Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

July 30, 2012

Heatstroke: Scrounging for banned authors in Tucson

Heatstroke: Scrounging for banned authors in Tucson

Tucson public schools missed out on banning some notorious local authors -- but at least they got Luis

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
Watch Censored News video interviews with students below!

TUCSON -- After battling the sun and heat, I am happy to report it has won. It should just take what it wants. Southern Arizona was never meant to be watered.

Dodging the torturer, I duck inside the icy cold downtown Tucson library and scrounge for banned authors. Semi-conscious from heatstroke, I stumble around and find Simon Ortiz. He is not banned by Tucson public schools, but he should be. He deserves to be.

I pick up “Out There Somewhere,” a book of poetry by Simon Ortiz of Acoma Pueblo, and search for something to show you just why he should be banned. He’s too good of a writer not to be. A little purple marker in the book says, “Local Poet.” This is the Simon who marched with white crosses in the streets of Tucson, with the names of Zapatistas massacred in Acteal, Chiapas.

Turning to “Out There Somewhere,” Simon writes, “I know too well the powerlessness that poverty eventually becomes.”

The library has printed out an excerpt of one of his poems and placed it on a white marker inside the book. On Culture and Universe, Simon writes, “Turn into me, the Universe sings in quiet meditation.”

Simon writes from somewhere else, “It has been raining for days. It’s going to keep raining for days.”

It is not raining in Tucson for days. This is the monsoon season. The rain comes as a blessing and a sorcerer. It pours down, running off the sun-baked earth. It rushes into the washes and carries you away, but it does not rain for days. The monsoon rains tease you, taunt you, and leave you begging for more.

Meanwhile, on this shelf of local authors, I find Demetria Martinez, who definitely should be banned. Demetria is the award-winning author of “Mother Tongue.” The book was written after she was arrested on the border. Facing a 25 year prison sentence for smuggling migrants across the border, she was acquitted as a journalist on First Amendment grounds.

Nestled near Simon’s book of poetry, is Demetria’s “The Devil’s Works.” Now, really, what would be a better book to ban than this one, by a local award-winning author, who has carved her mark into border history.

“Why fight the enemy, when we can fight one another?” writes Martinez in “The Devil’s Works.”

In “Mother Tongue,” Demetria reveals the torture in Central America carried out by the US trained Latin American military leaders. Those fleeing torture and assassinations came north on the underground railroad, across the border and through Tucson in the 1970s and 1980s. Many were Indigenous Peoples fighting to protect their families, their villages, their homeland, and marked for death. This underground railroad was the Sanctuary Movement.

Now, at this point in the library, I search out “Rethinking Columbus, The Next 500 Years,” which was among the original seven naughty books banned by Tucson Unified School District. The collection of dozens of Native American authors in “Rethinking Columbus,” includes Buffy Sainte Marie, Winona LaDuke and Leonard Peltier.

Eventually, dozens of books were banned by Arizona’s Nazi-style school officials, after they decided to forbid Mexican American Studies in Tucson in January. The banned authors include Native American author Sherman Alexie, Spokane/Coeur d'Alene and an award winning novelist, and Ofelia Zepeda, an O’odham poet and professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Books by Roberto Rodriguez, Mexican American Studies professor at the University of Arizona, were also banned, along with many of the nation's leading Chicano and Latino authors.

Well, sadly, “Rethinking Columbus” is still checked out and on hold at the Tucson public library.

Over at Tucson public schools, the book was sentenced to the dark hole. It was among those books extracted from the Mexican American Studies classrooms and placed on the cart, doomed for the “depository."

At the downtown library, on the shelf of local poets, I spot Edward Abbey. Apparently, he didn’t even make it in the door to get banned at Tucson schools.

In Abbey’s book, I read the poem, “The Writer.”

“On a cold sea, empty of life, appeared, a solitary craft.”

Oh, the trickster, in this desert heat, has unleashed this genesis, this seed of the wild writer’s mind.

Nearby in the library, a hiking magazine is trying to seduce me with a photo of Montana. Sincerely, I want to be there, in that lake at Glacier. The trickster, however, always brings me here, to the Sonoran Desert, to be barbecued in summer.

Still scrounging for those banned authors, at a friend’s home in a stack of magazines, alas I find Luis.

There, in the 30th Anniversary edition of the Earth First! Journal, is banned author Luis Alberto Urrea. Now, what better place to find a banned author than in the Earth First! Journal. Luis writes of driving Ed Abbey’s ’75 fire-engine red Cadillac from Tucson to Denver. The article is, “A Mexican Writer Comes to Terms with the Ghost of Edward Abbey.”

Luis writes of leaving from the Safeway parking lot, “My candidate for Miss Universe loads her groceries into her whining little Coke-can imported car.”

Then, Luis writes, “I admire Edward Abbey. I enjoy his books. And I love his bad taste car – all the way down to the honky-tonk red carpet on the dash. This car is 20 steel feet of Ed’s laughter.”

Meanwhile, I remember the time Abbey walked through my front door. Abbey arrived in a stack of used paperbacks years ago, which I bought to read during heavy snows in my log cabin in the Chuska Mountains on Navajoland. Abbey introduced me to the machinations of Peabody’s coal mining, the monster gouging out Black Mesa, drinking its water, devouring it, a few mountain ridges away.

Now, Luis’ writing about Abbey makes it obvious why Luis was banned by Tucson public schools. Luis is the Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of “The Devil’s Highway,” non-fiction about migrants lost in the Arizona desert. Luis, featured author at this year’s Tucson Book Festival, is just too great of a writer not to be banned.

Good thing they got him.
After scribbling this with a pencil stub on scrap paper, I dash off to the best Sonoran style taco place in town, for a carne asado taco with charred scallions, grilled jalapenos and fresh avocado cream.
If you don’t know where it is -- I’m not telling.

Brenda Norrell, a journalist of Native American news for 30 years, has written for Navajo Times, AP and USA Today. After being censored and then terminated as a longtime staff reporter for Indian Country Today, she created Censored News in 2006. After living on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, she moved to Tucson.
For permission to repost this article in full:, or feel free to share the link.
Also see: Censored News article on banning of books in Tucson leads to new release of Mohawk poetry book
Censored News honors these champions and iconoclasts, banned by Tucson public schools
High School Course Texts and Reading Lists Table 20: American Government/Social Justice Education Project 1, 2 - Texts and Reading Lists
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (1998) by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson
The Latino Condition: A Critical Reader (1998) by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (2001) by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2000) by P. Freire
United States Government: Democracy in Action (2007) by R. C. Remy
Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History (2006) by F. A. Rosales
Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (1990) by H. Zinn
Table 21: American History/Mexican American Perspectives, 1, 2 - Texts and Reading Lists
Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (2004) by R. Acuña
The Anaya Reader (1995) by R. Anaya
The American Vision (2008) by J. Appleby et el.
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (1998) by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson
Drink Cultura: Chicanismo (1992) by J. A. Burciaga
Message to Aztlán: Selected Writings (1997) by R. Gonzales
De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views Multi-Colored Century (1998) by E. S. Martínez
500 Años Del Pueblo Chicano/500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures (1990) by E. S. Martínez
Codex Tamuanchan: On Becoming Human (1998) by R. Rodríguez
The X in La Raza II (1996) by R. Rodríguez
Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History (2006) by F. A. Rosales
A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present (2003) by H. Zinn
Course: English/Latino Literature 7, 8
Ten Little Indians (2004) by S. Alexie
The Fire Next Time (1990) by J. Baldwin
Loverboys (2008) by A. Castillo
Women Hollering Creek (1992) by S. Cisneros
Mexican White Boy (2008) by M. de la Pena
Drown (1997) by J. Díaz
Woodcuts of Women (2000) by D. Gilb
At the Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria (1965) by E. Guevara
Color Lines: "Does Anti-War Have to Be Anti-Racist Too?" (2003) by E. Martínez
Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy (1998) by R. Montoya et al.
Let Their Spirits Dance (2003) by S. Pope Duarte
Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz (1997) by M. Ruiz
The Tempest (1994) by W. Shakespeare
A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (1993) by R. Takaki
The Devil's Highway (2004) by L. A. Urrea
Puro Teatro: A Latino Anthology (1999) by A. Sandoval-Sanchez & N. Saporta Sternbach
Twelve Impossible Things before Breakfast: Stories (1997) by J. Yolen
Voices of a People's History of the United States (2004) by H. Zinn
Course: English/Latino Literature 5, 6
Live from Death Row (1996) by J. Abu-Jamal
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven (1994) by S. Alexie
Zorro (2005) by I. Allende
Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1999) by G. Anzaldua
A Place to Stand (2002), by J. S. Baca
C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans (2002), by J. S. Baca
Healing Earthquakes: Poems (2001) by J. S. Baca
Immigrants in Our Own Land and Selected Early Poems (1990) by J. S. Baca
Black Mesa Poems (1989) by J. S. Baca
Martin & Mediations on the South Valley (1987) by J. S. Baca
The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools (1995) by D. C. Berliner and B. J. Biddle
Drink Cultura: Chicanismo (1992) by J. A Burciaga
Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States (2005) by L. Carlson & O. Hijuielos
Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States (1995) by L. Carlson & O. Hijuelos
So Far From God (1993) by A. Castillo
Address to the Commonwealth Club of California (1985) by C. E. Chávez
Women Hollering Creek (1992) by S. Cisneros
House on Mango Street (1991), by S. Cisneros
Drown (1997) by J. Díaz
Suffer Smoke (2001) by E. Diaz Bjorkquist
Zapata's Discipline: Essays (1998) by M. Espada
Like Water for Chocolate (1995) by L. Esquievel
When Living was a Labor Camp (2000) by D. García
La Llorona: Our Lady of Deformities (2000), by R. Garcia
Cantos Al Sexto Sol: An Anthology of Aztlanahuac Writing (2003) by C. García-Camarilo et al.
The Magic of Blood (1994) by D. Gilb
Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings (2001) by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales
Saving Our Schools: The Case for Public Education, Saying No to "No Child Left Behind" (2004) by Goodman et al.
Feminism is for Everybody (2000) by b hooks
The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child (1999) by F. Jiménez
Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (1991) by J. Kozol
Zigzagger (2003) by M. Muñoz
Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature (1993) by T. D. Rebolledo & E. S. Rivero
...y no se lo trago la tierra/And the Earth Did Not Devour Him (1995) by T. Rivera
Always Running - La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. (2005) by L. Rodriguez
Justice: A Question of Race (1997) by R. Rodríguez
The X in La Raza II (1996) by R. Rodríguez
Crisis in American Institutions (2006) by S. H. Skolnick & E. Currie
Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941 (1986) by T. Sheridan
Curandera (1993) by Carmen Tafolla
Mexican American Literature (1990) by C. M. Tatum
New Chicana/Chicano Writing (1993) by C. M. Tatum
Civil Disobedience (1993) by H. D. Thoreau
By the Lake of Sleeping Children (1996) by L. A. Urrea
Nobody's Son: Notes from an American Life (2002) by L. A. Urrea
Zoot Suit and Other Plays (1992) by L. Valdez
Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert (1995) by O. Zepeda
Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Yo Soy Joaquin/I Am Joaquin by Rodolfo Gonzales
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
Censored News Interviews with Mexican American Studies students in Tucson 2012

Student from Tucson public schools describes how Tucson pubic schools forbids her to discuss her culture, Mexcian American Studies, or books by Chicanos and Native authors on the reading list, in her classroom. When Tucson public schools forbid Mexican American Studies in Jan, the books were seized from the classrooms. Video by Brenda Norrell Censored News

Crystal Echerivel, from the Mexican American Studies class now forbidden by Tucson public schools, interviewed at the Tucson Book Festival 2012. She describes how it made her feel to have her culture forbidden and books banned. Interview by Brenda Norrell Censored News

On Martin Luther King Day in Tucson 2012, Tucson students spoke out on the seizure of books from their classrooms and the decision to forbid Mexican American Studies. The public school district, Tucson Unified School District, voted in Jan 2012 to forbid the studies after Arizona threatened to extract millions of dollars. Rethinking Columbus was one of seven books moved to a depository by the schools. There are 50 books on the reading list. Read more at Censored News

No comments: