Arizona Judge Rules Mexican-American Studies Illegal, Is Horrible and Wrong

What is this, the dystopian ‘80s? George Orwell would like his plot back. Judge Lewis Kowal, an Arizona administrative law judge, ruled this past Tuesday that a Mexican-American ethnic studies program taught in a Tucson high school is illegal, saying that it violates “state law by having one or more classes designed primarily for one ethnic group, promoting racial resentment and advocating ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals,” which is long speak for “[promoting] activism against white people” according to the Huffington Post. WHAT.

This crazy ruling stems from a 2010 education policy that miraculously passed, where “ethnic studies programs [are equated] with high treason,” according to HuffPo — schools could be denied state funding if classes taught “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment of a particular race or class of people” or the reasons defined above in the Tucson ruling.


This kind of educational censorship and the attempt to revise and limit minority history seems like something out of a sci-fi novel — the kind where after you finish the book you heave a sigh of relief. All books being burned ceremoniously (Farhenheit 451)? Glad that hasn’t happened. All women becoming sex slaves and forced to do manual labor for a small commune of religious fanatics (A Handmaid’s Tale)? That’s not real either. What about a country revising its political history so that it justifies the actions of the elite and the privileged (1984)? That hasn’t … oh wait.

The ruling itself is scary — it uses phrases like “racial resentment” and “ethnic solidarity” and suggests that a class that teaches Mexican-American studies is fostering discrimination against white people. By shutting down this ethnic studies program for promoting “ethnic solidarity” rather than “treating students as individuals,” Kowal is participating in one of the most pervasive forms of 21st-century racism — with this ruling passing, it’s like Kowal is saying race doesn’t exist, institutional discrimination is a non-event, oppression isn’t real, and the most racist thing you can do is talk about racism. It’s like Arizona has its fingers in its ears and is going LALALALA very loudly — do you remember when Arizona passed the anti-immigration law SB-1070 that promotes racial profiling (i.e., encourages cops to pick out people with darker skin, accents)? Or when the Arizona Department of Education decided that teachers with “heavy” or “ungrammatical” accents can no longer teach English classes?


It’s very divide-and-conquer — by discouraging “ethnic solidarity,” and making the existence of minority studies illegal in Tucson public schools, this ruling is really trying to break down “threatening” groups of racial minorities into individuals who are more easily dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Kowal would appreciate the Asian/American “model minority” system too, where minorities compete against each other for social acceptance and upward mobility rather than working together in groups to enact real activism. Why? Because he’s afraid — afraid of upwardly mobile minorities in the great state of Arizona.

By breaking down minority groups who are becoming aware of social injustices and their history in America, Arizona thinks it can suppress its Mexican-American population. The ruling itself seems to come from a place of paranoia about Mexican-Americans; Arizona’s majorities seem to be projecting their own fears on to this ethnic studies program. The racial resentment talked about seems to come from a place of worry that these “nonthreatening” Mexican-Americans will suddenly become aware of white oppression and rise up against the white majority, Terminator-style. And the ethnic solidarity mentioned suggests that if groups of Mexican-Americans get together and talk about what’s actually happening, they’ll overthrow the government. Or something. THIS IS NOT HOW CIVIL RIGHTS WORKS YOU GUYS.

The amount of fear that’s causing these rulings to even pass is worrisome, and the fact that Arizona thinks it can regulate its minorities by shutting down ethnic studies programs and censoring the information that individuals (of all races) are taught in Tucson public schools about Mexican-Americans is even scarier. The underlying belief that a crazy ruling like this will solve a lot of fears related to these “uprising” of minorities in Arizona only reveals how illogical these fears are. It’s scary this is happening in Arizona, but it’s happening almost everywhere else too, especially with the oppression of LGBTQA minorities and the refusal to talk about notable LGBTQA Americans in public school as well (upside: the California push to include LGBTQA history and noteworthy individuals in textbooks!). If a US state in almost-2012 is actively trying to prevent young people from learning about the oppression they or their peers are experiencing, maybe Orwell wasn’t really that much off the mark after all — and that’s a scary thought.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Whitney Pow

Whitney is a lover of food, books, comic books and journals made for left-handed people. They are a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University, where their research focuses on queer video games and new media. They are also a graphic designer, writer and editor who has worked for places like Opium Magazine, Literary Death Match, Publishers Weekly and The Feminist Press. Check out their website at and follow them on Twitter @whitneypow.

Whitney has written 53 articles for us.


  1. I presume that this ruling will also apply to any sort of womens/gender studies class. Possibly even a class on labor history? The implications of this are really frightening.

    • Thats what I immediately thought of too :( I loved my gender studies class!

      What about African-american studies?

    • That’s already happening with women’s studies, except the programs are quietly being enveloped and/or shut down & consequently receiving no publicity for doing so…

  2. This is my home state and also the law targets my high school. Yes it is frightening. But no, it will no effect gender studies classes. To my knowledge there aren’t any in any high schools in arizona that offer them anyway, and this law is targeted at Tucson Unified School District, it doesn’t apply to universities.

    I am horrified at my state over the last couple years though. Our state legislature is full of nutjobs.

  3. For a group that seeks equality I find this commentary ridiculous. History should be taught from the perspective of Americans in American schools. If a minority group wants to be heard and spread their word, they should form their own group and not expect the government to pay for spreading their biased opinions.

    • White American history and white culture you mean? Because that’s what’s being taught and that’s the problem. Aside from one month where history classes teach about black people the history of the United States as it’s taught from the white perspective which ignores anything or anyone that strays from the normative. That includes gays which is why we’re seeking equality, which is why when we see issues where an entire culture is ignored (and persecuted as they are in Arizona) we mourn the American dream with them.

      America is not a melting pot, there is no “American culture.” We are a multicultural nation with peoples from all over the world. We say, come to America and you can still be Polish and American! Come to America and you can still be African and America! Come to America and you can still be you but also American!! But don’t expect us to teach you anything about yourself or your perspective in school because some white evangelicals in Texas decided that you weren’t worthy of mention in our history books.

      Yeah, fuck that.

    • This commentary discusses *Americans* – Mexican-Americans to be specific. Kids should be learning about our society and history from more than one portion of our population.

    • I thought Mexican-Americans were Americans… Huh. Good to know that “real” Americans can only be white.

    • I’m an American minority who was taught American perspectives that were not my own at American schools. Is my American perspective truly not worthy of retelling?

    • Riiight, ’cause everything taught in American schools or funded by the government is totally unbiased.

    • Everything about this comment is ridiculous.

      “For a group that seeks equality I find this commentary ridiculous. History should be taught from the perspective of Americans in American schools.”

      a) Why?
      b) You do realize that “American” covers many genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and races, right?

      “If a minority group wants to be heard and spread their word, they should form their own group and not expect the government to pay for spreading their biased opinions.”

      What does this even mean? PoC should start their own private schools? Teaching about ethnicities other than white is inherently biased? American schools aren’t already biased?

      I mean, do you really think that all the information you got in school was unbiased in every way?

      Also, yes, teachers get paid. They get paid to teach. They don’t get paid specifically to protect the people in power from criticism, or to mold children into identical passive people.

  4. So in your opinion whitewashing history and pretending that our country hasn’t done incredibly racist and horrifying shit to minorities is less biased?

    You don’t want people to learn about Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez? They should be considered heroes. Do you know how badly farm workers were treated? Here’s a hint, two of the major gains Chavez and Huerta got for them were longer handles on their tools to protect their backs during the hard labor they were performing and bathroom breaks during their 12+ hour work days.

    Mexican American studies teaches kids about Social Justice and activism and how to be critical thinkers. These are the kids who grow up aware of social inequality and are given tools they can use to make a difference in their communities. They learn about Chicano people who embraced their cultural heritage and also made a difference in society, and they have someone they can look up to. I will also point out the the kids in these Mexican American studies classes are often from low-income backgrounds, but they are the ones who end up graduating high school and going to college. Something that actually creates a passion for learning in young kids is something that should be embraced, especially considering how awful our public school systems are in Arizona.

    Pretending that we in this country haven’t committed horrible atrocities is ignorant. And ignoring the racism inherent in our society is dangerous, because that is how racism and sexism and homophobia and all those things get perpetuated. Pretending we live in a post-race society is a great way to perpetuate white privilege.

    • It is really a terrible place. Some of the laws that get passed are like if you looked up WTF in the dictionary you’d see the laws sited.

  5. Damn Arizona, what the hell? This is wrong on so many levels. Sidenote: Brave New World always scared me more than 1984.

  6. I’m hearing a lot of anger and hate but little reason or logic. My heritage is Scottish and French. Both have very proud and colorful histories. I am now an American and an Arizona native. I don’t disparage anyone else their culture and do not wish to deny anyone the opportunity to express their ignorance on this site. Ancient Mexico can be said to have produced five major civilizations: the Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan,Toltec, and Aztec. The entire Mexican civilization was conquered by the Spanish. Why is it that people of Mexican heritage hate Americans but claim to be Spanish. Can no one in Mexico trace their heritage to one of the five native cultures.

    • I love when people are like “Oh lol you can compare me to an African-American/Mexican-American/other non-white ethnic group because I am also ethnic! Scottish Americans and African Americans are both, like, minorities right?!”

      First off, the difference between a Mexican-American and a European mutt like myself is that Mexican Americans have been systemically and historically discriminated against (and still are today!!) whereas “European Americans”–i.e. white people–enjoy enormous amounts of privilege compared to Americans of color. So don’t claim to speak as a minority when you are clearly white and therefore privileged.

      Second off, the entire second half of your comment makes no sense. You claim to hear no reasonable arguments from Autostraddlers, but we’ve made some damn reasonable responses. On the other hand, your argument is flimsy and fallacious. Sorry, I generally don’t feed trolls but I have heard these ridiculous sorts of statements way too many times.

    • “Mexican” in the 21st century can apply to all sorts of groups, including those descended from Spanish colonists, Spanish-indigenous mixes, and those who still identify as Mayan, et al.

      The problem many Mexicans have with the United States was the wars of conquest that annexed a third of Mexico. People get worked up about wars of conquest. It’s a thing. Look it up at your local library under “HISTORY OF EVERYTHING EVER”. That kind of history colours everything that comes after.

      When the British defeated the French for control of “Canada”, the English-speaking victors gave the French population a level of autonomy that exists to this day. Canada is now a bilingual country.

      The U.S., on the other hand, acted like straightforward imperialists. The fact the United States isn’t officially bilingual is a sign of this assholery.

      A great deal of suffering would have been prevented if only the British had kept a leash on the crazies in the Thirteen Colonies who were so desperate to commit ethnic cleansing across the continent, import fuckloads of slaves, etc, etc.

  7. I have attended the protests in the pictures, the bill was aimed at my high school, Tucson Magnet High, and the class they are talking about specifically is one Tom Horne, who used to be the superintendent of the school system , targeted constantly. I had many friends who attended this class and it was a very great class, it taught Arizona history in a broad sense, focusing on all cultures and not just the stuff they cover in basic history books. The teacher was great and I am very sad we lost this battle, I may have been graduated for a few years but this still effects all our Tucson kids. This state needs to shape up.

    • Good for you for protesting! This is horrible, and I’m sorry that you’ve lost such a good program.

  8. Arizona sounds like a great place to live if your Mexican. You have more liberties there than any other place in the entire U.S![insert Kim Kardashian level of fake smile]

Comments are closed.