TUSD leader talks ethnic studies

Gordon+Bates+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0ASean+Arce%2C+Director+of+Mexican+American+Studies+Program+at+TUSD%2C+speaks+about+the+programs+struggles+at+the+UA+on+Thursday.

Gordon Bates

Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat Sean Arce, Director of Mexican American Studies Program at TUSD, speaks about the programs’ struggles at the UA on Thursday.

In the wake of the dismantling of TUSD’s Mexican-American studies program, a UA student-run organization invited the program’s director to discuss challenges faced by Mexican-American studies advocates.

Members of the Chicano organization Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.), asked Sean Arce, director of Mexican-American Studies program at TUSD, and Mexican-American studies professors Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez about the removal of ethnic studies courses from Tucson Unified School District’s curriculum, mandated by House Bill 2281. Additionally, Arce and the professors spoke about why Arce’s contract as director of ethnic studies at TUSD was not renewed for next year.

Arce said he was one of the first Tucsonans to speak out against the law, but refused to comment when asked if he thought his public opposition was the reason the district did not renew his contract.

Rodriguez informed attendees about the district’s appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” He said Michael Hicks, a TUSD governing board member who was interviewed on the show, negatively singled out Mexican-Americans. Rodriguez also called out John Pedicone, the district’s superintendent, for saying that he is working with the UA’s Mexican-American studies program.

“This is false information. If you ask all professors in the MAS (Mexican-American studies) department, they will tell you that Dr. Pedicone provided false information,” Rodriguez said. “As a professor myself, this is false information that he said publicly.”

Hicks told “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” that the Mexican American studies classes were overly inclusive, citing that instructors would buy their students burritos once a week. This brings the issue of racism into the picture, Rodriguez said.

“The good thing about this is that it is much more nationalized now, where we have received positive reinforcements,” he said. “Victory will hopefully be at hand. We need to unify locally.”

Court hearings attempting to appeal the legislation will take place in the next several weeks, Arce said. Attorney General Tom Horne, the former superintendent of public instruction, and Pedicone have both gone on record to say they will fight the case to the Ninth Circuit Court. This is the first case of its kind to occur in the federal court system, Arce said.

Arce said he will continue to fight the school board and ask them to give Mexican-Americans equal rights. He, his family and those of his culture deserve this, he said. In the meantime, he will finish his doctorate and work with the community on cultural-based events.

“Even though my contract has not been renewed from the board, I continue to want to help clubs like M.E.Ch.A. and I encourage everyone to begin organizing,” he said. “We owe it to our brothers and sisters of our race who are less fortunate to become scholar activists to help our community and culture.”

Gonzales said she supports the ethnic studies program at a local and university level, as well as Arce. Gonzales’s children were in Arce’s class, she said, and they would come home and tell her that sitting through his class was “life-changing.”

“I can say that Sean’s life has impacted my family just like many others and I wish him the very best,” she said. I will continue to support him.”