U Arizona Celebrates Chicano Walk-Out Day with a Teach-In

Ashley Thorne

Today is September 16. Does this date mean something to you? Perhaps it should. Today is Chicano Walkout Day.

Last year we wrote about a prickly program flourishing in Arizona called La Raza studies. The program is a curriculum that draws on Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed to teach Mexican-American students to reclaim their heritage by revolting against white America. It is based on the concept that “Aztlan,” the Southwest region of the United States, really belongs to Chicano people, and that they should take it back by force from the “foreigners” who now dwell in it.

For background, here’s an excerpt from last year’s report:

“La Raza,” which means “The Race,” is a term usually used in the United States by Hispanic people to identify themselves as Latinos. There’s also the “Raza Unida Party,” a U.S. political third party, and the National Council of La Raza, “the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.”

In order to understand La Raza, it’s helpful to know its background in the context of MEChA.  MEChA (which stands for “Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan” and means “Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan”) is a Chicano organization dedicated to regaining control of “Aztlan”—the Southwest region of the United States. Members of MEChA refer to themselves as “La Raza.” The preamble of the MEChA constitution states the organization’s purpose:

Chicano and Chicana students of Aztlan must take upon themselves the responsibilities to promote Chicanismo within the community, politicizing our Raza with an emphasis on indigenous consciousness to continue the struggle for the self-determination of the Chicano people for the purpose of liberating Aztlan.

A slogan of MEChA is “Por La Raza, todo. Fuera de La Raza, nada” which means “For the race, everything. Outside the race, nothing.”

One of MEChA’s goals is for education to “be relative to our people, i.e., history, culture, bilingual education, contributions, etc.” and for “community control of our schools, our teachers, our administrators, our counselors, and our programs.”

Every year on September 16, (the birth date of Mexican Independence), MEChA calls for “a national walk-out by all Chicanos of all colleges and schools.” These walkouts, also known as the Chicano Blowouts, are “to be sustained until the complete revision of the educational system: its policy makers, administration, its curriculum, and its personnel to meet the needs of our community.”

What kind of “complete revision of the educational system” do Chicanos have in mind? MEChA’s guiding document, El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, specifies:

EDUCATION must be relative to our people, i.e., history, culture, bilingual education, contributions, etc. Community control of our schools, our teachers, our administrators, our counselors, and our programs.

We assume that education in the Southwest does not yet reflect this ideal and that Chicano students true to MEChA did indeed walk out of school today. But the University of Arizona, instead of having a walk-out, is doing a teach-in. The student newspaper, the Arizona Daily Wildcat, publicized the event, which is coordinated by Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor in the University’s Mexican-American and Raza Studies department. According to the Wildcat, Rodriguez said that “there has always been opposition toward Raza studies because some people view it as un-American.”

One person who views it as un-American is Tom Horne, superintendent of Arizona public schools. Horne knew something was fishy about La Raza studies when he asked to see the books used by the program in Tucson schools and was met with evasiveness and outrage. This summer he backed a bill that would eliminate Raza studies from the curriculum. It was delayed due to the legislature’s adjournment but will be taken up again in the 2010 session. Of the bill, Rodriguez said, “To be told that you cannot teach something is the same as saying there are things you cannot learn.”

But La Raza studies is an advocacy project, not a subject that belongs in formal education. Its sole purpose—achieved through “critical consciousness” pedagogy and books that call upon Chicanos to “kill the gringo”—is to convince students that white America is their enemy.

For more details about the Raza curriculum and its hold on education, see “Protecting the Prickly: La Raza Studies.”

Here is the announcement about the University of Arizona’s teach-in:

El 16 de Septiembre Un Nuevo Grito:
Celebrating 40 years of Raza Studies/Celebrando 40 años de Raza Studies

Raza Studies Teach-In & Celebration

University of Arizona
16th of September 4-6pm
Cesar Chavez #205-209

The purpose of the Raza Studies teach-in and celebration is to familiarize the campus and Tucson community about the status of Raza Studies. Forty years after its creation and 40 years after the creation of MEChA, the field of Chicano/Chicana and Raza Studies continues to be under attack. Truly, the entire field of Ethnic Studies continues to be under attack, particularly in Arizona.

In Tucson, as we all know, Raza Studies was the subject of a bill to eliminate Ethnic Studies. The bill was defeated, but its authors and sponsors have already threatened to eliminate it this upcoming year.

The purpose of the teach-in is both, to inform the community about this continued threat to the discipline at all levels but also to celebrate the incredible victory this summer as the community of Tucson led by young students, ran from Tucson to Phoenix to defeat this bill. The event will include speakers from MEChA, The Social Justice Education Program, Raza Studies-TUSD Mexican American and Raza Studies UA and Calpulli Teoxicalli the Indigenous organization that led and coordinated the run in 113-plus degree heat.

The event will include photos and film clips from this summer's historic Running for Our Lives trek through the desert. Everyone will speak, particularly about the importance of Raza Studies and its future directions. All are welcome to come celebrate and learn about Raza Studies from K-12, to the proposed PhD program at the University of Arizona.

This community-building event is being sponsored by the organizations mentioned above an event that is part of the building of a region-wide Raza Studies collaborative. This celebration will include comida!

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