Here’s the latest installment in WordStrike’s multi-part series on Saving Ethnic Studies in Arizona. Jeff Biggers speaks to Mayra Feliciano, a leader of the student group UNIDOS, about turning her school’s struggle to defend ethnic studies into a nationwide grassroots movement for educational justice.
As one of the co-founders of the student group UNIDOS in Tucson, Mexican American Studies alumna Mayra Feliciano has played a key role on the frontlines of the education and civil rights battle in Arizona. As a high school student last spring, Feliciano took part in numerous school and community forums, protests and direct actions, including the historic takeover of the TUSD school board. UNIDOS launched a “School of Ethnic Studies” last week, as part of an on-going campaign to defend TUSD’s banished Mexican American Studies program (MAS).
Raised in Tucson, Feliciano credits courses by former Mexican American Studies teacher Jose Gonzales with empowering her to graduate and pursue a college degree, and deepen her connection to the community. “Before I took these classes I was ashamed of my culture,” Feliciano noted in an earlier interview. “Born in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico, I felt very different–I was darker than a lot of my friends and I felt like people were always prettier than me. I didn’t care about learning more about my culture; I didn’t even pay attention to what was going on around me. I took the Mexican American Studies course and my life turned around for the better. I was struggling to graduate, but this class taught me that we all live in a society where we all struggle and that knowledge and facts are what help to get you through.”
Now at Pima Community College, on a path to law school and a career as a civil rights attorney, Feliciano discusses the role of MAS and UNIDOS in her life and study, as part of our multi-part series on the Ethnic Studies crisis.
Jeff Biggers: Describe how and why you are involved with UNIDOS.
Mayra Feliciano: The reason why I am involved in UNIDOS was because the TUSD Social Justice Education Project put together activities back in February, 2011 to help me and other groups of people become better organizers. We all came to the common realization that the Ethnic Studies classes were under attack. So we all came together to fight HB 2281. UNIDOS was created by students, for students, and has always been organized and independently run by students. I was there from the beginning; I remember coming up with the name and what each letter stood for. I stuck to this group because I had the same passion to fight against discrimination. I was tired of not doing anything for my community. I was willing to fight for this, not just for me, but my family. Not only that, for those who fought for these classes in the past. From the beginning I began handling the media along with other members. I would type up letters, I would help with press releases and media packets. I continue to do that. I help organize events and do the basics in just trying to make sure things go well. I am not taking all of the credit–I couldn’t do this just myself.
JB: How do you see your UNIDOS organizing as part of a longer struggle for education and civil rights?
MF: I know that problems aren’t going to end in this world. There will always be something wrong. But as I get older and leave my youth stage I will pass down my knowledge. We have so much going on. As long as people like Superintendent John Huppenthal and TUSD board members are afraid of well educated Latinos, they will try to take away our successful courses and studies. Right now there is an attack on Mexican American studies, tomorrow it can be Native American Studies. This will be a longer struggle and they aren’t going to stop.
Submitted by Francisca James Hernandez, Pima Community College.
This Entry excerpted directly from Wordstrike.net at https://wordstrike.net/we-will-not-comply-youth-activist-mayra-feliciano