By: Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodríguez
1. At a time of sky-high dropout rates nationwide, the Mexican American Studies (MAS-TUSD) K-12 program in Tucson Unified School District is a highly successful department that graduates nearly 95% of its students and sends more than 70% of them to college.1 MAS-TUSD students also score higher on state-mandated standardized tests in English, History and Math.2 By all rights, the nation’s premiere Mexican American Studies K-12 program should be exported nationwide; instead, it is embattled and on an inexplicable path to eventual extermination. The conflict over Tucson’s Mexican American Studies has been a six-year-long struggle, including several courtroom battles, and continues with no end in sight. Despite its phenomenal success, the MAS-TUSD curriculum has raised the ire of the state of Arizona because, according to the former State Schools’ Superintendent Tom Horne, the intellectual author of the anti-ethnic studies measure HB 2281, it purportedly teaches hate and separatism and advocates the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. The objective of this essay is thus to examine the MAS-TUSD curriculum, a curriculum that Horne as well as Governor Jan Brewer and current Superintendent John Huppenthal have actively disparaged for the past several years, and one that is generally unknown to the public because the media deals primarily in sound bites. As a result, few people other than TUSD educators are familiar with its contents beyond the caricature, an effect I hope to correct in this essay.
2. Before proceeding further, I should mention that I have been far from a disinterested observer on this topic. I have actually been associated with the program by way of the curriculum, even before the creation of MAS-TUSD in 1997 when its founders worked at a Tucson charter school called Calli Ollin. Much of my association with MAS-TUSD has been as a writer and as a nationally syndicated columnist who has written on this topic for more than a generation. My involvement today with MAS-TUSD is in the realm of defending not just this program, but the discipline (Raza-Indigenous-Ethnic Studies) as well. I teach at the University of Arizona’s Department of Mexican American Studies and am a member of the TUSD-Mexican American Studies Community Advisory Board. In response to the attacks, those of us involved in defending and supporting MAS- TUSD, particularly students, community members and the teachers, contribute daily to the development of the MAS-TUSD discipline.
3. At the core of the MAS-TUSD conflict are Tom Horne’s arguments that the program’s success is irrelevant. What is important to him and his supporters is that the curriculum teaches an American and Indigenous-based knowledge rather than Greco-Roman knowledge. As such, he has argued for the elimination of the MAS-TUSD department for years because the curriculum lies outside of “Western Civilization,” meaning, implicitly, European civilization, and therefore purportedly teaches hate and anti-Americanism. For instance, in 2007, Horne addressed the conservative Heritage Foundation, where he said, “I am a proponent of a curriculum developed by E. D. Hirsch, called Core Knowledge. Students get a content-rich curriculum in American history, the Greco-Roman basis for Western civilization, and science beginning in kindergarten, first and second grades” (Lecture #1023). While Tom Horne has been attacking Raza Studies since 2006, it was in 2008, 2009 and 2010 that he engineered legislation that would declare Ethnic Studies illegal, culminating with Gov. Jan Brewer signing the anti-Ethnic Studies bill HB 2281 in May 2010.
4. The day after Brewer signed the bill, Horne came to Tucson to TUSD headquarters, but was met by close to a thousand students who had circled and surrounded both the building and the block. He called an impromptu press conference at the state building where hundreds of students and community members followed him. Fifteen students and several community members were arrested that day. The previous week, students had staged a 24-hour vigil in front of Tucson High School. A few months before that, MAS-TUSD high school students marched 13 miles from one end of the city to the other to bring attention to the battle to defend Ethnic Studies. From 2006 to the present, students have continued to protest the criminalization of their Mexican American Studies curriculum in one form or another.
5. But as I will demonstrate throughout this essay, the students’ determination to save their curriculum does not support Horne’s arguments. Indeed, a 2011 independent Cambium (Curriculum Audit of the Mexican American Studies Department Tucson Unified School District) study of MAS-TUSD concluded that, contrary to what Horne had long asserted,3 there is no evidence that hate is being taught and that the program is in full compliance with HB 2281.4 On the contrary, the philosophical foundation of the MAS-TUSD curriculum is similar to, if not an extension of, Guillermo Bonfil Batalla’s concept of “México Profundo,” introduced in his book of the same title. That is, at the root of Mexican American culture and knowledge is Indigenous or maiz-based culture and knowledge. The MAS-TUSD curriculum is also deeply profound: more than history, MAS-TUSD educators teach critical thinking and, in effect, a respectful way to live. The MAS-TUSD curriculum defies simple characterization or description because, metaphorically, the MAS-TUSD curriculum is derived from 7,000 years of maiz-based or Mesoamerican knowledge.5
6. The concept of Mesoamerica is not a Native concept. It was first advanced by Paul Kirchhoff in 1943. Its general meaning is Middle America, alluding to the ancient cultures of this continent that share similar characteristics, with the primary ones being Nahua-Maya societies organized around maiz. His definition includes: maiz cultivation, similar political organization, the use of calendars, similar writing systems, similar myth-origin stories and the playing of the ballgame. While the definition is limiting, he advised his colleagues to challenge his definition (Florescano, 2006). In effect, his colleagues to this day have not generally challenged the definition of Mesoamerica, instead generally accepting it as fact. In Un continente y una cultura (1960), Maya scholar, Domingo Martinez Paredez, does challenge the artificial concept, arguing that virtually the entire continent is culturally one, with maiz as the common denominator. This idea that essentially all peoples of this continent are united by corn, or that they are part of maiz-based cultures, is much broader than Kirchhoff’s conception of “Mesoamerica.” Whether accepting Kirchhoff’s or Paredez’s arguments, both point to rich and unique civilizations that developed for millennia, independent of Europe.
7. MAS-TUSD educator Norma Gonzalez characterizes the Indigenous component of the MAS-TUSD curriculum as a form of decolonization of Chicano Studies. More than that, she says, “it provides students a path toward humanization” (personal communication, August 2011). Indeed, the MAS-TUSD curriculum does differ from other public Mexican American Studies programs. Traditionally, the discipline, created in the 1960s, traces the beginnings of Mexican Americans to 1848 and the Mexican American War. A second wave of primarily feminist scholars pushed the date back in the late 1970s to 1519 and the creation of the first mestizo/mestiza. The MAS-TUSD program, on the other hand, is anchored in maiz-based knowledge that is part of a lived experience, rather than limited to myth-legend. Most people of Mexican-Central American and Chicana-Chicano descent continue to adhere to this maiz-based knowledge. For example, they continue to enjoy the ancient maiz-beans-squash and chile diet. This form of knowledge promotes an identity not based on war or conquest, but on that which defines a large part of the continent: maiz. MAS-TUSD anchors its curriculum around the maiz-derived concepts of In Lak Ech (You are my other Self), Panche Be (To seek the root of the Truth), and Hunab Ku (Grand Architect of the Universe). These three concepts form the philosophical foundation for the program and are metaphorically traced back 7,000 years to the creation of maiz. While these ideas, associated with the ancient Maya, have been given wider exposure in the 2011 Precious Knowledge documentary, the concepts are still not well known by the general public, especially in their relationship to each other and their connection to other maiz-based knowledge. The documentary has given nationwide exposure to the MAS program, countering, in effect, unchallenged media distortions that have falsely depicted both the MAS program and its curriculum. Much of the knowledge of these three concepts in this country comes from the works of Yucatec Maya scholar, Domingo Martinez Paredez. Additionally, Florencio Yescas and Maestra Angelbertha Cobb (Aztec-Mexica tradition), Andres Segura (Conchero tradition) and Tlakaele (Mexicayotl tradition) are other Indigenous elders from Mexico who have given and shared over the past generation the same or similar concepts to Indigenous peoples in the United States, including Mexican-Chicana-Chicano and Central American peoples.
8. Other maiz-based knowledge includes the Four Tezcatlipocas, also known as the four compañeros. They include: Tezcatlipoca-reflection, Quetzalcoatl-wisdom, Huichtlipochtli-will and Xipetotec-transformation. These ideas are associated with the Aztec-Mexica peoples, who are also maiz-based peoples. While the concepts are normally associated with the transformation of human beings, at MAS-TUSD, the Four Tezcatlipocas are also associated with a transformative educational process, a process that results in the creation of academically superior and critically compassionate students.
9. Still yet another form of maiz-based knowledge that is incorporated into the MAS-TUSD curriculum is the study of the Aztec Calendar. Well-known Mexican scholar Enrique Florescano has observed that the most radical disruption that the ancient Mexicans experienced after the arrival of Europeans to this continent, beyond their language, was their disconnection from their daily calendar (2006, 124). The peoples’ disconnection from it was the result of both a very violent process and the literal demonization of the knowledge. At MAS-TUSD, educators, who co-create the curriculum, team up with Calpolli Teoxicalli to teach the significance and relevance of the ceremonial Aztec Calendar today.6
10. That said, it is important to note that the conflict in Arizona involving Mexican American Studies includes but is not limited to the curriculum. By way of the heated immigration debate, Mexicans/Mexican Americans and virtually everything associated with Mexicans and Mexican American culture is under constant attack there. In terms of the MAS-TUSD conflict, attacks are directed against Mexican American history and terms of identification such as Mexican-American, Raza, Aztlán, organizations such as the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the Brown Berets and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán or MEChA, and even certain books and popular musical groups.7
11. In Arizona, demonization of maiz-based or Mesoamerican knowledge continues to this day, much of it based on malicious distortion and outright deception. For example, the term Raza has been distorted to the point that the Mexican American Studies Department-TUSD, formerly known as the Raza Studies- Department-TUSD, was forced to drop the term Raza from its name. The anti-Mexican political right wing in the United States appears to be ignorant of both the meaning and origin of the word. Raza translates to “people,” not “race,” and its usage on paper, in reference to Mexican peoples, goes back to the early 20th century Mexican education minister, José Vasconcelos. In 1925 he wrote a book and coined the term by the same name: La Raza Cósmica or “the cosmic race,” meaning the amalgamation of all the peoples of the world, forming one new mixed race. Contrary to what MAS-TUSD opponents assert, it is the antithesis of racial purity. The idea is that Mexican peoples are a combination of Indigenous, Asian (by way of ancient migration from Asia to the Americas), European and African. The name change does not appear to have affected the attempts to eliminate MAS-TUSD.
12. The topic of Aztlán, the purported homeland of the Aztec-Mexica, has also been badly distorted. The Aztlán to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) migration story is actually complex, with a myth-history at least 1,000 years old (Boturini Codex, 1746). Even before the arrival of Europeans, the Mexica were preoccupied with knowing their origins. Through the 1960s and 1970s, some historians and many activists argued that Aztlán was located in what is today the U.S. Southwest; this idea was central to the Chicano Movement.8 The idea was handed down in codices and chronicles such as Cronica Mexicayotl (1576) that located Aztlán in the Southwest. In the United States, the anti-Mexican political right wing has distorted virtually everything about the topic, equating it simplistically with the idea of the “reconquista” or the reconquest of the lands Mexico lost to the United States in the war of 1846-1848. Because Aztlán was reputedly in the same region, the two concepts were in fact merged by Chicanos such as Alurista in his 1969 El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán (Aztlán, 1970). Today MAS-TUSD opponents cite the teaching of Aztlán as evidence that its educators are inculcating students and recruiting them to reclaim those lost lands. However, this idea of Chicanos one day reclaiming the land and reuniting it with Mexico has few adherents in 2011. It appears to have more adherents among, and functions more as a straw man argument, for the political right wing. Right wing groups such as American Patrol cite the organization MEChA as the prime mover in the so-called reconquista. This student group, like the term Raza, has also been demonized to the point that it is viewed as seditious and anti-American and the one group paving the way for the future Chicano homeland of Aztlán.
13. Another element of the attack against Mexican American Studies has been to mischaracterize and misconstrue virtually everything else about MAS-TUSD. Both Horne and Huppenthal have repeatedly stated that the only way to bring MAS-TUSD into compliance is its elimination. The objective of the essay here is to bring clarity to the MAS-TUSD controversy. Aside from distorting topics such as Aztlan, part of the drive, primarily by non-educators, to ban Ethnic Studies, has involved also singling out books such as Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America (2010), Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2000), and The Mexican American Heritage (2nd ed. 1994). Horne did this on Dec. 30, 2010 when he created a report finding MAS-TUSD out of compliance with HB 2281. He even pointed to lyrics from hip hop groups El Vuh9 and Aztlán Underground10 (misidentifying songs as poems) as further evidence that MAS-TUSD is plotting to overthrow the U.S. government. That a state superintendent would attempt to cite lyrics as evidence of a massive conspiracy to overthrow the government points to the silliness of the debate. The Cambium Study exonerated MAS-TUSD of all charges, and in particular, in response to the study, even Huppenthal found that charge without merit.
14. In response to the heated political controversy that has resulted from the distortion of the mission of MAS-TUSD, countless protests, marches, rallies and vigils in defense of the program and discipline have been held over the past several years. Some of the events have resulted in arrests, the use of excessive force, and the issuance of numerous death threats against both high school students and community members.11 More importantly, the attacks against MAS-TUSD have given rise to not simply a resistance culture, but what I term a creation-resistance culture. In the face of continual attacks, the teachers and students of MAS-TUSD continue to create in this hostile atmosphere. In what follows, I focus on the relationship between the curriculum and its creative forces, that is, how and why the students and community relentlessly fight in defense of the program.
In Lak Ech, Panche Be and Hunab Ku: Philosophical Bases for the MAS-TUSD Curriculum
15. At MAS-TUSD many of the classes begin with the concept of In Lak Ech. Maya scholar Domingo Martinez Paredez writes of this and the other two concepts that form the basis for the curriculum in Un Continente y Una Cultura (1960).12 This is how many of the MAS-TUSD educators begin their classes:
In Lak Ech
Tú eres mi otro yo.
Si te hago daño a ti, me hago daño a mí mismo.
Si te amo y respeto, me amo y respeto yo
You are my other me.
If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself.
If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.13
This ethos forms part of the philosophical foundation for MAS-TUSD. As such, it is difficult to find the “hate” that the program is accused of teaching. In Lak Ech actually resembles what is universally referred to as “The Golden Rule.” Virtually all cultures have a similar concept, such as the Judeo-Christian ethos: “Do unto others as you would have them do onto you.”
16. University of Texas professor Dr. Arnoldo Vento, who has studied with a number of the aforementioned elders since the 1970s, describes In Lak Ech in the following manner: “In Lak Ech is the principle of love and respect for your fellow human being. It humanizes humankind by eliminating the ego. It unites as opposed to disuniting; it humanizes as opposed to dehumanization and fragmentation. It is the ultimate principle of spiritual love” (Rodriguez 2010, 7). In Lak Ech actually is a concept that goes beyond human relations and teaches about one’s relationship to all living things. Finding no grounds by which to label it as hate, critics of MAS-TUSD have instead decided to rule it outside of the bounds of Western Civilization. What MAS-TUSD is guilty of is teaching a concept that is technically not in the Bible, though because of the universality of the In Lak Ech ethos (The Golden Rule), in a sense, it is absolutely the same ethos as found in the “Good Book.”14
17. The second concept that forms the philosophical basis of the MAS-TUSD curriculum is Panche Be. It perhaps is more objectionable to MAS-TUSD critics because beyond teaching students “to seek the root of the truth,” students also interpret it as a call to social justice. Norma Gonzalez, a teacher with MAS-TUSD for eight years, says that the call to justice comes from the work of Paolo Freire, who teaches that the purpose of education isn’t simply to know things, but about praxis or action, which leads to change. Translated into Indigenous concepts, this is also Panche Be (Norma Gonzalez, in conversation with author, August, 2011.
18. Within the context of the battle to defend Ethnic/Indigenous or Mexican American Studies, TUSD students have valiantly defended their own program since 2006. No one has told them that they have to do so, yet doing so appears to be a seamless extension of their studies. Students read and learn about In Lak Ech, but they also learn about Panche Be. As they read and learn about oppression and social injustices and in times of intense conflict, the students often take it upon themselves to do something about these social injustices. The majority of those arrested (or publicly threatened with arrest) in defense of MAS-TUSD, at the state building in 2010 and at TUSD headquarters in 2011, have ranged from middle school to high school to college students. They have all been taught or have been exposed to the concepts of In Lak Ech, but also Panche Be.
19. MAS-TUSD Pueblo High School teacher Sally Rusk says that if the students did not act upon an injustice, that would equal failure on the part of MAS-TUSD educators. Rusk scoffs at critics who say that MAS-TUSD teachers brainwash their students. Students on their own understand that it is their responsibility to act upon an injustice, but as far as students acting during any given situation, that is up to the students. For example, in the battle to defend Ethnic Studies, most of the protests, rallies, runs, walks, and vigils take place in the evening or on weekends. No one forces the students to attend, she says, and yet, most of the major actions the past several years have been student led and initiated (Sally Rusk, in conversation with author, August, 2011).
20. All of these forms of protest have relied on the kind of moral power that Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta used in fighting for the rights of farm workers or that students used during the nationwide 1968-1969 walkouts throughout the U.S. Southwest, including in Tucson. This is taught in current MAS-TUSD classes. Rusk says that what motivates students to defend their program is not one thing, but a combination of the foundational teachings of In Lak Ech and Panche Be and the Four Tezcatlipocas, in combination with the Paulo Freireian concept of concientizacion (becoming conscious).For Rusk, she says not a day goes by that she doesn’t go over one of those concepts in her class.
21. Regarding the third concept in the curriculum, Hunab Ku, Vento writes:
In Native American traditions, the teachings of the Four Directions (Aztec Nahpatekuhtli) takes many years to comprehend and yet, it is only a fragment of the understanding of Hunab Ku, Manitou, Ipalnemouani. (Rodriguez 2010, 8 )
Such a concept can be construed or misconstrued as a religious concept, but as Vento further explains: “[T]here are no Gods as Western man has reiterated conveniently through the years. This notion has regrettably remained ingrained in the Western mind and is applied erroneously to all cultures” (Rodriguez 2010, 8). Hunab Ku is not taught at the University of Arizona or at MAS-TUSD for its theological dimensions, but rather as simple evidence that all peoples and all cultures have developed an explanation for how the universe functions. In many societies, God functions as the answer as to how the universe functions. In other societies, different names and concepts provide the same answer. Martinez Paredez explains that Hunab Ku is not the name for the Maya God:
That is, Hunab Ku was not conceived of as a God, specifically for the Maya, in the same way that there is a Hebrew, German, Assyrian, Chaldean, Greek or Roman God(s). No. That Creator of the Maya as conceived by them was for everyone. The Supreme Being of the Maya unquestionably represented the dynamic energy of the cosmos, and the unity and totality that Hunab Ku represented, was cosmic. (Martinez Paredez 1963, 59-60).
When Europeans first came to the Americas, Indigenous peoples were viewed as heathen, pagan, godless and demonic. The purpose of teaching Hunab Ku is to teach all students and to reassure young Mexican American/Central American students that like other peoples and cultures, they are not “godless” nor do they have demonic roots. Beyond that, to teach In Lak Ech and Panche Be without teaching Hunab Ku is to take the concepts out of their proper context. The three combine to give an AmerIndigenous definition to what it means to be human.15
The Meaning of The Four Tezcatlipocas
22. Students learn the concepts of the Four Tezcatlipocas in MAS-TUSD classes. In some classes, they recite the concepts from memory. Tezcatlipoca has four manifestations related to the transformation of human beings and each is related to a direction—east, west, north and south. The four include: Tezcatlipoca-reflection, Quetzalcoatl-wisdom, Huichtlipochtli-will and Xipetotec-transformation. Their meanings, according to the MAS-TUSD (unpublished) curriculum, created in 2006 primarily by MAS-TUSD teacher Norma Gonzalez are listed below, in collaboration with Tupac Enrique Acosta of Tonatierra in Phoenix, Arizona.16 Also below are quotes by Acosta, which help explain the concepts:
Gonzalez: The first concept is Tezcatlipoca and is primarily associated with memory. Tezcatlipoca: Tezcatl = Mirror Popoca = Smoke. Tezcatl + Popoca = The Smoking Mirror: A concept meaning memory as well as self-reflection.
Acosta: A reflection, a moment of reconciliation of the past with the possibilities of the future—not a vision of light but an awareness of the shadow that is the smoke of light’s passing. It is the smoking mirror into which the individual, the family, the clan, the barrio, the tribe and the nation must gaze to acquire the sense of history that calls for liberation.
Gonzalez: The second concept is Quezalcoatl: A title given to those who achieved the highest understanding of righteousness and humility. Quetzal = Precious/Beautiful and Coatl = Serpent (symbolic of knowledge). Combined: Quetzal + Coatl = The beautiful Serpent or Precious/Beautiful Knowledge[,] a concept meaning beautiful knowledge.
Acosta: From the memory of our identity, the knowledge of our collective history we draw the perspective that draws us to the contemporary reality. From this orientation we achieve stability, a direction found in time tested precepts that allows our awareness and knowledge of the surrounding environment to develop. This awareness and knowledge merge to form the “conciencia” of a mature human being …. (Gonzalez 2006, 1)
The third concept is Huizilopochtli, the hummingbird that guided the Mexica on their migration journey. Gonzalez explains:
Huitzilin = Hummingbird and Opochtli = Left. Huitzilin + Opochtli = Hummingbird to the left. A hummingbird representing inner strength because of its efforts to hover while maintaining a sense of balance and stability. To the left refers to and is symbolic of the sun rising in the wintertime. Left also referring to the physical location of the human heart, which is where human desire and passion derives from. This concept has meaning for the will of a person or people to be positive, progressive, and creative.
In Tenochtitlan, the Teocalli or temple-pyramid on the left was dedicated to Huizilopochtli. The one on the right was dedicated to Tlaloc (water). A further explanation of the concept of Huizilopochtli by Acosta:
La Voluntad. Will: The Warrior spirit born with the first breath taken by each newborn infant in the realization that this human life we are blessed with is a struggle requiring physical effort for survival. The exertion of this life sustaining effort evolves into a discipline, a means of maximizing the energy resources available at the human command which in order to have their full effect must be synchronized natural cycles …. (Gonzalez, 2006 1)
Finally, the concept of Xipetotec is one that is generally misunderstood and misinterpreted by western scholars, beginning with the earliest Catholic friars.17 Regarding its meaning, Gonzalez writes: “Xipe (from Xipehua)= Shedding of skin(symbolic of transformation); To = Our; Tec (from Tecultli) = Guide.” She further explains: “Xipe + To + Tec = Our guide of shedding and transformation: A concept meaning shedding of the old; leaving behind that which hinders us. An acceptance of the new; embracing and utilizing that which evolves us and prepares us for progress” (2006, 1). Acosta describes Xipetotec in this way:
The constant rejuvenating energy that brings new life, a new start, and hope. Just as nature is affected by this energy during the annual Equinox of the Spring season, we as individuals are affected during milestone phases in our lives. With new eyes we are able to see things por la primera vez … Primavera. (Gonzalez, 2006 1)
While the concepts are ancient, they are also dynamic, adapted to our present day reality. For example, MAS-TUSD teacher, Curtis Acosta offers his 2007 interpretation of the Four Tezcatlipocas.
Tezkatlipoka – self-reflection. Smoking mirror. We must vigorously search within ourselves, by silencing the distractions and obstacles in our lives, in order to be warriors for our gente and justice.
Quetzalkoatl – precious and beautiful knowledge. Gaining perspective on events and experiences that our ancestors endured, allows us to become more fully realized human beings. We must listen to each other and our elders with humility and love in order to hear the indigenous wisdom in our hearts.
Huitzilopochtli – the will to act. As we grow in consciousness, we must be willing to act with a revolutionary spirit that is positive, progressive and creative.
Xipe Totek – transformation. Our source of strength that allows us to transform and renew. We must have the strength to shed the old, which may hinder us, while embracing and accepting our new consciousness in order to transform the world. (C. Acosta qtd. in Gonzalez 2006, 1)
23. The MAS-TUSD curriculum is always evolving. These four compañeros are masculine energies. Also taught at different levels, are the feminine energies or personages of Coatlicue: Earth Mother; her name means “lady of the serpent skirt” (Carrasco, 2000); Coyolxauqui: she is considered to be a dismembered goddess of the moon (Carrasco, 2000); Tlazoteotl: she is associated with fertility and cleansing and is considered protector of midwives (Lopez Austin, 1997); and, Tonantzin-Guadalupe (Tonantzin or “Our Venerable Mother” continues to this day to be associated with the Virgen de Guadalupe, “The Patroness of the Americas”(Lopez Austin, 1997). While they are taught individually, at the moment, to my knowledge, they are not yet taught collectively as feminine energies as part of MAS-TUSD curriculum by MAS-TUSD educators.19
The Nahuatl Language and the Aztec Calendar
24. At MAS-TUSD, students are also taught the Nahuatl language, much of it which contains the root of Mesoamerican or maiz-based knowledge.20 They are basic lessons, as opposed to complete immersion. Lessons include numbers, plants, foods and animals. The Nahuatl language was the lingua franca of Mesoamerica and several languages belonging to the same family group (Uto-Azteca) were spoken and understood from Canada to Central America.21 In learning Nahuatl, students are able to access not simply a language, but also a worldview that is not generally taught in U.S. schools. While one can learn to “read” or interpret the Aztec Calendar (Tonalmachiotl) without the knowledge of Nahuatl, doing so brings the student closer to that worldview or cosmovision. For someone who has never learned to read or interpret it, it may appear to be simply a piece of artwork, yet the Tonalmachiotl has a logic to it and it is complex. What is referred to as the calendar is actually two calendars. One is the Tonalpoualli or sacred calendar, which measures 260 ritual days (human gestation) and the other one, Xiuhpohualli, counts the days of the sun, 365.25 days. When the two are meshed or joined (numbers and days), they create what is called a calendar round of 52 years. MAS-TUSD teachers consult with a number of experts in reference to teaching the Aztec Calendar. The MAS-TUSD educators utilize the expertise of Calpolli Teoxicalli and collaborate with them in the presentation of the knowledge within the calendar. Knowledge about the calendar is not new and is easily accessible via the internet or a whole array of books, but the source and the philosophy behind the teaching is what makes the MAS-TUSD-Aztec calendar curriculum unique.
25. Students are taught the science (astronomy and math) behind the calendar in addition to the meaning associated with each day of the calendar. Each of these days has characteristics attributed to it. Chucho Ruiz of Calpolli Teoxicalli, who teaches and collaborates with the MAS-TUSD teachers, says that the characteristics attributed to each day contain values that are taught to the students. The following are the twenty day signs taken from Codex Magliabechiano:
cipactli-crocodile-cocodrilo, ehecatl-wind-viento, calli-house-casa, cuetzpallin-lizard-lagartija, coatl-serpent-serpiente, miquitzli-death-muerte, mazatl-deer-venado, tochtli-rabbit-conejo, atl-water-agua, itzcuintli-dog-perro, ozomatli-monkey-mono, malinalli-grass-zacate, acatl-reed-carrizo, ocelotl-jaguar-jaguar, cuauhtli-eagle-aguila, cozcacuauhtli-vulture-zopilote, ollin-movement-movimiento, tecpatl-flint-pedernal, quiahuitl-rain-lluvia, xochitl-flower-flor.
Neither the teachers nor the Calpolli expect that all those who learn the calendar will live or regulate their lives by it, but Ruiz says that by giving students the knowledge of the calendar, they are giving them back something that is theirs, something they can call their very own; “They get their stories and memory back” (Chucho Ruiz , email message to author, in discussion with author, Aug 13, 2011).
26. Maria Molina, also a member of Calpolli Teoxicalli explains the importance of the calendar in this manner:
The calendar system is referred to as the Cuauhxxicalli eagle bowl, which refers to the bend in the fabric of space/time created by the earth and the influence of solar/cosmic (eagle) energy on the earth’s atmosphere. Cuauhxxicalli is the story of creation beginning with the vastness and darkness of space; it is the testament to our existence, and the predictor of future events. All this information delivered to us in the language of harmony, Nahuatl, the lens of our Indigenous human insight. Aside from its complex mathematics and science, following the calendar brings about a beautiful philosophy and structure for teaching/learning and life. (Maria Molina, email message to author, Aug 17, 2011).
What is important about the calendar is that teaching it isn’t simply a rote task, but it centers students in ancient knowledge and connects them to the entire continent.
27. That is, knowledge of the calendar is not actually uniquely Aztec in origin. Martinez Paredez (1960) refers to it as Maya-Nahua knowledge, thousands of years of accumulated knowledge all based on maiz. Citing petroglyph evidence, retired California State University Fresno professor Cecilio Orozco has written that the Aztec calendar, or the book of Tonatiuh or the Book of the Sun, as he refers to it, is actually a calendrical system that developed on different parts of the continent over the course of several thousand years. 22 He also posits that it is a book and device that documents the ancient north to south migrations and the five ages (The Five Suns), spanning the Americas, including what is today the United States (Orozco 1992). Mexican scholar Enrique Florescano argues that despite efforts to destroy them, the calendrical systems, most often referred to as the Aztec or Maya calendars, continue to be a part of this continent’s landscape (Florescano 2006). Certainly, they are part of MAS-TUSD.
28. Maria Molina of the Teoxicalli Calpolli says that it is easy to understand why the state would suppress the knowledge of the calendar. Teaching the calendar, she says:
…would open eyes to the oppression of the collective knowledge of a people that surpasses the achievements of today’s science, and to the psychological genocide in the form of disgusting lies taught in today’s schools about our respected intellectual ancestors. It is a threat to the linear thought, underlying the American dream. People feel this knowledge is history although it is evolution and the reality of our physical and cosmic existence. Some might not think it relevant because we have a modern version of science explaining our reality. However, this is a colonized explanation translated in a language missing the element of harmony and beauty. Some may not identify with the calendar, yet the knowledge is universal and Indigenous to the planet. (Maria Molina, email message to author, Aug 17, 2011).
Teaching the calendar, Molina adds, permits students to build their characters based on this complex culture, knowledge and history. Those opposed to MAS-TUSD perhaps see the Aztec Calendar as further evidence of teaching things that are not only unrelated to “Western Civilization,” but also relics from a conquered people.
29. For peoples who trace their ancestry to Mesoamerica, Aztlán is a complex, serious and legitimate topic to research and teach. In effect, as a field of study, it can be divided into at least three basic topics. 1) History-myth-legend of Aztlán; 2) 1960s-1970s Aztlán and the Chicano Movement; and 3) The future of Aztlán. All three of these areas have always been contentious and there is no shortage of literature on them; however, for opponents of Mexican American Studies, the very notion of Aztlán appears to cause great anger and discomfort. 23
30. A serious scholarly study of the topic would not dismiss the history-myth-legend of Aztlán as something fanciful. Whether one agrees with the 1960s-1970s Chicano context of the topic, there should be no legitimate grounds to oppose or discourage the teaching of the complex ancient history-myth-legend of Aztlán in U.S. schools. It would be akin to prohibiting the teaching of Greek-Roman myths and legends in high school classes. Virtually every Mesoamerican codex mentions the topic, though not all the accounts are uniform. However, the Aztlán migration story is undeniably embedded within the Mexican/Mexican American psyche and consciousness. To the chagrin of right wing opponents of Aztlán and MAS-TUSD, the vast majority of 16th-19th century chronicles regarding what is today Mexico, written either by Spanish friars or Indigenous writers, located Aztlán, the purported homeland of the Aztec-Mexica, in what was then referred to as the territory of New Mexico or what we today call the greater U.S. Southwest or the Northwest part of Mexico.24 Whether the codices or chronicles are accurate is a separate and complicated research topic. However, there is no denying that many maps, codices, and chronicles from that era do in fact cite the ancient homeland of the ancient Mexicans or Aztecs in what is today the U.S. Southwest.25 Modern Mexican scholars tend to locate Aztlán in Northwest Mexico, in Mexcaltitlán, Nayarit. Manuel Orozco y Berra (1880) is credited with pinpointing this location in the 19th century. Mexican scholar Alfonso Rivas Salmon, who has dedicated his life to the topic of Aztlán, also concurs with the island of Mexcaltitlán, Nayarit as the location of Aztlán (Orozco 1997).
31. On the topic of Aztlán, right wing opposition appears to stem more from the 1960s-1970s interpretation of Aztlán as the former homeland of the Aztecs being equated with the lands Mexico lost to the United States as a result of the U.S./Mexico War of 1846-1848. However, opponents of MAS-TUSD dismiss the topic of the origins of Aztlán as, at best, the product of a drug-induced hallucination. The militant era of the 1960s and 1970s did in fact look at the land lost by Mexico as Aztlán, yet no major national organization developed that espoused the actual “taking back of Aztlán.” Aztlán, more than anything, appeared to be part of a poetic longing and imaginings of the era. Two of the most well-known writings on this subtopic are The Mexican Heritage of Aztlán (1961-1962), written by the late, foremost American Indian scholar, Jack Forbes. He wrote his treatise, which connects Mesoamerica to the U.S. Southwest, almost 10 years before Alurista’s historic “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán,” written during the 1969 Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver. The document does engage in revolutionary musings and leanings, however, what the right wing never seems to comprehend is that a serious political movement or national organization with the goal of taking back or liberating Aztlán never emerged. The relative exception would be MEChA or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, a student organization that is found on most college campuses nationwide with a substantial enrollment of Mexican/Mexican American students. However, MEChA was never the student wing of a major national organization with that goal in mind; upon graduation, there was/is no post-MEChA.
32. If there could be such a thing as post-MEChA, the right wing might find it in the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Council of La Raza or the Brown Berets.26 The two corporate funded organizations, while mainstream organizations within the “Hispanic/Latino” community, hardly qualify as separatist or organizations that will lead Mexicans in the “reconquista.” Beyond that, they have no linkages to MAS-TUSD and its educators do not promote the idea of a “reconquista,” though like any demographer, they are not oblivious to the nation’s changing demographics. Much of the rhetoric of the right wing in Arizona always alludes to the “browning of America,” and invasions, whether the topic is immigration or education.
33. Aztlán in 2011 does not serve the same function as in the 1960s-1970s where much of its relevancy stemmed from the need to belong in lands where Mexicans/Mexican Americans were treated as hostile aliens. Politically, these populations are still treated in the same manner, but the idea of Aztlán as a future homeland no longer resonates for several reasons. Within the territory generally defined as Aztlán lie hundreds of Indigenous nations, peoples and pueblos. The idea of Chicanos/Chicanas using colonial borders to create a nation within this territory is not likely. Such an impetus would have to come from the Indigenous nations of the region, in conjunction with Chicanos/Chicanas, and since the 1970s, there has been little or no enthusiasm for such a nation. The issue is a complex one, but another reason Aztlán does not resonate in the same way as the 1960s-1970s is because Mexicans/Mexican Americans no longer are confined to what is today the U.S. Southwest. They live in every part of the United States, and thus Aztlán as the Southwest does not resonate with all Mexicans/Mexican Americans in this country. In that context, Aztlán would be viewed as something regional, not representing the reality of all of Mexicans/Mexican Americans in the United States. Beyond that, the emergence of the Peace and Dignity Journeys in 1992 have created, minimally, a continental consciousness among Mexicans/Mexican Americans, as opposed to an Aztlán-U.S. Southwest consciousness.27 This change in consciousness has come about through direct relations with Indigenous peoples across the continent, as opposed to simply issuing unilateral proclamations.
34. This continental consciousness affects the notion of a future Aztlán; no one can say with certainty what could happen in the future, but a 1960s-1970s vision of a future Aztlán is probably no longer on the horizon.28 The right wing, of course, appears to be ignorant of this reality and these developments since the 1970s, so for them, the idea of Aztlán, as a 1960s-1970s separatist scheme, conveniently continues to function as a political piñata.
35. At the root of the problem in regard to the Mexican American Studies conflict is the issue of demographics; the increase in the Mexican/Latino populations in this country leads to fears of the browning of the state and nation. Couple these fears with the volatile migration issues that are central to Arizona, and the result is not simply rabid xenophobia but the attempt to eliminate Mexican American Studies. It can also be interpreted as an effort to silence peoples. In effect, the battle over the MAS-TUSD curriculum can be seen as part of a proxy war over memory and over the control of “The Master Narrative of History.” MAS-TUSD educators are not interested in controlling or competing with that Master Narrative nor are they interested in eliminating Greco-Roman knowledge or culture. However, conscious of the thousands-of-years maiz narrative of this continent, neither MAS-TUSD educators nor students are willing to give up that maiz narrative or memory. This consciousness and this will to defend MAS-TUSD and its curriculum is arguably part of the ethos learned as a result of knowing In Lak Ech-Panche Be-Hunab Ku. While students have been taught to see themselves in all of humanity, they have also been taught to seek the root of the truth. In the context of attempts to eliminate Mexican American Studies, and given the six-year struggle to defend the program, most likely means that this battle will not end anytime soon.
1.TUSD March 11, 2011 Study : Save Ethnic Studies.
2.I should note that MAS-TUSD does not teach math. See TUSD March 11, 2011 Study: Save Ethnic Studies.
3.On Jan. 3, 2011, outgoing state superintendent Horne made public his Dec. 30, 2010 report that purportedly found MAS- TUSD out of compliance with HB 2281.
4.The Cambium audit was commissioned in March 2011 by Arizona State Superintendent John Huppenthal to determine whether MAS was out of compliance with HB 2281. This measure prohibits the teaching of topics that: (1) Promote overthrowing the U.S. government; (2) Promote resentment towards a race or class of people; (3) Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race; and (4) Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” In June 2011, Huppenthal distorted the audit’s findings, claiming that the audit had found MAS-TUSD out of compliance. The audit’s findings, released the following day, found the opposite; MAS-TUSD was in full compliance.
5. Hugh Iltis, a leading botanist and foremost expert on the subject of maiz origins agrees that maiz was created in Southern Mexico some 7,000 years ago (Iltis, 2000). Many Mexican historians, such as Enrique Florescano, also believe that the continent was radically altered as a result of the introduction of maiz, which resulted in the eventual creation of large-scale cities and civilizations (Florescano, 2006). It is generally believed that maiz has been present in what is today the United States for at least 6,000 years. The oldest corn has been found at Bat Cave, New Mexico (Fussell, 1992).
6. Calpolli Teoxicalli is a group of families in Tucson or Tlamanalca that live ceremonial lives, based on the Aztec-Mexica calendar, also known as the Tonalmachiotl. The Calpolli teaches the calendar to the community, including to MAS-TUSD students.
7. The anti-Mexican political right wing in Arizona, similar to the rest of the nation, includes extremist political groups such as neo-Nazis, anti-immigrant militias, patriot networks, Tea Party members and members of the Republican Party, including elected officials. One local group that continually distorts the work of and attacks MAS-TUSD-TUSD is TU4SD or Tucsonans United for Sound Districts. Websites that continually distort things related to Mexican American Studies, Aztlán, the Brown Berets, La Raza and MEChA include the American Patrol Report, which is fairly representative of the many U.S.-right-wing groups: americanpatrol.com
8. While the poet Alurista is credited with popularizing the idea of Aztl´an in 1969, locating it in the U.S. Southwest, (Aztlán, 1970), there are other references to Aztlán by Jack Forbes in The Mexican Heritage of Aztlán, as part of his work with the Southern California-based Native American Movement (1961-1962).
9. These are the cited lyrics from Victor E and the group El Vuh’s “Going Back”:
“We’re going back, back to where we came from, back to where the truth dwells,
AZTLAN…We suffer colonial incarceration so we foster resistance of our own
Occupation” (as cited in Horne, 2010).
10. These are the cited lyrics from the group Aztlán Underground’s “Decolonize”:
“Some feel this oppression no longer exists Well here’s something they missed – Self D means self determination…Stranger in your own land under exploitation…This is the state of the indigena today…WE DIDN’T CROSS THE BORDERS, THE BORDERS CROSSED US! YET THE SETTLER NATION LIVES IN DISGUST! The American dream only for some WASP – White Anglo Saxon Protestant…the frame of mind that keeps our oppression constant…Cihuatl is reclaiming…We have returned to Aztlán!!! We have returned to Aztlán!!!” (as cited in Horne, 2010).
11. I was arrested along with 14 other students and community activists the day after HB 2281 was signed in May 2010. Having been isolated by the right wing as “the ringleader,” I also received a series of death threats in 2011. In a related situation, a colleague, Dr. Sandy Soto was booed off the stage and received plenty of hate mail as a result of bringing up the issue of the Ethnic Studies controversy at the College of Social and Behavioral Science 2010 graduation ceremony (Soto and Joseph, 2010).
12. Martinez Paredez had an association with Luis Valdez and Teatro Campesino in the 1960s. Many people know of In Lak Ech through the work of Valdez.
13. I have seen and heard this recited in high school classrooms, at middle school assemblies, at a national conference (by pre-schoolers) and even at protests. Precisely because of this political controversy in which media consumers are misinformed about the MAS-TUSD curriculum, in 2011, I wrote Amoxtli X – The X Codex. This small book more fully discusses these three concepts, including the 1524 debate between 12 Spanish friars and several Indigenous elders on the topic of theology.
14. Dr. Vento interprets the Maya concept of In Lak Ech in Nahuatl as Tloque Nauake. “It referred to the natural force connecting humanity, to live close and together, like the fingers of the hand with mutual respect and love for one another” (Rodriguez 2010, 7). In Nahuatl, the equivalent concept for Panche Be is Neltilitzli, and the equivalent concept for Hunab Ku is The Grand Architect of the Universe or the Giver of Life or Ipalnemouani.
15. I borrow the term AmerIndigenous from Yaqui scholar, Dr. Vivian Garcia Lopez, who uses it to refer to the Indigenous peoples of what is today known as the Americas (Dr. Vivian Lopez, in conversation with author, January, 2010).
16. Gonzalez is a member of Calpoli Teoxicalli; her understanding of these concepts comes from interaction with Tupak Enrique Acosta and other elders, such as Arturo Meza of Kalpulli Toltecayotl. Tonatierra is a collective of Nican Tlaca or Indigenous families in Phoenix, Arizona. Acosta has been an integral part of the Indigenous Rights movement throughout Abya Yalla (Americas) and the world, culminating with the passage of the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).
17. Spanish friars from the 16th century and many anthropologists today associate Xipetotec with human sacrifice and the wearing of the skin of sacrificial victims.
18. It was students from Wakefield Middle School who participated in large numbers on May 12 when Superintendent Horne came to Tucson the day after Governor Brewer signed the anti-Ethnic Studies HB 2281. Several were arrested.
19. Oftentimes, the three feminine energies or personages that are taught together in Chicana Studies classes are Malinztin (or La Malinche), La Llorona and Tonantzin or the Virgen de Guadalupe (Anzaldua, 2007). The attacks against the MAS-TUSD curriculum are generic, objecting to its Mesoamerican roots, as opposed to singling out pre-Colombian masculine or feminine concepts.
20. In a state that abhors the Spanish language, it must be presumed that the teaching of Mesoamerican knowledge, including the Nahuatl language, must bring discomfort to the opponents of MAS-TUSD.
21. Uto-Azteca or Uto-Nahuatl is still spoken by many dozens of peoples from the same region. Peoples from what is today the U.S. Southwest or Northwest Mexico that are part of the same language family include, the Utes, the Paiutes, Shoshone, Comanche, the Hopi, Papago, Opata, Yaqui, Mayo, Concho, Huichol and Tepehuán. Peoples from Central and Southern Mexico include: Tepaneca, Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Matlatzinca, and the Tlaxcalans, along with many others. For more information on the evolution of these language families, see Jack Forbes (1973).
22. The teaching of the Aztec Calendar is complex, and there are various disagreements about aspects of the calendar. For instance, not all agree that the central figure of the calendar represents the sun. Mazatzin Aztekayolokalli, who also collaborates with MAS-TUSD educators, asserts that the central figure is actually Tlaltecuhtli, who represents the earth. Mazatzin Aztekayolokalli, in discussion with the author, December, 2010.
23. Sources on Aztlán are too numerous to cite in full, but one book that generally reflects the accumulated thinking by Chicanos/Chicanas on the topic from the 1960s-1980s is Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland (1989). Another book from a decade later that advances many of the ideas in the aforementioned book is The Road to Aztlán: Art From a Mythic Homeland (2001). On the topic of Aztlán, numerous right wing websites predominate which make oft-discredited claims associated with the impending “reconquista.” Here are several sites: Illegal Aliens; American Patrol; and Immigration Watchdog Video. All repeat outlandish claims of invasions, reconquests, sedition and general anti-Americanism.
24. Primary codices that mention Aztlán include Codex Aubin and Codex Boturini. Chronicles that point to New Mexico as the location of Aztlán or Aztatlán are many, including Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc’s Cronica Mexicayotl (1576) and Codice Ramirez (anonymous Indigenous writer, 16th century).
25. The topic of Aztlán was a tangential research interest relative to my Master’s and Ph.D. work on the origins of maiz. My Master’s project resulted in the documentary, Amoxtli San Ce Tojuan – We Are One (Rodriguez, R. and Gonzales, P. 2005). This research project located some 200 maps from the 1500s-1800s that make notations in reference to ancient homelands or ancient residences of Mexican Indians or Aztecs, all in what is today the U.S. Southwest. This is not offered as proof regarding the location of Aztlán, but rather as acknowledgment that these maps, similar to the codices and chronicles, do exist.
26. Because of its name, the right wing assumes that the National Council of La Raza is the leader of “La Raza.” The right wing likes to demonize the Brown Berets as that “radical” organization that will lead to the “reconquista”; however, the organization was always small, and is even smaller now than it was in the 1960s and ‘70s. There is no infrastructure in place for the endeavor that the right wing imagines as a reconquista.
27. The Peace and Dignity Journeys are runs that begin on both ends of the continent, Alaska and Argentina, and end in the center. In 1992, the P&D Journeys met in Teotihuacan, Mexico. The runs, which take place every four years, are reputed to be part of a prophesy of uniting the eagle and the condor, or North and South America (Gustavo Gutierrez, founder of the P&D Journeys), in conversation with author, August, 2011).
28. There are individuals and groups that still adhere to the idea of a future homeland of Aztlán, but the idea does not predominate in Mexican/Mexican American circles. One related idea, the future “Republica del Norte,” offered up by University of New Mexico professor Charles Truxillo since at least 2000, envisions a Hispanic nation, comprised of Northwest Mexico and what is today the U.S. Southwest. While it appears to have few adherents, the right wing uses it as evidence of a future Aztlán on U.S. land (Truxillo, pers. comm. 2000).
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