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> From: Western History Association
> Date: May 16, 2012 10:27:38 PM
> Subject: WHA Letters on Tucson
> May 16, 2012
> To Members of the Western History Association:
> Recent events in Arizona have raised troubling questions about how American history is being taught in the Copper State. The Tucson School Board has eliminated Mexican American studies from the school curriculum and banned certain books because they ostensibly promoted racial or ethnic divisions or somehow failed to promote good citizenship. In the context of the state legislature’s recent immigration law it is not surprising that the Tucson School District’s recent actions have caused alarm to our membership. Therefore, I asked the Committee on Race in the American West (CRAW) to issue the statement that accompanies this letter. The Council supports the CRAW statement. This letter is meant to explain the Council’s thinking on the matter.
> While the Tucson School Board’s actions may be within the letter of the law they run counter to current historical scholarship and challenge generally accepted ideas about academic freedom. Briefly stated, it is not possible to fully comprehend the history of the American Southwest without understanding the history of Mexico and its peoples on both sides of the international border. It is likewise true that the history of Native Americans, Anglo Americans, and other racial and ethnic groups must be known in order to understand the whole of American history. This approach to history is a fulfillment of the old motto, E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.
> Local school boards have a right (and sometimes a duty) to restrict library holdings, but when restrictions appear to apply only to one group they create the appearance of discrimination, if not the reality. Banning books for political reasons or to efface the history of a group is, of course, repugnant to American values. Such acts hearken back to a time when books like Huckleberry Finn were removed from library shelves because they promoted racial equality.
> Why do we study history? We study history because we seek the truth about the past. The truth is messy and the truth is hard, especially in a region as complex and diverse as the Southwest. Truth does not always wear a smiling face. The triumph of one group might mean disaster for another. It may seem to some citizens that historians and teachers should not remind us of troubling aspects of our common history, but we do not do it to inflame or divide. We seek the truth in all of its messiness because we seek to better understand each other. And that understanding, we assert, promotes the best kind of citizenship.
> As we prepare for our meeting in Tucson in 2013 we have been mindful of the important issues raised by recent events in Arizona. This October a plenary session in Denver will showcase the history of immigration in the West. The Teaching Committee is planning special activities related to the immigration issue and diversity. The Program Committee is planning sessions with recent events in mind. In short, we intend to use our meeting as a teaching opportunity for our members and the public at large. We urge you to attend the meetings in Denver and Tucson. If you have ideas about the Tucson program we urge you to bring them to the attention of the Program Committee.
> President of the WHA
> Albert L. Hurtado
> Members of the WHA Council
> Donald Worster
> Dan Flores
> Karen Merrill
> John Wunder
> Louis Warren
> Sandra Schackel
> George Miles
> Quintard Taylor
> Mark Fiege
> Marsha Weisiger
> As attacks on immigrants seem to be accelerating rather than subsiding in Arizona, the Western History Association’s (WHA) decision to honor its contract and protect the organization’s financial stability by holding the 2013 conference in Tucson has been questioned by some in the membership. Given that the conference will not be relocated, the Committee for the Study of Race in the American West (CRAW) asks the WHA leadership to issue a strong and clear statement supporting the reinstatement of Mexican American Studies in the Tucson High School District, and to affirm the value of Mexican American/Chicano/Latino Studies, American Indian Studies, and Ethnic Studies as critical fields of inquiry and valued scholarship about United States history and society.
> The WHA, as an organization rich in expertise on the history of the US-Mexico borderlands and as the national professional organization representing committed educators and scholars of the history of the American West, is uniquely positioned to provide a range of scholarly responses, in a range of public settings, to Arizona’s climate of hostility and denunciation. As an organization comprised of historians, writers, and educators we are appalled by any act to ban books or Mexican American Studies. Such policies call forth a previous time in American History when Jim Crow policies forbid any critique of unequal power relations in our society based in race, gender, class, and sexuality. Almost sixty years after Brown v Board of Education we are still confronted with overt and covert segregation in our schools. Unfortunately, this is not only a legacy of the south but also a legacy of the American West. As educators, we have a commitment and duty to ensure that all voices and perspectives, including oppositional and critical perspectives, are included within education; as scholars we must ensure these perspectives likewise are documented as integral to the history of the American West.
> There must be a much more active and determined series of programs at the conference (teachins, press conference, partnering with the state universities to hold sessions at UA about the southwest borderlands, including indigenous and Mexican American experiences and Ethnic Studies) to demonstrate the significance of Ethnic Studies for all students, our solidarity with the besieged communities of color in Arizona, and our commitment to resist the terrorizing of some of the region’s most vulnerable individuals.
> CRAW also urges the WHA membership, as educators, scholars, and community members, to educate themselves about what has been taking place in Arizona, and most recently Tucson — where historically based teaching is condemned on the basis of “hear say,” and teachers are not allowed to teach certain books that provide insight about the histories and experiences of diverse communities, or to encourage critical thinking that may question European ethnocentrism in the United States’ past and present. We thus echo the 2013 Program Committee chair’s suggestion that the WHA membership creatively respond to the call for papers, and engage key concepts, questions, and cultural formations in western history that might shed light upon the current culture wars and violence against certain bodies marked by race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and economic status in the American West.
> The Committee for the Study of Race in the American West:* Maria E.
> Montoya, New York University and Chair of CRAW Matt Basso, University
> of Utah Katherine Benton-Cohen, Georgetown University Kent Blansett,
> University of Minnesota Morris Christopher Friday, Western Washington
> University Kelly Lytle Hernandez, University of California Los Angeles
> Karl Jacoby, Yale University Modupe LaBode, Indiana University-Purdue
> University Indianapolis Kevin Leonard, Western Washington University
> Karen J. Leong, Arizona State University Pablo Mitchell, Oberlin
> College Barbara Reyes, University of New Mexico Traci Brynne Voyles,
> Loyola Marymount University Michael Witgen, University of Michigan
> *All of the above signatories hold doctorates in History and faculty
> positions in History or related programs and departments, and are members of the Western History Association.