February 1, 2012 The Avengers vs. the Tucson Unified School District
I’m lucky I’m not teaching my “Thrilling Tales” course in Tuscon, Arizona this semester. Three of my eight authors made the school board’s new banned books list.
Sherman Alexie scored twice with two short story collections. I’m guessing no Tuscon administrators read his time-travel novel Flight. Its teen hero guns down a bank lobby of strangers before getting inexplicably yanked into a first-hand tour of violence across United States history. Alexie argues that violence is “perpetuated on both sides of any conflict, and whichever side you’re on, the violence goes on and on and on, both sides committing incredible acts of pain and suffering.”
Sounds pretty edifying to me, but then Tuscon isn’t worried about Alexie’s message. They banned him for being Indian.
Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz was born in the Dominican Republic, but Tuscon banned him too. Not The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I’m teaching later this semester, but his first short story collection, Drown. So apparently the children of Tuscon need to be protected not just from books where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes” but short stories in particular.
At least Isabel Allende’s Zorro is a bonafide novel, though I doubt any board members made it through all 400 pages. They just needed to skim her bio in the back, the part about her being born in Peru and growing up in Chile. Never mind that Zorro is a flagrantly pro-Democracy melting pot tale. Allende’s hero is part Indian, part blueblood Spanish, with a Jewish fencing mentor, and Gypsies and Caribbean pirates to fill in the gaps. The novel shouts: MULTICULTURALISM IS GOOD!
So either Tuscon is deaf, or that’s exactly the sort of pernicious liberal talk they need to yank from their children’s hands (by some accounts, the books were literally yanked from students in their classrooms.) So it’s not just ethnic studies that’s getting the sword edge. Alexie, Diaz, and Allende are joined by such race-obsessed monomaniacs as Henry David Thoreau and William Shakespeare.
Tucson is selling their book ban as a curriculum change designed to avoid “biased, political and emotionally charged” teaching. That means anything Mexican-American. Except students. The district is overwhelmingly Mexican-American, but presumably Mexican-American children will not be barred from attending school. Provided they don’t arrive emotionally charged.
Students can, however, sue. Two have joined eleven of their teachers in federal court to challenge the state law that prompted the book ban. The new law outlaws courses organized around ethnic themes or that promote “resentment toward a race or class of people.” That means resentment against white people. Which wipes out not only most American literature but most American history too.
The original Zorro rode to fight oppression in colonial Mexico (which, by the way, included Arizona). He’s riding again today, the national teach-in for spreading word of the Tuscon book ban. Zorro’s original band of followers dubbed themselves “the Avengers.” And it was ultimately the Avengers who ended state corruption in their fictionalized New Spain.
So here’s your own superhero moment, caballerros.
Hop on your electronic horse and share the outrage.