10 Banned Books From Arizona's Mexican American Studies Program, And Why It Matters

A long fight may soon be over for teachers, parents, and students in Tucson, as the U.S. District Court has begun hearing a case against the ban on a popular and effective Mexican American Studies (MAS) program. I've got 10 of the 84 banned books from Arizon's MAS program for you to check out below, but first, let's talk about why all of this matters.

The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) serves a majority Latinx community, many of whom are of Mexican descent. In 1998, TUSD created the MAS curriculum, which focused on Mexican-American literature, history, and the arts. The students who took the MAS courses were found to have higher test scores, grades, and graduation rates than those who did not.

Less than a decade later, however, state officials were fighting tooth and nail to eliminate the MAS curriculum. In 2010, Arizona lawmakers passed H.B. 2281, which bans academic courses that "[a]re designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" or "[a]dvocate ethnic solidarity." A bill that would have expanded H.B. 2281's reach into colleges and universities died in early 2017.

Then-Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said that the law was written with TUSD's MAS program in mind — a program of which he had been a vocal opponent since at least 2006. He declined to issue rulings on other ethnic-studies programs within the state, which continue in Arizona public schools to this day. In late 2010, Horne declared that Tucson's Mexican American Studies program was in violation of the new law, and that the school district would risk up to 10 percent of its state funding if it kept the program running.

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High Country News reports that "TUSD stopped the MAS program in February of 2012. This meant, at times, going into classes and confiscating books in front of students." The school also banned seven books on the MAS curriculum outright, including Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Rodolfo Acuña's Occupied America. You can view all 84 of the removed textbooks here.

Teachers, parents, and students sued TUSD shortly after it cancelled the MAS program. Now, five long years later, a new trial in the U.S. District Court "will determine if former Arizona Superintendent Tom Horne and former state Sen. John Huppenthal created HB 2281 [sic] with discriminatory intent in 2010." While we all wait for justice to be served to Arizona students, here are 10 of the banned books from the Mexican American Studies program you should read right away.

1'Bless Me, Ultima' by Rudolfo Anaya

This coming-of-age tale from 1972 centers on young Antonio Márez, growing up in post-War New Mexico with his parents and Ultima, an elderly curandera, or folk healer.

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2'Feminism Is for Everybody' by bell hooks

Published in 2000, bell hooks' treatise on inclusive, intersectional feminism aims to be an accessible introduction to the progressive movement for any person, regardless of their background.

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3'Woman Hollering Creek' by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street author Sandra Cisneros flexes her short-fiction muscles in this collection of stories set on the Texas-Mexico border.

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4'The Fire Next Time' by James Baldwin

James Baldwin's call for the U.S. to accept its identity as a multiracial society remains a staple of Civil Rights literature.

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5'Drown' by Junot Díaz

This collection from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz explores life in the Dominican Republic and in southern New Jersey, with stories that are mostly narrated by the same immigrant character.

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6'Zorro' by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende tackles the story of everyone's favorite masked vigilante in her 2005 historical-fiction novel, Zorro.

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7'Like Water for Chocolate' by Laura Esquivel

This bestseller centers on Tita, a young Mexican woman whose elderly mother crushes her daughter's plans to marry for love by betrothing Tita's sister to the young man instead.

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8'Curandera' by Carmen Tafolla

With pictures of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, Carmen Tafolla's poetry collection, Curandera, got a 30th anniversary edition in 2013, when it was "issued early in order to donate copies to the Librotraficante ... effort to increase accessibility to books banned in 2012 in Arizona."

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9'When Living Was a Labor Camp' by Diana García

Another poetry collection, When Living Was a Labor Camp focuses on the migrant workers who bore California's agricultural industry on their backs.

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10'Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza' by Gloria E. Anzaldúa

In Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria E. Anzaldúa explores what it means to be Chicana and lesbian in the U.S., and how a variety of borders, both geographical and not, affect our lives.

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