War on Indigenous in Arizona

War on Indigenous in Arizona

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“If I am alien, where is my spaceship?”

This line from a poem by Cantos Al Sexto Sol describes how we feel right now in Arizona.

First they have come for our bodies, to deport those they can. Now they come for our souls.

No matter what they do, they will never have our spirits.

With Arizona in the spotlight, most of the nation has focused on the draconian anti-immigrant law SB 1070, which makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant. But this is the culmination of a war that has been going on for 518 years. The mood here is not anti-immigrant. It is anti-Mexican. The racial profiling law has little to do with legalities; it is about the expressed targeting of red-brown indigenous peoples.

Law officers will not target generic Hispanics or even Mexicans. Their profile is 100 percent indigenous. That’s why American Indians in Arizona understand precisely what this law is all about (Navajo Times, May 13). They are subject to this profile because the similarities are obvious: short, dark hair, dark eyes and red-brown skin. Spaniards are not at risk.

How do we know this? Look to the historic practices of la migra, or the current practices of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. They have been racial profiling for years, and now the governor has authorized all law enforcement to be able to do the same, under threat of lawsuits. For years, those of us with red-brown skin have lived this reality anywhere along the U.S.-Mexico border. Nowadays, this anti-Mexican sentiment, under the veneer of anti-illegal immigrant fervor, is nationwide.

This is about our bodies.

In past years, they’ve gone after our tongues. In Arizona, in the year 2000, Proposition 203 virtually gutted bilingual education, based on the belief that it is better to be monolingual than bilingual. Arizona was simply following the lead of California’s Proposition 227 in 1998. But to this day, the question remains: What does language have to do with legal status?

The latest salvo is HB 2281. This one is about our souls.

This new law is an attempt by Superintendent Tom Horne to eliminate ethnic studies. Specifically, Horne has targeted Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program, arguing that what is taught there is outside of western civilization and should not be taught in Arizona schools.

This law has nothing to do with “illegal immigration.” If anything, it resembles the practices of the early European friars who deemed indigenous knowledge to be godless and demonic and attempted to destroy it completely. The burning of the books of our ancestors – indigenous peoples of this continent – resides deep within our psyche. The philosophical foundation for Mexican American studies in general is Maya-Nahuatl knowledge – derived from thousands of years of maize culture.

Anthropologists refer to it as Mesoamerican knowledge. One part of it is: In Lak Ech – Tu eres mi otro yo – you are my other self. It is an ethic that teaches us that we are all part of each other. It is a human rights ethos connected to social justice and love of humanity.

This is what Horne wants to ban. Could book burning and an auto-de-fe be next? Of course. This is what he wants. He has singled out Rodolfo Acuña’s book, “Occupied America,” and Paolo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” as examples of books that preach hate, promote segregation, anti-Americanism and the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.

After the law was signed last week by Gov. Jan Brewer, metaphorically, an auto-de-fe was precisely what Horne came to conduct at TUSD the very next day. Hundreds of middle and high school students laid siege to the TUSD headquarters. When he failed to show his face, he scheduled a press conference at the nearby state building a couple of miles away. The same students marched there, laying siege to the state building. Eventually, 15 arrests were made. I was one of them.

Why are students willing to be arrested? Because the two books singled out are but the beginning. The new law authorizes the monitoring and censorship of books to ensure that they are in compliance with the law. Only non-educators could have come up with this one.

And so here we are again. Welcome to Apartheid Arizona, U.S.A.

Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com