teacher, said that volunteer organizers of Freedom Summer have made them feel welcome.

She said she knows Tucson Unified's MAS program is controversial, but that "it's clear that this is not a racist program."

Still, issues like Arizona's immigration law, the DREAM Act controversy, increased security along the border and the end of the district's MAS courses has turned Tucson into a veritable ground zero when it comes to immigration and social issues, said Jesus Romero, 23, a former MAS student who belongs to UNIDOS, a group of students who support the former program.

"It's the epicenter," said Romero, who grew up in Tucson and was a student of the University of Arizona.

For activists and students like Romero and Kim Domínguez, Freedom Summer is much more than a cool, progressive social happening: It's personal.

Domínguez, 27, one of the organizers, is a UA student who is also a mom. Raised in a poor environment and seeing all sorts of abuse firsthand, she said she credits the impassioned classes of Sean Arce - the former director of the MAS program at TUSD - for helping her be the first in her family to attend college.

Naming the event Freedom Summer is no accident, Domínguez said.

In addition to artistic and cultural events, the organizers will hold voter-registration drives, she said, just like the original Freedom Summer.

If you go

Freedom Summer is taking place in different parts of Tucson, with talks, art sessions, conferences, classes and workshops about human rights, racism, education, immigration and other Latino issues.

On Saturday, several local writers will give a presentation about the books of Mario Suárez and discuss the author's hometown neighborhoods in Tucson.

The discussion, which is free and open to the public, will be at 7:30 p.m. at a group of law offices at 314 S. Convent Ave.

Find more information at tucson online.

Contact reporter Joseph Treviño at or at 807-8029.