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
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
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.
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
Columbus: The Next 500 Years (1998) by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson
Condition: A Critical Reader (1998) by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
Race Theory: An Introduction (2001) by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
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.
The American Vision (2008) by J. Appleby et el.
The Next 500 Years (1998) by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson
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.
Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History (2006) by F. A.
A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present (2003) by H.
Course: English/Latino Literature 7, 8
Ten Little Indians
(2004) by S. Alexie
The Fire Next Time (1990) by J. Baldwin
(2008) by A. Castillo
Women Hollering Creek (1992) by S. Cisneros
White Boy (2008) by M. de la Pena
Drown (1997) by J. Díaz
Women (2000) by D. Gilb
At the Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria (1965) by E.
Color Lines: "Does Anti-War Have to Be Anti-Racist Too?" (2003) by E.
Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy (1998) by R.
Montoya et al.
Let Their Spirits Dance (2003) by S. Pope Duarte
Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz (1997) by M. Ruiz
The Tempest (1994) by W.
A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (1993) by
The Devil's Highway (2004) by L. A. Urrea
Puro Teatro: A Latino
Anthology (1999) by A. Sandoval-Sanchez & N. Saporta Sternbach
Impossible Things before Breakfast: Stories (1997) by J. Yolen
Voices of a
People's History of the United States (2004) by H. Zinn
English/Latino Literature 5, 6
Live from Death Row (1996) by J.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven (1994) by S.
Zorro (2005) by I. Allende
Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza
(1999) by G. Anzaldua
A Place to Stand (2002), by J. S. Baca
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.
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.
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
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.
Cantos Al Sexto Sol: An Anthology of Aztlanahuac Writing (2003) by C.
García-Camarilo et al.
The Magic of Blood (1994) by D. Gilb
Aztlan: Selected Writings (2001) by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales
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
Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child (1999) by F. Jiménez
Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (1991) by J. Kozol
(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.
Crisis in American Institutions (2006) by S. H. Skolnick & E.
Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941 (1986) by
Curandera (1993) by Carmen Tafolla
Mexican American Literature
(1990) by C. M. Tatum
New Chicana/Chicano Writing (1993) by C. M.
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
Power: Poems from the Desert (1995) by O. Zepeda
Bless Me Ultima
by Rudolfo Anaya
Yo Soy Joaquin/I Am Joaquin by Rodolfo Gonzales
Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto
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