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This summer, Tucson students, educators, and activist did something rebellious: they celebrated books. These weren’t just any books, of course. They were the books that had been deemed contraband by school authorities, vilified as tools of a curriculum that promotes ethnic hatred. In other words, they were works like Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, Mexican White Boy, the play Zoot Suit, and Like Water for Chocolate. Texts that aim to foster critical thinking, political curiosity, and other dangerous behaviors.
The idea that these books are “subversive” was a pretext for a crackdown on Mexican American studies in Tucson. And once the controversy was broadcast across the country, Americans of all backgrounds saw exactly what these programs threatened: an ossified conservative establishment that masks social control as education.
But the school authorities probably weren’t just annoyed that the books contained radical messages. It was who was reading them that was really troubling: it was Latino youth learning about the conflicts and cultural survival that have carried through history. This has triggered anofficial campaign of oppression, involving a state-led McCarthyesque investigation. This set off a wave of resistance through legal challenges and grassroots protests using creativity and humor, culminating in the youth-led Freedom Summer.