Victory for Mexican American Studies in Arizona case

The Arizona District Court has awarded the student plaintiffs a resounding win in their battle against Arizona's elimination of Mexican American Studies. Read the opinion here. 

One of Judge Tashima's key findings is that the enactment of the statute that eliminated MAS was motivated by a discriminatory purpose. Former superintendent Huppenthal's blog posts and comments furnished key evidence of racial animus (notably, given the current climate, one post cited by the judge stated "MAS = KKK in a different color"). Judge Tashima specifically found that Huppenthal's blog comments were more indicative of his state of mind than his more anodyne public statements--in part because he hid behind a pseudonym.

In another key finding--and, again, importantly for our present context--Judge Tashima found that "certain frequently invoked terms and concepts, including 'Raza,' 'un-American,' 'radical,' 'communist,' 'Aztlan,' and 'M.E.Ch.A.' operated as derogatory code words for Mexican Americans in the MAS debate." These code words drew on "negative mischaracterizations that had little to no basis in fact." Yet they had particular power in communicating animus, specifically to Republican primary voters.

Judge Tashima further found that animus motivated enforcement of the statute as well, again relying in part on Huppenthal's blog posts. Former superintendents Horne and Huppenthal knew of other ethnic studies programs and had evidence that these program violated the statute, but they took no action to investigate possible violations. And enforcement of the statute was rife with irregularities--including finding that MAS violated the statute before the statute was even in effect--demonstrated further animus.

Particularly valuable to me is Judge Tashima's conclusion regarding the "face value" assumptions that superintendents made about MAS curriculum content. They assumed that any text taught as part of MAS was taught for its truth value, on its face. Thus, MAS teachers could not teach a speech by Che Guevara as an exercise in rhetoric, or to illustrate his thoughts and place in history. Instead, superintendents assumed that MAS teachers would convey the speech to students as literal truth. Denying any critical thinking content to MAS courses was a "baseless assumption" for Judge Tashima--and further evidence of negative stereotyping. 

One of the moments that transfixed the courtroom in the Ninth Circuit argument that preceded this trial was Arizona's statement that the academic success of the MAS program was irrelevant to the case. I found that statement shocking. It revealed that for Arizona, it was more important to stifle Mexican American Studies as a political threat than it was to properly educate all students. It was more important to Arizona to silence Mexican-American and Latino students than to promote their success. As the judge tartly noted: "One would expect that officials responsible for public education in Arizona would continue, not terminate, an academically successful program...Although Horne and Huppenthal were told that the MAS program was academically excellent, they refused to believe it." And that racist rejection of Mexican-American student success has finally been thoroughly quashed, today.

Justice is sometimes so, so sweet.