BY J. A. RIPPO
Arizona governor Jan Brewer has signed into law a bill that effectively ends Mexican-American studies classes in Arizona’s public schools (HB 2281). She did this after Tom Horne, a school superintendent and candidate for Attorney General, made noise about his dislike of a Mex-Am culture program in Tucson.
Horne and Brewer justified their action by claiming the classes promote the overthrow of the US government, preached resentment toward white people; particularly well-off ones, and urged ethnic solidarity at the expense of a melting-pot mentality.
The governor’s actions were enough to make the UN Human Rights Commission sit up and take notice, for all the good that might do, and this in turn excited the usual hot-headed cracker contingent itching to defend their sunbaked desert homeland from invasion by unwashed, un-Englished beige savages. To Brewer and her friends, ending “subversive” classes is defending the status quo — which is exactly why it stinks.
Brewer’s actions are an affront to history. By eliminating any but the state-sanctioned version of Arizona and US history, she’s going beyond the so-called conservative “hands off” approach to government intervention in people’s lives and setting the state up to be the official arbiter of the past. Usually, forms of state-controlled propaganda are admitted for what they are but, in Arizona’s case, historical revisionism to the lowest common denominator of understanding means Brewer’s ethnic look-alikes get to pretend their version of the past is all that matters.
Historians are taught that perspectives matter. Perspectives are a standpoint from which observations, measurements and records are taken. Worthwhile historians admit that, so long as one is honest about one’s perspective and is objective enough with what’s found and issued from that perspective, analysis and record are worthy. The histories of the American Southwest written by Spanish, Mexican or American historians would agree on many points; they would differ in perspective and focus on issues important to their countries and cultures. Other histories about other times and places do the same. Facts are facts. What is derived from them is specific to the chronicler. This is why we encounter books with such titles as “The History of the War of Northern Aggression” or “A Feminist History of the Civil Rights Era” or “A Diplomatic History of the United States, 1791 – 1991.” The first book in that list lets you know it’s the work of a Southern sympathizer, since only Southern apologists would use such a title about the Civil War. A “feminist history” emphasizes issues critical to at least half the population as a standpoint from which to mark the events of the era. And a “diplomatic history” would have little to say about issues at home and much to do with issues abroad. They’d still be worthy reads because they’ve declared their perspective and may therefore present a clear and coherent analysis.
But history is badly used by those who suppress or deny perspectives. The Soviets did that in their satellite countries when they prohibited teaching about nationalist movements and traditional values of subject peoples and forced children to learn the conqueror’s language and to abhor the religion by which their ancestors lived. The winners write the histories, we are told; and, in Arizona, Jan Brewer plans to force every kid in the state-run system to learn the sugar-coated stuff that passes for public-school history — with no regard as to whether the learner is a living, breathing exemplar of a very different historical perspective.
And that is what is so ugly about this ugly woman in her increasingly ugly state. By suppressing what is obvious to the Mexican-American kids (who know damned well their history is far different from that of Jan Brewer and her base of furious flunkies) she’s raising a generation of kids who will increasingly identify with those who were suppressed and were made second-class citizens, that is, if they’re citizens at all. By pimping the politics of division, she drives away the kids who might otherwise identify with all things American in the long run — just as has every other ethnic group. It’s a perfect way to balkanize peoples here — with enmity and violence for all, in the long run.
It doesn’t take much to see what happened to the Mexican perspective of southwestern history: The white American inheritors of the Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidlago occupy it, for one thing, and have spent the last 160 or so years making those who formerly resided in el sudoeste unwelcome. Brewer takes issue with a textbook in Arizona ethnic studies classes that claims America is occupied; but American Indians and Mexican Americans have known that for a long time and life goes on. Mexican-American students merely have to ask their abuelo about the Bracero Program to learn about what the US does when it needs labor. And they can read the headlines about the Border Patrol, ICE and “the fence” to see what happens when labor becomes redundant. They can always seethe with resentment when, although born here and as American as the next guy, they’re racially profiled at traffic stops, red=lined for home loans (based on heritage) and excluded from society because of others’ flawed perspective.
Brewer isn’t merely suppressing perspectives of history and cultural awareness. She’s working to enshrine a state-mandated official doctrine of how it is — and who is allowed — to be an American. It’s a replica of Soviet-style thinking and a prelude to disaster that will increase the animosities between those whose ancestors fell off the Mayflower and those who once chummed up with Flores Magon. If you don’t know that name, don’t be too surprised; our history books ignored it. Ask one of the Mexican American kids. They’ll know who he was and the perspective they share will be worth the time spent learning it, which is better than anything Jan Brewer and the Arizona legislature is up to these days.