Precious Knowledge: State Bans on Ethnic Studies, Book Traffickers (Librotraficantes), and a New Type of Race Trial

BY Richard Delgado

The rapid growth of populations of color, particularly relatively young groups like Latinos, has generated an increasing number of conflicts over schools and schooling. One such controversy erupted in Tucson, Arizona, over a successful Mexican American Studies program in the public schools. The controversy featured accusations that the program was un-American and biased, while defenders countered that it greatly boosted attendance, graduation rates, and aspiration level for hundreds of Latino schoolchildren, many from poor immigrant families. Prior to the program’s inception, drop-out rates for this group were nearly fifty percent; the program elevated the graduation rate to nearly ninety. Taught by energetic young teachers, many of them graduates of university-level ethnic studies programs, the course of instruction emphasized Latino history and culture, including works by well-known authors. When the Arizona authorities banned the program under a new law prohibiting the teaching of ethnically divisive material and removed the offending textbooks to an offsite book depository in front of shocked schoolchildren, the local Latino community exploded in indignation. A Texas community-college professor organized a caravan of librotraficantes (book traffickers) that carried trunkfuls of “wet books” all the way from Houston to Tucson, where the drivers gave them away to schoolchildren and interested bystanders.

Teachers who were fired or transferred brought a number of actions challenging the legislation and book ban. Taking as its title an award-winning documentary film, this Article analyzes a number of issues likely to come to the fore in the years ahead, including the right of minority groups to study material essential to understanding their own background, history, and identity—in short, a new type of race trial.

DOWNLOAD PDF | 91 N.C. L. Rev. 1513 (2013)