From Consortium News
Advocates of Mexican-American studies are celebrating a federal court ruling restoring one of the most successful programs in Arizona public schools as a victory against "state-sponsored racism."
Nolan Cabrera, associate professor at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona, has been involved from the beginning in resisting the controversial removal of ethnic studies from the Tucson Unified School District. I spoke to Cabrera on Aug. 26, after a U.S. District Court judge's decision in favor of the restoration of the program.
Cabrera is a recipient of the prestigious education early-career award the National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral fellowship and is a fellow for the American Association for Hispanics in Higher Education.
Dennis Bernstein: Nolan Cabrera, you created an ethnic studies program at the University of Arizona that provided the informational background for the students who fought the effort to shut down ethnic studies in Tucson. How did you get involved?
Dr. Nolan Cabrera: I became involved in the struggle around Mexican American studies running statistical analyses on the efficacy of the program. Interestingly, I was doing this for the desegregation case, which was a separate issue from House Bill 2281, that banned ethnic studies. But then that became the basis for the other statistical analyses, which demonstrated the program's remarkable achievements in terms of student development over the years.
DB: Could you talk about the pressure that is building in Arizona right now? President Trump just made a kind of campaign stop in Phoenix, praising Sheriff Joe [Arpaio] and saying that he plans to pardon him. What does it mean for Trump to be there?
NC: When ethnic studies was banned in 2010, there was also a massive anti-immigrant bill and a move to eliminate affirmative action. We had border militias, there was the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords. It is almost as if the rest of America has become like what Arizona was at that time. So, while it is important that the president is here in Arizona, in terms of emboldening white supremacists and those advocating for regressive social policies, it is very much par for the course. We have been dealing with this for the better part of a decade in Arizona.
DB: When Trump praises Sheriff Joe, in spite of the fact that he has been convicted of breaking the law, what message is he sending and how does that reverberate with white supremacists?
NC: Firstly, there is this whole macho bravado that really resonates with a lot of Trump supporters, of which Sheriff Joe is a classic example. He likes to call himself "the toughest sheriff in the country." Actually, he was picking on poor undocumented migrants, subjecting them to inhumane conditions. That's not toughness, that's not strength. It is just bullying, cowardice and racism.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona speaking at the Tea Party Patriots American Policy Summit in Phoenix, Arizona, Feb. 25, 2011.
(Image by (Photo by Gage Skidmore)) Details DMCA
If he is pardoned, it will send a clear message that racial profiling, hunting down Mexicans, etc. is acceptable. As a colleague of mine in Colorado, Susana Munoz, says, "Dehumanizing policies give a license to dehumanize."
In Arizona, it has had a twofold effect: It is emboldening racist action and, at the same time, it is sending up a flag welcoming new membership. The Southern Poverty Law Center is currently tracking 18 substantiated hate groups in the state of Arizona. One of my friends remarked that he didn't realize the number was so low. And when rhetoric from the top draws false equivalencies between neo-Nazis and Black Lives Matter, it allows the white supremacists to feel vindicated and it justifies violence against civil rights organizations.
I am glad that a lot of the people who have been playing overt racist politics have been voted out of office in Arizona: Russell Pierce, John Huppenthal, Tom Horne and Joe Arpaio. In some respects, the voting populace as a whole is pushing back on this politics of racism and division. This is an incredibly important symbolic act.
DB: You were a key witness in the recent case in Tucson regarding the attempt by certain legislators to end the ethnic studies program there, which was proven to be incredibly successful. Could you remind people exactly what the case was about? And didn't the judge rule that ethnic studies was a positive part of the educational system in Tucson?