Arizona's anti-immigration law, xenophobia, and the Epiphany

by Jamie Manson

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This morning in East Harlem thousands of schoolchildren took a school trip to a street festival honoring El D'a de los Reyes. The celebration, which honors the day that the Three Kings arrived at the manger of the infant Jesus, is a spirited example of the presence of Latin American tradition in the United States.

But in Arizona, such a class trip would be banned.

According to a new state law, public school children in grades K-12 can no longer be taught lessons in ethnic studies, defined as “history, anthropology and literature courses designed to teach the stories, histories, struggles and triumphs of people of color through their own unique perspectives.”

In both church and state, there are few epiphanies in Arizona lately.

The Arizona state law, which was signed by Governor Jan Brewer in May, is a further development in the state’s bitter anti-immigration campaign. It is targeted particularly at a school in Tucson that offers a Mexican-American studies program. Under the new law, if schools are found to be teaching ethnic studies, they are threatened with losing crucial state funding. If they continue this program, the Tucson school district’s budget will be cut by $36 million.

This new law demonstrates an unholy marriage between two harmful and pervasive movements in the United States: xenophobia and anti-intellectualism.

Education is the most vital tool we have to transform the way in which children in the U.S. view their classmates who are new to this country. Regardless of what laws are created, the flow of immigrants into this country will not cease.

Ethnic study programs could not only allow us to develop more sophisticated immigration laws in the future, they could also help us counter a segment of the bullying crisis that has dominated public discourse in recent months.

Read more about this story and additional coverage at the PBS Newshour website.

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