Carlos Galindo, a supporter of the Tucson ethnic studies program, protests Monday, May 9, 2011 outside the Arizona Department of Education in Phoenix. With the passage of Arizona House Bill 2281 in January 2011, some Mexican American studies courses would no longer be used to satisfy core-curriculum requirements. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Opinion: Temporary victory for Mexican-American studies in Arizona

After the defeat of the GOP in the last election, Republicans declared they are on a new mission to broaden their appeal to the middle class and to minorities. However, the focus of the GOP discussion has been less about a candid look at why their policies are unpopular, and more about how they can push the same agenda with a different message.

Moving forward, Senator Marco Rubio spoke at the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner where he emphasized three basic tenets of contemporary Republicanism; low taxes, small government, and good paying jobs.

While this message is fine on its own, the GOP needs to be aware of how this philosophy has often had negative consequences for minorities in practice. The message of limited government or states rights has mostly been used as a means to an end, an end in which minorities are left without protection against the white majority.

The GOP has long used racial anxiety to create political opportunities with great success, and so it was with the anti-immigrant law, SB1070, that the Arizona legislature designed HB2281 to target the Mexican-American Studies program in Tucson.

HB2281 prohibits any instruction that caters to specific ethnic groups, promotes the overthrow of the US Government or advocates ethnic solidarity. Despite independent studies which found that the MAS program did not promote the overthrow of the US government and students who participated in the program were significantly more likely to succeed in other areas of study, Latinos were largely helpless in preventing its dismantling.

The state’s right argument has always held influence over white America, and the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, which reserves powers not delegated to the Federal government to the States, has been the focal point of the states rights movement that has been destructive to minority rights. From slavery to segregation, the state’s rights argument has been used to shield the state from violating the rights of minorities. And this argument gains particular strength in those states where racism is relied on most to maintain social institutions of white privilege.

However, despite the racist attacks on Latinos by the state of Arizona, the Latino community did have an avenue to petition for change through the federal government. The historical presence of segregation in Arizona made TUSD subject to a federal desegregation order that Latinos argued made the decision to dismantle MAS contrary to the law.

It follows every conceivable conservative principle that members of society should be versed in their history, and where diverse perspectives are present, the introduction of those perspectives is consistent with intellectual standards of inquiry. Perhaps that means that certain perspectives will highlight historical injustices committed against one group of people over another. The short response to that dilemma is to stop committing injustices, rather than giving them substantive meaning by attempting to make learning those perspectives illegal.

After over a year of protests and legal action, the federal government recently ordered TUSD to reinstate programs that were culturally relevant to the community. It was a small, and perhaps temporary, victory for the Latino community thanks to the federal government’s efforts. The TUSD board seems unlikely to accept the order without a fight, but it was yet another reminder that any efforts to recruit minorities on a message of “smaller government” is a Faustian bargain for minorities.

If the GOP wants minorities to accept the arguments about limited government, they will need to convince minorities that it won’t also mean limiting their rights as dignified citizens of this country. Without any serious effort to curtail racist laws pushed forward at the state level the GOP will continue to be viewed as hostile to the rights of Latinos.


Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.


  1. Reblogged this on Stephen A. Nuño and commented:
    My latest from NBC Latino…

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