Not long ago, I read an article by Matt Rothschild on The Progressive website called, "Banned in Tucson." This was the first time I had seen the actual reading list of the forbidden Mexican-American Studies Department.
One of my own books, Zapata's Disciple: Essays (South End Press, 1998), is on the list. Indeed, this book has been banned before—by the Texas state penal system, on the grounds that it might incite the inmates to riot.
Being banned in Tucson, however, is a far greater honor. On the list of banned authors I am keeping company with the likes of César Chávez, James Baldwin, Henry David Thoreau and Howard Zinn, four great icons of resistance in this country. I am keeping company with ancestors. I am keeping company with some of the finest Latino/a writers alive today. May our words always trigger the sweating and babbling of bigots.
There is an essay in Zapata's Disciple called "The New Bathroom Policy in English High School." This is how the essay ends:
"On October 12th, 1996--Columbus Day--I gave a reading at a bookstore in Tucson, Arizona. The reading was co-sponsored by Derechos Humanos, a group which monitors human rights abuses on the Arizona-México border, and was coordinated with the Latino March on Washington that same day. At 7 PM, the precise time when the reading was to begin, we received a bomb threat. The police arrived with bomb-sniffing dogs, and sealed off the building. I did the reading in the parking lot, under a streetlamp."
I'd like to think that this tale of Tucson had something to do with the book being banned in Tucson, but this would give the censors too much credit. They need not read the books they ban. Theirs is the logic of fear, the reasoning of racism.
In fact, this book is banned because it appears on the reading list of the banned Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson. All I had to do to give offense was to appear on a list. Consider the almost ritualistic significance of lists to Joseph McCarthy and the repressive apparatus of McCarthyism.
In the end, this is just another bomb threat. All they have done is force us to evacuate the building. We will gather ourselves in the dark, and keep reading to each other in whatever light we can find.