Author: Nolan L. Cabrera
Before the attacks on Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project, and other race-forward forms of education throughout the country, Arizona banned Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program (2010). The controversy gained national headlines when student activists took over a school board meeting protesting the elimination of the program (2011). Commentators from Fox News hosts Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck to Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson, activists and artists like Grammy award-winning Ozomatli, Chicano Studies co-founder Dr. Rudy Acuña, and Lalo Alcaraz, all became involved in the controversy as the stakes had ramifications throughout the country. Our book, Banned!: The Fight for Mexican American Studies in the Streets and the Courts, provides a firsthand, detailed account of the more than decade-long battle regarding the state’s elimination of this highly successful program, the intense racial politics of the state during this historical time, and both the grassroots and legal resistance to this state-sponsored racism.
Banned! takes the reader on a stranger-than-fiction journey through the intense battles both against the state and within Tucson Unified including the aforementioned student takeover of a school board meeting, the subsequent meeting that had 500 people in attendance and 150 Tucson police officers, four different court cases, the elimination of the program, district-wide walkouts reminiscent of the blowouts of the 1960s, book bannings, a community divided over the documentary Precious Knowledge, and a final verdict in 2017 that the Mexican American Studies ban was unconstitutional. Banned! includes stories that are stranger than fiction including a Tucson Unified board member going on The Daily Show, arguing against the Mexican American Studies program, and using Civil Rights icon “Rosa Clark” (yes, he said that) as evidence. Tom Horne as state superintendent getting caught by the FBI in a hit-and-run while visiting his mistress who was also his subordinate. Finally, state superintendent after Horne, John Huppenthal, being caught extensively trolling and blogging comparing the supporters of Mexican American Studies to Nazis and the KKK, shedding tears during his press conference,
This book offers a deep, uncompromising account of one community’s attempt for educational self-determination, detailing the victories as well as the divisions and lasting scars; scars that frequently accompany movement politics but are rarely discussed. Banned! is a dramatic, sometimes heartbreaking, and ultimately triumphant story about the potential and pitfalls of anti-racist education within a racist state. Banned! will be a critically important guide to educators, activists, and policy makers who are tasked with determining how best to prepare children to become full participants in America’s democracy.
The Brown Scare: Arizona and the Formation of Anti-Mexican American Studies Fervor
If you’re pro-Chicano, you’re perceived to be and labeled anti-gringo. Don’t fall for this trick of gringo verbal jujitsu being labeled a reverse racist. Being proud of your heritage, your identity, your persona, is very natural and expected.
-José Angel Gutiérrez, A Gringo Manual on How to Handle Mexicans
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously declared the states are the “laboratories of democracy.” Due to the racist and regressive pieces of legislation coming out Arizona in the early 2010s specifically targeting Brown people, Jon Stewart – formerly of The Daily Show – affectionately labeled this state the “meth lab of democracy.” One of the central pieces of legislation passed in the summer of 2010 was HB2281 (now A.R.S. § 15-112). Spearheaded by then superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, the law allowed the state to withhold 10 percent of its funding to any school district having a course or class that:
1) Promote the overthrow of the United States government,
2) Promote resentment toward a race or class of people,
3) Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or
4) Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals4
This was Horne’s third attempt to pass the bill, and he was very direct that he intended this piece of legislation to eliminate Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). His first failed attempt occurred in 2008 when he attached this language as an amendment to Arizona Senate Bill 1108 – a Homeland Security Bill.5 That is not a typo. Horne honestly saw MAS as such a threat that he first tried to use a Homeland Security bill to eliminate the program.
What was so scary and threatening about these classes that led the Arizona elected officials to eventually pass HB2281 which would lead to the eventual outlawing of MAS in Tucson? More importantly, how did a motley crew of teachers, students, community members, scholars, and lawyers, successfully challenge this state-sponsored racism? These are the two questions guiding this book, which lead to some very complicated and important answers given a contemporary renaissance of Ethic Studies in K-12 education.
Some may ask if it is appropriate to refer to this piece of legislation as “state- sponsored racism”? After all, how could it not be in the interest of the state to outlaw classes that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government”? Would it not be important to sanction districts with classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people”? Theoretically, the answer is yes, but the devil is in proverbial the details. After 7 years of litigation and more than a decade of controversy, federal Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled that racism and partisan politics were at the core of creating and implementing the law. This is the story of both the creation of this racist law as well as the collective resistance that helped lead to the federal ruling. What unfolded was the highest profile Ethnic Studies case in U.S. history.
This protracted fight, however, required the creation of the MAS boogieman. That is, in order to develop mass opposition to the program, there had to be a strong misinformation campaign. To do this, the MAS opponents engaged in a protracted propaganda effort in what Herman and Chomsky refer to as the manufacture of consent. Those demonizing the program knew they had to win in both the court of public opinion and legislative spheres – understanding the two are closely related. While the anti-MAS hysteria required the central actors and their supporters to be interconnected, we will describe them separately with the understanding that the narrative and position of one enhances the narrative and position of the others. Also, once HB2281 became codified as law in the form of A.R.S. § 15-112, the anti-MAS hysteria picked up exponentially consistent with Ibram X. Kendi’s thesis that racist policy fosters racist thought.
Some might ask why we are describing the opposition before describing the program, and that is a legitimate question. First, the center of this text is about resisting racist state policy. Second, by telling the story in this nonsequential order, it makes the reader consider what could have been so controversial to warrant this vast amount of time, energy, and monetary expenditures. We will begin with John Ward. He is, by some accounts, a courageous whistle blower, and by others a self-hating Hispanic who could not relate to critically-engaged Brown youth.
John Ward: Whistle Blower or Disgruntled Employee?
We could acquiesce and shuffle through life, hat in hand, picking up society’s crumbs. Or we could resist and assert our humanity. We resisted.
-Salomón Baldanegro, Sr. (Tucson activist), in The State Out of the Union
When marginalized peoples assert their collective humanity, it tends to ruffle some feathers. In this case, the ruffled one was John Ward. The MAS program was in existence for several years before Ward became a “teacher of record” in one of the classes, developing out of the Hispanic Studies Department of the late 1990s.9 From his experiences, Ward penned the now infamous or famous (depending on your perspective) op-ed in the Tucson Citizen entitled, “Raza Studies Gives Rise to Racial Hostility.” In his approximately 800- word complaint, Ward layout some very serious allegations against the MAS program and its employees. Although, it was curious how Ward initially framed the classes when he described them as, “similar to a sociology course one expects to see at a university.” Considering that Brown students continually suffer from the “soft bigotry of low expectations” (that is the only time you will hear us positively quote George W. Bush), it begs the larger question of why offering a class similar to one the University of Arizona offers would be problematic.
Without addressing that issue, Ward continued, “Where history was missing from the course, it was filled by controversial and biased curriculum. The basic theme of the curriculum was that Mexican-Americans were and continue to be victims of a racist American society driven by the interests of middle and upper-class whites.” The history of racism against Mexican-Americans by White people is historically, sociologically, and educationally-established fact. Ward’s statement highlights a central tension of the MAS controversy. While many buy into to the ideology of the U.S. as the “land of opportunity,” the empirical realities of social mobility do not reflect this perspective. It is interesting that Ward framed those critically examining anti-Mexican American racism as the “biased” ones when, in fact, the biggest area of bias existing in his own worldview that ignored these realities.
Regardless, Ward continued to rail against the “biases, racism, and American- hating,” he saw in the MAS program. He specifically took issue with MAS teachers using Tucson Unified as a source of curricular material. Specifically, they explored the under- representation of brown kids in AP classes, and Ward took issue with the conclusion that, “there are fewer Mexican-Americans in Tucson Magnet High School’s advanced placement courses because their ‘white teachers’ do not believe they are capable and do not want them to get ahead.” Given the vast adoption of “deficit models of education” (i.e., ones that blame the marginalized for their subordinate social position), it seems likely that this is an important component of this under-representation. However, Ward took any critique of socially-structured inequality as an assault on both American values and “reason,” and this has been a central way opponents of the program have framed their arguments – that being honest about anti-Mexican American racism and social inequities are akin to hating America and hating White people.
Ward’s narrative took a quick turn when he switched from what he saw to how it affected him personally being removed from the MAS class where he was the teacher of record. People within the MAS class claimed that Ward was visibly frustrated with the content of the course, and it hit a boiling point when he cursed at a student and slammed a book during class time which led to his removal. Ward instead claimed that the rationales for his removal were more insidious, “When I raised these concerns, I was told that I was a ‘racist,’ despite being Hispanic. The culmination of my challenge to the department’s curriculum was my removal from that particular class.” Ward was very upset about the class and his removal, but his self-description of being “Hispanic” is interesting because opponents of MAS tend to claim that color-blindness is the only acceptable method of social analysis – otherwise, we are “betraying” Dr. King’s dream. This descriptor instead means that race does not matter until, of course, it does.
Despite numerous weaknesses in Ward’s narrative, it was taken up by the conservative right in Tucson and beyond as the gospel truth. It became the center of anti- MAS organizing, and it led to a $1 million lawsuit filed on behalf of Ward against MAS affiliates Sean Arce and José Gonzalez. On February 13, 2013, Ward’s lawsuit was dismissed, but the damage was already done. His op-ed served as a rallying cry for anti- MAS activists, and the lawsuit drained both resources and energy from two of MAS’s central proponents, while eventually depriving countless students of educational opportunities in the process. Between Ward’s op-ed and his lawsuit being dismissed, Dolores Huerta gave a speech that further entrenched the anti-MAS crowd. Actually, that is not entirely accurate. One off-the-cuff phrase from her speech served this purpose.
Dolores Huerta Comes to Tucson
Wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out.
-Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
In 2006, labor leader Dolores Huerta was giving a speech at Tucson Magnet High School where she offered some thoughts on anti-Latino politics. Specifically, she said that because of their legislative agenda that “Republicans hate Latinos.” A little context here is necessary. In late 2005, and in preparation for the 2006 midterm elections, Republican congressman John Sensenbrenner introduced HR4437 which not only created harsh, draconian penalties for undocumented people nationally but went so far as to criminalize those who offered humanitarian aid to these people.18 The strategy behind the bill was to serve as a wedge issue, whipping up anti-immigrant sentiment among the Republican base, thereby driving up voter turnout in the midterm elections. With this as a political backdrop, Huerta’s statement seems both sound and accurate. That is, if a group of people are willing to strip another of their humanity to gain a partisan advantage, “hate” is an appropriate label.
The irony of the situation is that many on the right instead framed Huerta’s talk as “hate speech.” In particular, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne was incensed. He sent his deputy secretary, a Latina named Margaret Garcia Dugan, to Tucson to offer a rebuttal at a school assembly. Essentially, her speech argued, “I am an example that Republicans don’t hate Latinos.” Attendance for students was mandatory, and there would not be a chance for a Q&A period. As Garcia Dugan began speaking, students in the audience revealed white shirts saying, “You can silence my voice but not my spirit.” Many also symbolically placed painters’ tape across their mouths as a silent protest in response to the lack of any dialogue with Garcia Dugan. Eventually, many walked out.
Image 1.1. Students protesting Garcia-Dugan’s speech
Superintendent Horne’s response was swift and bold as he stated:
“Yet, a small group of La Raza Studies students treated her rudely, and when the principal asked them to sit down and listen, they defiantly walked out. By contrast, teenage Republicans listened politely when Delores (sic) Huerta told the entire student body that “Republicans hate Latinos.” In hundreds of visits to schools, I’ve never seen students act rudely and in defiance of authority, except in this one unhappy case. I believe the students did not learn this rudeness at home, but from their Raza teachers.”
Aside from misspelling famous labor leader Dolores Huerta’s name (he at one point also incorrectly referred to her as “Cesar Chavez’s girlfriend”), there was an interesting assumption in Horne’s statement. How did he know that these students learned to protest and walkout in a MAS classroom or from MAS teachers? In his public statement and many subsequent ones, he took this as an article of faith. That is, he saw these students engaging in constitutionally-protected social protest. He then said it as dangerous, rude, and something they did not learn at home. Rather, Horne believed they learned it in their MAS classes. What was the basis for this assertion? The short answer, as the MAS trial eventually determined, was a combination of racism and partisan politics. Exploring Horne’s method was particularly interesting because, as previously alluded to, it required manufacturing a MAS political boogieman.
(Mis)representing Raza: Tom Horne Creating Anti-Brown Hysteria in Arizona
The function, the very serious function is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.
-Toni Morrison, “Black Studies Center Public Dialogue”
The media play a central role in giving legs to anti-Brown folk political controversies,24 and the TUSD MAS case is no different.25 There was a massive amount of anti-MAS mass public hysteria that was manufactured by a small group of elected officials, disgruntled teachers, op-ed writers, and rightwing talk show hosts, that then took off in more mainstream outlets. On June 11, 2007, Tom Horne issued his now infamous Open Letter to the Citizens of Tucson. It was an impressive document from a rhetoric standpoint – appealing to mass, largely unconscious racist nativism throughout the state of Arizona. By racist nativism, Pérez Huber and her co-authors meant a type of populist isolationism that is predicated upon a widespread scare of foreigners – in particular Brown foreigners.
This kind of “Dog-Whistle Politics” preys upon racism, ignorance, and xenophobia – largely unconscious – lurking just beneath the surface of modern political life. Those in power who stoke these fires, gives the masses license to be expressed more publicly. Within this context, it was incredibly important how Horne framed his letter. Before identifying the parts of the TUSD MAS program he took issue with, he offered a classic, pre- emptive mechanism for insulating him from accusations of racism – a type of “I’m not a racist but…” or “I have a Black friend…” defense if you will. He offered:
“In the summer of 1963, having recently graduated from high school, I participated in the civil rights march on Washington, in which Martin Luther King stated that he wanted his children to be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. That has been a fundamental principal for me my entire life, and Ethnic Studies teaches the opposite.”
Horne describe his alleged experience and subsequent philosophy in a number of his public statements and appearances regarding the MAS controversy, including in his testimony before various legislative committees. His constant invocation of this fact seemed rooted in his belief that his participation at the 1963 March somehow inoculated him from any charges of racism.
He repeated this so often that at trial, Horne was scheduled to testify for several hours. A few of the plaintiffs’ lawyers had a betting pool – how early in his testimony would he mention that he was at the 1963 March? The three who participated all thought it would take place within the first hour. All three were correct, with Chang (author) the closest, guessing 42 minutes, with Horne announcing proudly around the 45-minute mark that he was at the march where Dr. King gave his famous speech.
No matter how many times he repeated it, and he repeated it a lot, Horne dramatically mischaracterized Dr. King’s radical, anti-racist message and political organizing. He misrepresented Dr. King’s legacy to advocate for exclusively color-blind approaches to education. This was more about political posturing that actually living out the legacy of Dr. King. That is, Dr. King was a strong proponent of race-conscious policies as a means to get to his “dream.” Unfortunately, this message has been corrupted in what Cornel West refers to as the “Santa Claus-ification” of Dr. King’s message. That is, instead of understanding Dr. King radical, race-conscious, democratic socialist messaging and activism, people like Horne co-opt this message for their own political gain. This is a very common strategy, especially on the political right, as commentators such as Shelby Steele and Dinesh D’Souza among many others employ. It goes something like this: 1) The masses love the sanitized memory of Dr. King, 2) I take some of his work out of context, especially that one phrase “content of their character,” 3) I argue my work is an extension of Dr. King’s dream, and ergo I win ad populum.
This was consistently on display when on May 13, 2010, for example, Tom Horne got his ass handed to him debated Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson on CNN’s Anderson Cooper360 Horne busted out his greatest hits including:
- “I marched on Washington” and “Dr. King was colorblind”
- “(MAS) is a race-obsessed philosophy”
- “Students should not be divided by race”
- “(MAS) is Marxist/Leninist”
- “Students should be treated as individuals, not exemplars of their race”
- “Students should be taught this is the land of opportunity” and
- “(MAS) is a downer”
Dyson, a prolific scholar who actually knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Ethnic Studies, first set Horne straight on the pronunciation of Paulo Friere’s name and then attacked Horne’s central argument. Dyson powerfully argued that Ethnic Studies tells a fuller, more complete history of the U.S., and yes, it can be a downer if we are being honest about it. It was a strange dynamic because it did not seem like Horne was actually engaging Dyson, instead using Anderson Cooper’s platform to continue regurgitating his talking points to his easily swayed base.
The same dynamic occurred on March 22, 2011 when Horne debated MAS attorney Richard Martinez at the University of Arizona law school on March 22, 2011. Horne, 2 min into his opening remarks mentioned the march on Washington, and he continued to spout off the greatest hits of his anti-MAS crusade listed above. There was ironic laughter in the audience when Horne offered some views on White people (e.g., White people tend to believe their individual accomplishments stem from their own effort independent of historical racial advantage), and then asked the audience, “Who believes these stereotypes?” He seemed startled when a number of hands went up, to which he offered, “This is the effect of Ethnic Studies,” and there was uproarious laughter.
In contrast, Richard Martinez, the Tucson native and lawyer for the plaintiffs in the MAS case, stood up with his trademark flowing white mane of hair, mustache, and nasal voice, and went right after Horne. He began by stating the most obvious point – that Horne found the program out of compliance before the statute went into effect. He additionally went after Horne’s issue where he confounded critiquing the U.S. with hating it. Instead, Martinez offered, “I’m willing to take on the warts of our country. Not for the purposes of tearing down our country, but for the purposes of us moving forward in a more enlightened way.” In doing so, he called out the dogma of Horne’s worldview, that one could only tell U.S. history if it painted a rosy picture. However, as with the debate with Dyson, it did not seem like Horne was talking to Martinez, but rather, repeating propaganda to build his base. It did not matter that Martinez wiped the floor with him in the debate because, strangely, Horne continued to increase his support in every public appearance.
Internal consistency was not part of Horne’s strong suits. Despite his professions of the virtues of colorblindness, Horne described John Ward in his Open Letter as follows, “One of his sources was a former TUSD teacher named John Ward, who despite his name, is Hispanic.” In the beginning of Horne’s Open Letter, he was explicit about his orientation toward colorblindness and “not judging people based on the color of their skin.” He quickly turned around and thought that mentioning Ward’s ethnicity was relevant to his ability to “blow the whistle” on the MAS program. He ignored race until it was time to demonize “La Raza Studies students.” This was a consistent theme throughout this controversy: Horne was colorblind until he was not.
There was another issue with Horne’s (mis)use of the march on Washington to justify his attack on MAS: evidence. Where is the proof that he actually marched with Dr. King? When Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Horne was an 18-year-old Canadian who just recently graduated from high school. As an aside, it is perpetually ironic that Horne, a Canadian immigrant, spent so much of his political career accusing Mexican American students, teachers, and community members of being un-American. We digress…
Returning to the March on Washington, Horne did not have a longstanding record of aligning himself with Dr. King’s struggle, and there is no verifiable evidence he was there. There were no photographs presented of a young Tom at the march. There was no bus or train ticket souvenirs presented to the public. Literally, all the public has to substantiate his claim is Horne’s word that he attended the march. As we will see, Horne’s word is not worth the paper it is printed on.
If he lied about being at the march, it wouldn’t be the first time Horne engaged in untruthful behavior publicly. Dating back to 1973, Horne received a lifetime ban by the Securities and Exchange Commission for having “willfully aided and abetted violations by submitting a false trial balance and report, and failed to make and deep accurate and current certain books and records; . . . effected and attempted to induce the purchase and sale of securities when it did not have the required net capital; and . . . impliedly represented to customers that it was able to conduct business when in fact it was unable to consummate purchase and sale orders.”
During the hearing on the motion and cross-motion for summary judgment on March 19, 2012, Horne represented to Judge Tashima that TUSD “decided not to appeal . . . [the administrative law judge’s findings] because they thought they couldn’t win the appeal.” When Judge Tashima responded, “I thought it was because they couldn’t afford the attorney’s fees,” Horne countered, offering no factual basis, that “[t]hey cited both reasons.” Eight days after the hearing, Horne, while driving, hit another car and left without leaving a note or contacting authorities, despite causing approximately $1,000 of damage to the other car, an incident we will detail in a later chapter. This was the resume of the head Arizona lawman during the peak time of this controversy.
There is one undeniable fact that stemmed from this one simple continually professed statement: If Horne was at the march on Washington (he likely was not), he did not understand Dr. King’s message. He did not understand the radical racial critique that Dr. King offered. If he did understand, he might have considered some of Dr. King’s other words, such as, “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.” Dr. King was deeply critical of systemic, anti- People of Color racism, and was anything but an advocate of colorblindness. Horne was an important center, however, was not the only voice fanning the flames of anti-MAS hysteria in the state of Arizona. In both the print media and broadcast media, this barrage of issue framing and misinformation took root in some very important areas.
Doug MacEachern and the Arizona Republic
There’ll be no time-out when the civil war comes. Blood will flow and white flags will mean nothing.
-John White, “Juan Blanco” at a TUSD board meeting
We offer the above quotation as a reminder that this controversy is not simply about racist people spouting racist misinformation about the MAS program and its supporters. Rather, when Tom Horne is saying the classes are anti-American, the rhetoric helps embolden people like John White who brought a large knife to said school board meeting and shouted about bloodshed during the call to the audience. That is not a typo, yes, he brought a weapon to a school board meeting. Another key area where anti-MAS hysteria was fostered was through Doug MacEachern and his op-eds in the Arizona Republic.
The Arizona Republic is the largest circulation paper in the state, and for several years they employed MacEachern who had an axe to grind with the MAS program. Truth be told, he had an axe to grind with anything he considered left-of-center politically. However, his work had a substantial impact. It was frequently cited by Tom Horne and was included in the infamous Open Letter to the Citizens of Tucson:
“After my confrontation with TUSD over ethnic studies had begun, Doug MacEachern, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, ran a series of investigative reports on ethnic studies. This is the kind of thing that the Star and the Citizen should do, but thus far only the Republic has done.”
In a tight, cyclical (mis)information loop, MacEachern reported on Horne’s anti-MAS actions and Horne used MacEachern’s reporting to continue his attacks on the program.
For example, ran a series of “investigative” reports on the MAS program in 2008 through 2013. We understand it is dismissive to put “investigative” in quotations marks as it implicitly undercuts the legitimacy of the work. That is precisely why we decided to do it. There are many reputable journalists who were not entirely comfortable with the MAS program, but we reserved this designation for MacEachern as he had a particularly vocal in his contempt for the program and people associated with it. Instead of receiving evidence and allowing it to be scrutinized for its validity, he was against the MAS program from its inception and would use any form of evidence to support his belief in a classic example of confirmation bias.
For example, he took aim at the proclaimed educational efficacy of the program. To create his argument, he relied on the head of the Walton Family-purchased (as in Walmart) University of Arkansas Department of Educational Reform for his analysis. We will provide more details on this corporate-controlled, ideologically-driven educational department in Chapter 5. Additionally, MacEachern spent time portraying program as a “bastion of Marxism”; secretive, tribalistic, anti-American, and anti-White; while making students see themselves as racial victims. MacEachern, like Horne, never attended one of the MAS classes, and his reporting frequently relied on questionable sources of evidence. This was not the point at hand. Instead, it was centrally important that he kept the anti- MAS hysteria burning throughout the state, frequently adding fuel to the fire. In addition to the print media, talk radio played a key role in fostering anti-MAS hysteria. Tucson rightwing morning host Jon Justice was a central figure in this manufactured controversy.
Jon Justice, “The Truth,” and anti-MAS Radio coverage
The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.
While George Carlin, the master of humor and language, was ironically poking fun at himself, the Arizona rightwing echo-chamber created precisely this dynamic. That is, the realities of MAS did not matter, but the attacks were loud, consistent, and forceful. Locally, Jon Justice (real name Jon LoGiudice) was a morning rightwing radio host on 104.1 “The Truth,” on the air every morning Monday through Friday. Take a moment to marvel at the framing – if you were to tune in to this program, you would be hearing “The Truth” from a champion of “Justice.” Let the propaganda commence!
Justice regularly used his platform to attack the MAS program, continually circulating the arguments of people like Horne and MacEachern, as well as anyone who would forcefully critique the program such as Tucson rightwing activist/journalists John and Loretta Hunnicutt of Tucsonans United For Sound Districts (TU4SD). From her notoriety gained locally, Loretta would later garner national recognition with an appearance on Glenn Beck’s Fox News show in 2011 to explore “indoctrination” within TUSD. This illustrates how misinformation about the MAS program rapidly spread throughout rightwing social networks.
Returning to Justice, he was well-known primarily throughout the Tucson area. The Tucson Weekly labeled him our “mini-Rush Limbaugh” and local journalist Stephen Lemons simply called him a “hate-monger.” For many people to the right one the political spectrum in Tucson, he represented a voice of truth – a counterbalance if you will – against multicultural progressivism, in general, and against the MAS program in particular.
For several years at the crack of dawn, Jon Justice would take to the airwaves in Tucson and attack MAS, its supporters, and anyone associated with the program. A really interesting dynamic would play out in these attacks because Jon Justice is a huge Star Wars fan. Despite the fact that the Star Wars movies are about the rebels trying to defeat the all-powerful empire, Justice never considered that in the MAS controversy that he was advocating daily for the empire (Arizona) against the rebels (MAS proponents). Instead, he offered a brief commentary on his January 1, 2012 webisode which aired just after the MAS program was found out of compliance with ARS § 15-112 in an administrative law hearing (we will describe further in Chapter 5). During this his show, he continued framing the issue involving two rhetorical devices he regularly employed: (1) I am not racist by attacking this program and (2) the people supporting the program are anti-American, racist, propagandists. For example:
“Not coming from a racial standpoint at all. [This controversy has] always been about right and wrong. The interesting thing to me, and we’ll get into this in-depth on the air, in regards to this judge ruling, and the inching closer to the end of this anti-American propaganda… indoctrination course.”
Justice was very direct in his assessment that the MAS program amounted to anti-American propaganda in the schools, and that his opposition was not racist. Throughout the several years he spent attacking the program, the evidence he provided to support these claims was scant at best, but his framing of the issue was consistent and forceful.
Within this segment, Justice was very clear about both his role in the overall anti- MAS movement as well as the amount of time and effort it took to engage in this protracted legal and cultural battle. While he self-aggrandizingly centered the role his show played in attacking MAS and its supporters, we strangely agree with his assessment:
“Look how long it took. That article from John Ward came out, the former teacher, what in 2008? Or was that 2009?… It was a constant spreading of the truth. It started with John Ward’s article, the exposure on my show to a large degree, that other individuals, uh, Lory Hunnicutt and John Hunnicutt… picked up the mantle and did more of the hard work in getting it out there.”
Justice and his followers were some of the most stalwart critics and anti-MAS activists in the local community. He was intentional about recruiting more and more people to his cause under the guise of “spreading the truth.” That truth, according to the federal trial ruling, was one of anti-Mexican American racist propaganda.
Ultimately, his sentiments centered the traditional snarky framing where the fight over MAS was a protracted war with winners and losers. He righteously felt that he was on the right side of history and allowed his premature imagination to declare after an administrative law hearing ruled against MAS supporters:
“Plus, the judge ruling against TUSD on the Raza Studies. Essentially, it’s not over on the court battle, but the judge basically said that TUSD was in violation based off of the former HB 2281. And that, well, they lost in court. So, to those supporters of the Raza Studies, and that’s what they are – the Raza Studies. Um, so sad. We win, you lose!”
Even though the MAS program had “Mexican American” its title, Justice preferred to call it the “Raza” program. It was a method that allowed him to continually paint the program racist, anti-American, and subversive – not because people knew what raza meant, but specifically because they did not. While more of an educated guess than a scholarly argument, we would be willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of Justice’s audience members were not familiar with Vasconcelos’ creation of the concept la raza cosmica and what it meant in terms of different races coming together in Latin America. We are also pretty sure that neither Justice not his followers cared about the historical significance of the term in the Chicano Movement of the 1960s. Instead, they tended to follow the Tom Horne line of reasoning: raza means “race” and therefore the curriculum is “racist.”
While we people like Tom Horne and Jon Justice willfully misrepresent the meaning of the term and use it a form of dog-whistle politics to stoke xenophobic and racist fears, we would like to make an important point of clarification for our readers. La Raza is more appropriately translated as “the people” or “the community” and not “the race” even though there has been a massive rightwing push to use the inaccurate definition of “race.” Yes, the term raza literally translated means “race,” but in use that is not how speakers and listeners understand it. To use an English example of this, let’s say that Bob and Nolan approach each other and Bob says, “What’s up?” Nolan is not going to look toward the sky to determine what is literally up. He understands that Bob is saying, “Hi!” This seems like an obvious linguistic point, but it was not part of the conversation when opponents of the MAS program equated raza with race and therefore racism.
Returning to the context in Tucson, the continual insistence on using raza was meant to frame the supporters of the program as different, subversive, anti-American, and even potentially dangerous. Much like Tom Horne’s push to frame supporters of MAS as racist, other conservative commentators on a national level such as Sean Hannity have done the same to groups such as La Raza Lawyers. The argument goes something like this: Would we accept a group of White lawyers creating a group called “Caucasian Lawyers Association”? This game of false equivalence has been a decades-long attack point by rightwing activists in response to anti-racist activism since the 1960s.
Conclusion: Rage for the Machine
While we identified Ward, Horne, MacEachern, and Justice, as four key players in the creations of anti-MAS hysteria, please do not misunderstand. There were many other people involved. They just happened to be at different epicenters. We use the term “epicenter” because the metaphor of an earthquake seems appropriate. While these three angry White men and one White-identified Hispanic were the epicenters, the shock waves went throughout the state and eventually the country. It took dozens of co-conspirators extensively spreading anti-MAS propaganda to justify creating a law specifically aimed at one educational program in the state. It took thousands upon thousands of people in the mass public believing their propaganda in order for the hysteria to truly take hold.
For example, while Tom Horne may have been one of the first elected representatives to public attack and condemn the MAS program, state representative John Huppenthal followed suit shortly thereafter. When Horne moved on from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to pursue (and eventually become) Attorney General of the state, John Huppenthal rode anti-MAS hysteria into the position Horne vacated. This is not conjecture, but rather an analysis of Huppenthal’s own campaign materials because he promised, if elected, he would “stop la raza.” Let that sink in – the term la raza was so widely misunderstood in Arizona that politicians could openly campaign by demonizing about 30% of the state’s population. If any politician campaigned on “when elected, I will stop the Blacks” or “when elected, I will stop the Jews,” they would have been disqualified from consideration. The anti-Brown and anti-MAS activist were so effective at framing their messaging that this slogan led to a campaign victory.
This situation was eerily similar to Kendi’s historical analysis whereby the implementation of racist law leads to an expansion of racist thought. Many think racist laws pass because of racist thoughts of the masses, but Kendi argues the opposite is true. In Arizona, there were obviously racist rumblings regarding the MAS program prior to HB2281, but the frequency and intensity of these attacks grew exponentially after the bill’s passage. Ironically, Jon Justice even agreed with part of this sentiment, that anti-MAS sentiment grew after the legislation passed. As the controversy progressed, his platform on both the radio and social media recruited more and more people to the anti-MAS collective.
Chicano Studies scholar Otto Santa Ana argued that anti-Mexican American hysteria of the 1980s and 90s in the state of California was fostered, in part, because of the mass media continual usage of a metaphor “brown-tide rising.” In the MAS case, the brown- tide rising was low-income Chicano kids learning about themselves and educationally succeeding, and unabashedly demanding educational self-determination. It also started to become a form of a “red-tide rising” as a lot of the discontent about the MAS program was based upon simplistic and xenophobic beliefs that it was a Marxist and anti-American program. In this situation, facts did not matter for opponents of the program. The larger point was that many in the mass populace believed it regardless of accuracy, and this continual feed of misinformation developed into the highest profile Ethnic Studies case in the history of the country – costing both untold millions of dollars, student educational opportunities, and leaving a deeply wounded and fractured community in its wake.
About the Author
Author Name: Nolan L. Cabrera
Dr. Nolan L. Cabrera is a nationally recognized expert in the areas of racism/anti-racism on college campuses, Whiteness, and Ethnic Studies. He is currently a Professor in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona, and was the only academic featured in the MTV documentary White People. His multiple-award winning book, White Guys on Campus, is a deep exploration of White male racism, and occasional anti- racism, on college campuses – a text Jeff Chang (author of We Gon’ Be Alright) described as “A timely, provocative, even hopeful book.” Additionally, Dr. Cabrera was an expert witness in the Tucson Unified Mexican American Studies case (Gonzalez v. Douglas), which is the highest-profile Ethnic Studies case in the country’s history. He has given hundreds of lectures, keynote addresses, and trainings, throughout the country on challenging racism/Whiteness, working through unconscious bias, creating inclusive college campuses, and the expansion of Ethnic Studies programs. Dr. Cabrera is an award-winning scholar, author of over 100 publications, whose work has appeared in some of the most prestigious journals in the fields of education and racial studies. He completed his graduate work at UCLA in Higher Education & Organizational Change and Dr. Cabrera earned his BA from Stanford University in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.
Robert S. Chang, JD, is a Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality. He has also previously served as Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development. He joined the School of Law from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, where he was Professor of Law and J. Rex Dibble Fellow. A graduate of Princeton and Duke Universities, he writes primarily in the area of race and interethnic relations. He is the author of Disoriented: Asian Americans, Law and the Nation-State (NYU Press, 1999), co-editor of Minority Relations: Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation (University Press of Mississippi, 2017), and more than 50 articles, essays, and chapters published in leading law reviews and books on Critical Race Theory, LatCrit Theory, and Asian American Legal Studies. He is currently working on two books, one on the political and legal struggle over Mexican American Studies in Arizona (with Nolan Cabrera), the other, The United States Supreme Court and White Social Dominance (with Carlton Waterhouse, Michalyn Steele, and Tanya Hernandez, under contract with Cambridge University Press).
He has received numerous recognitions for his scholarship and service. he was the 2009 co-recipient of the Clyde Ferguson Award, given by the Minority Groups Section of the Association of American Law Schools, which is “granted to an outstanding law teacher who in the course of his or her career has achieved excellence in the areas of public service, teaching and scholarship.” He became an elected member of the American Law Institute in 2012, and he was the co-recipient of the 2014 Charles A. Goldmark Distinguished Service Award from the Legal Foundation of Washington for his leadership role in a statewide task force on race and the criminal justice system. The Society of American Law Teachers recognized him in 2018 with the M. Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award for his work as co-counsel in taking to trial, successfully, a constitutional challenge to the enactment and enforcement of a facially neutral law that was used to terminate the Mexican American Studies Program at the Tucson Unified School District.
For several years, he has been serving as co-counsel in two cases in Alaska challenging the involuntary psychiatric hospitalization and forced psychotropic medication of Native foster children. Students from his Civil Rights Clinic have assisted on these and other cases.