Summer 2012 : Fight
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Summer 2012 : Fight
Oregon Humanities: Summer 2012
David Wacks is the first to admit that he’s a medievalist, “not an activist for issues of Mexican American education.” Yet, when the interim chair of Romance languages at the University of Oregon heard about the cancellation of the Mexican American studies program by the Tucson Unified School District, he organized a reading in response.
The school district canceled the program because of a 2010 Arizona law banning classes designed for students of any particular ethnicity, as well as those that advocated ethnic solidarity or promoted resentment or the overthrow of the U.S. government. As a result, several books were confiscated from Tucson classrooms, including Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Junot Diaz’s Drown, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which is sometimes interpreted as a critique of the colonization of the Americas.
“It struck me as an egregious example of school censorship and a threat to intellectual freedom,” Wacks says. “Since the purpose of the ban was to stop people from reading, it seemed that an appropriate push back was to read.”
In May, Wacks and several others gathered at the UO’s Erb Memorial Union amphitheater, beneath skies that threatened rain, and read aloud from several of the banned books. Doctoral student Zelda Haro read from Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. “I consider myself a survivor of the Tucson school district,” says Haro, who attended Tucson High School and describes herself as Yaqui/Chicana. She chose Silko’s book, she says, to reflect the fact that works by authors of Native American and other ancestries were also affected by the ban. “What’s occurring in Arizona is a denial of history, and therefore story,” she says. “It’s a shame that in the new millennium we haven’t been able to evolve past this notion that the U.S. is monocultural. It’s multicultural.”
Claudia Holguín Mendoza, assistant professor of Spanish and coordinator of the Heritage Language Program, chose to read from the novel Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. “When I saw this on the list of books,” she says, “I was shocked.” She read a passage in which a woman, aroused by her sister’s magical cooking skills, enjoys a horseback tryst with a soldier she summons from battle. When the generals later try to explain why the soldier left the fray, they omit mention of the woman. “It shows how history is created depending on who says what happened,” Holguín Mendoza says.
Eugene Public Library youth services librarian Anne Miller read from the young adult novel Mexican White Boy, by Matt de la Peña. “As a librarian,” she says, “I’m very concerned about access to information and literature of all kinds, for everybody.” She read during work hours with the approval of her employer. “The library world is up in arms about this one,” she says.
Wacks read from a section of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States that explained the importance of hearing all voices. “Part of my field of study includes the effect of the Inquisition on literary activity,” he says. “If I see another event that threatens intellectual freedom, I’ll probably react likewise.”
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Oregon Humanities magazine examines topics of broad public interest from a variety of perspectives and approaches. Recent issues of this publication have focused on stuff, nostalgia, and civility. Through good and thoughtful writing, Oregon Humanities magazine enriches our understanding of important subjects and stimulates conversation and reflection among readers, their friends, families, colleagues, and neighbors.
For more than a decade Camas Davis has been a magazine editor and writer for national magazines such as National Geographic Adventure and Saveur, and local publications such as Portland Monthly, Edible Portland, and Mix. In 2009, she traveled to France to study butchery. Upon her return, she founded the Portland Meat Collective, a traveling butchery school.
Eric Gold is a freelance writer in Portland.
J. David Santen Jr. has written about books, business, the environment, and communities for the Oregonian, the Portland Business Journal, and other publications. He lives in Portland.
Jill Owens works in marketing for Powell’s Books, where interviewing authors is the most interesting part of her job. She’s originally from the South but has lived in Oregon for eleven years and is here to stay.
Photographer Jim Lommasson received the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University for Shadow Boxers: Sweat, Sacrifice & the Will to Survive in American Boxing Gyms. Previous publications include Oaks Park Pentimento. His photographs have been widely exhibited in museums and galleries.
John Frohnmayer is chair of the Oregon Humanities board of directors.
Margot Minardi is an assistant professor of history and humanities at Reed College, and the author of Making Slavery History: Abolitionism and the Politics of Memory in Massachusetts (2010). She is currently working on a history of the nineteenth-century American peace movement.