TUCSON, Ariz. — At the main entrance to a campus here, a sign greets visitors with "Welcome to Tucson High, Home of the Largest Xicano Studies Program in the Nation."
"Xicano," or Chicano, studies is a 14-year-old program in the Tucson Unified School District that offers classes from elementary through high school in topics such as literature, history and social justice that emphasize Hispanic authors and history.
In the wake of Arizona's new law to crack down on illegal immigration, such classes are the subject of another ethnically tinged fight in the state. Another bill okayed by the Legislature seeks to ban such courses, which critics say promote "ethnic chauvinism."
Supporters of Mexican-American studies say the aim is to offer subjects and perspectives ignored by academia, as well as foster pride in a marginalized community.
In teacher Curtis Acosta's literature class at Tucson High, the walls are plastered with the faces of labor leaders Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara. Students read fiction by Luis Alberto Urrea and Junot Diaz and plays by the Los Angeles-based theater troupe Culture Clash.
The proposed law would ban schools from teaching classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, are designed for students of a particular ethnic group, promote resentment or advocate ethnic solidarity over treating pupils as individuals.
The Tucson district says its program does none of those things. Sean Arce, the program's director, said the classes address the academic achievement gap between Hispanics and non-Hispanics.
"Why aren't these legislators up in arms that we have this huge Latino population going to prison and not to higher education?" he asked. "They should be outraged about that. They should be saying, 'What can we do to fix that?' But they're not."
The bill in question now is on Gov. Jan Brewer's desk. She has until May 11 to veto or sign it. If she does nothing, the bill becomes law.