Mexican oral tradition hands us the following narrative, a narrative that is arguably related to the ongoing battle over Raza Studies in the state of Arizona.
Soon after the Spanish invaded Mexico and laid siege to Mexico-Tenochtitlan, the Supreme Senate of the Confederation of Anahuac, sent out a decree. In Spanish, it is known as El Ultimo Mandato de Cuauhtémoc or Cuauhtémoc’s Final Decree. Cuauhtémoc – Eagle that Descends from the Sky – is considered the last Tlatoani (great speaker) and the last defender of the Aztec-Mexica peoples.
The decree speaks of their sun concealing itself, directing the Mexica to destroy all that which they hold dear: “Let us destroy our temples, our places of study, our schools, our ballgame fields, and our houses of song.” The people are directed, not to destroy their culture, but to preserve it and to take it inside their homes and to bury it deep within their hearts.
One could argue that the Raza Studies timeline begins at this point… with the call to both resist and preserve the history, knowledge and ancient culture. But in reality, this cultural timeline goes back some seven thousand years to when maiz was created on this continent. But the timeline that we’re interested in here is when Raza Studies became controversial. In 2006, farm labor leader, Dolores Huerta, addressed students at Tucson High School, telling them: “Republicans hate Latinos.” Enraged, state schools superintendent Tom Horne dispatched his deputy superintendent, Margaret Dugan-Garcia, to THS to counter that idea, arguing she was proof that “Republicans don’t hate Latinos.” The students, according to Leilani Clark, who is Pueblo and African American and who was present at the speech, were directed not to ask questions, except in written form, two weeks ahead of time. To protest this form of censorship, the students put duct tape over their mouths and as Dugan-Garcia spoke, the students turned their back on her and then proceeded to walk out of the auditorium.
Since then and with a vengeance, Huerta’s pronouncement has proven to be completely on the mark, particularly in Arizona.
The events of 2006 and the subsequent attempts to destroy Ethnic/Raza Studies are arguably related to Cuauhtemoc’s decree, a decree that many Mexicans hold to be sacred.
Unbeknownst to themselves, Russell Pearce, author of most of the state’s anti-Mexican, anti-Indigenous and anti-immigrant bills, along with Tom Horne, the intellectual author of the state’s anti K-12 Ethnic/Raza Studies bill, are players in a cosmic drama that they have no knowledge of. John Huppenthal, Horne’s successor, is also implicated as he intends to wage this campaign at the university level.
Despite their constant and disingenuous mischaracterizations of TUSD’s highly successful Raza Studies program, these state officials have not actually publically opposed the teaching of Raza Studies; they are okay with students being taught their culture and history at home, just not in public schools.
This private/ public debate regarding culture is not new. Motivated by shame and subservience, it has been infamously advanced by reactionaries in regards to language and culture: keep them at home, not in public, not in the schools. And yet, to preserve the culture, this is precisely what Cuauhtémoc’s decree instructed.
However, the decree also instructed that one day, the need to hide the culture would cease and that there would come a time when there would no longer be a need to conceal the culture.
Some will call this private/public dynamic and allusion to Cuauhtémoc’s decree a metaphor and yet, this is precisely what Arizona state officials are again insisting upon, seemingly unaware that the era of shame, that the era of keeping one’s culture within the home has long past.
The battle over Ethnic/Raza Studies represents this epic struggle. Speaking to Clark, she agreed. She said that the problem with Horne and Pearce “is that what they don’t realize is the size of our home; it is the entire continent.” This comports with another decree, proclaimed this September at a continental Indigenous encounter in Peru: “No somos inmigrantes en nuestro propio continente” – We can not be immigrants on our own continent.”
The other problem Arizona state officials don’t realize is that the idea of remanding culture to the home is no longer acceptable. Perhaps that sufficed for nearly 500 years, but as the students at Tucson High proclaimed in 2006 when they walked out on Dugan-Garcia: “You can silence our voices, but never our spirit.”
This is why students and community have walked out, have run, marched, walked, protested, rallied, gotten arrested, held vigils, sit-ins and teach-ins for the past few years. The sense of shame has lifted. The idea of concealing their culture – the idea of acquiescing in their own ethnic cleansing is no longer an option. Their/our sun will never again be concealed.