It may be hot outside, but Arizona has gotten just a little bit colder to its Hispanic community. It seems that lawmakers from the state made famous by it’s notorious heat and refusal to accept Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday in the 90’s have made a commitment to either pass, or at least introduce anti-Hispanic and anti-minority legislation and initiatives.
First up is a plan to introduce legislation aimed at children of immigrants. The so-called “Anchor Babies” bill aims to deny citizenship to children born in the United States to parents who are in the U.S. illegally. Currently, the 14th Amendment states that any person naturalized or born in the United States will be granted citizenship. However, Republican state senator Russell Pearce, who is the driving force behind the yet-to-be introduced bill, says that the framers of the Constitution never intended for the law to be applied under its current interpretation. While the so-called “Anchor Babies” bill has drawn national attention to an already beleaguered state, the racial tensions are reverberating all the way down to the local levels.
Less than a month after signing the controversial Senate Bill 1070 into law, granting local police the right to demand citizenship paperwork from individuals, Gov. Jan Brewer quietly signed a bill that aims to dissolve ethnic-studies classes in the state. Arizona Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Horne spearheaded the bill’s passage. Horne claims that Mexican-American classes in a Tucson school district teach Hispanic students that Whites oppress them and that they should hate Whites.
Opponents argue that the benefits of ethnic-specific classes are invaluable, especially in communities where the ratio of minorities to Whites is overwhelmingly disproportionate. In addition, advocates of the programs say that the classes teach students about Hispanic authors and the Hispanic influence in the Vietnam War. The Tucson school district also offers African-American and Native-American history classes.
The law doesn’t completely ban such classes however, so long as the classes are open to all students and do not advocate hate or resentment to another race. The question now becomes who will determine what lessons violate these guidelines and will they be fairly applied. However, the racial tensions seem to have permeated from inside the classroom onto the outside walls.
In June, artists with the Prescott Downtown Mural Project commissioned to create a mural for Miller Valley Elementary School were forced to lighten the complexion of students depicted in the painting, most notably the image of a Hispanic boy who is at the center of the piece. The mural featured children of different ethnicities using environmentally friendly transportation as part of a “Go on Green” campaign. Leading the charge for the picture’s whitewashing was Prescott City Councilman Steve Blair, who said the mural “looks like graffiti in L.A.” He later
“I am not a racist individual, but I will tell you depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who’s President of the United States today and based upon the history of this community, when I grew up we had four black families – who I have been very good friends with for years – to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, ‘Why?’
The artists say that they experienced racist taunts from passersby the entire time they were painting the mural. After Jeff Lane, the school’s principal, had the faces changed “to remove some of the shadowing that made the face darker than they are,” the school received far fewer complaints. However, after Councilman Blair’s on-air rant, the school ordered the artists to restore the children’s faces in the mural back to their original tones.
So maybe there is hope for Arizona after all. Sadly, It still looks to be a tough road ahead for minorities in the state, particularly the Hispanic community. While there may be valid concerns regarding immigration reform and Mexican drug violence in Arizona’s bordering towns, many are wondering if the state is letting fear and intolerance shape the law and communities they are meant to serve.
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