Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The House on Mango Street - by Sandra Cisneros

I have been intending to read this book for several years. I was finally motivated to actually check it out of the library when I found it on the list of books that were removed from Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) classrooms after it became illegal to teach Mexican American Studies in Arizona. (see more information in the No History is Illegal webpage). The new law says that a program may not

 1) promote the overthrow of the US government

2) promote resentment to a race or class of people

3) be designed primarily for one ethnic group,

4) advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals

Teachers in TUSD have been told to stay away from any books with themes having to do with such topics as race, ethnicity, and oppression. The new law went into effect on February 1 so last week professors, (and librarians), at Bridgewater State University staged a "teach in" to explain what is happening in Arizona, and how it impacts ethnic studies programs, and academic freedom. Officially, TUSD says that only 7 books were removed from classrooms, and that none have been "banned" because students still have access to them in libraries. This is hogwash. Teachers at TUSD report many more than 7 books were removed. Furthermore, removing books from a classroom, and a curriculum, most certainly constitutes a ban. See the American Library Association webpage on Banned and Challenged books for more information.

As for me, I was able to use the issue as a starting point when I was asked to speak to a Political Science class about literacy and censorship. I was invited to speak to the class before any of this came to light in the media, so the timing turned out to be fortuitous from a teaching standpoint. Only one student in the class was aware of what was happening in Arizona. It was a course in Civic Engagement so we talked about being aware of what was in the news, and how to become involved in thwarting book challenges.  In my Spanish class, one of the textbook readings last week was about Sandra Cisneros, and specifically mentioned The House on Mango Street so I took the opportunity to discuss the situation in Tucson and read from the novel. I chose a chapter called "No Speak English" to read aloud, and talked to my students about feeling intimated when learning a new language. Interestingly, they actually provided a perfect segue for me by clamming up when I asked them some open ended questions in Spanish just before I read the passage. They did seem to get the connection I was making.

The House on Mango Street is a series of vignettes about a young Latina girl, Esperanza, and her family growing up in Chicago. Of course our heroine uses the library and is excited about the books she checks out to read to her blind aunt, and to show to her neighbor Ruthie, who "loves books" but can't read anymore because she gets headaches. Her "Smart Cookie" mother takes advantage of the opera records she can get at the library "and sings with velvety lungs powerful as morning glories".  The themes in the book (friendship, loneliness, embarassment) are things that can be universally discussed, something that the administrators at TUSD seem to fail to notice. And, perhaps I missed something, but I found nothing in this work about overthrowing the government.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to know you raised the TUSD ban with students. I can't find a link to your profile. I'd like to share this post but want to be able to say something about who you are.