On Not Being Banned
To Former Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, and the Tucson Unified School District.
I am writing to protest discriminatory actions on your part that amount to defamation of my character and that of my mother, Rosario Morales, as Latina writers: You have not placed a single one of our books on your list of titles to be banned from the public school curriculum!
It’s true that we are Puerto Rican, not Mexican, but you banned our compatriot Martin Espada. I am not from any of the First Nations of Arizona, and it’s also true that the Tainos have never lived in Arizona in large numbers, (though you did bring a bunch of us in the 1920s to pick cotton,) but you banned Sherman Alexie who is from the Pacific Northwest.
You banned Ron Takaki, Howard Zinn, Henry David Thoreau, and Mumia Abu Jamal, none of them Mexican or Native American. I have dedicated my life to the promotion of solidarity, to telling the stories of the oppressed, and cultivating our resistance. I have written history rooted in the knowledge and perspectives of my Indigenous and African ancestors, which are not based on Greco-Roman knowledge and therefore, according to your definitions, lie outside the bounds of Western Civilization and should not be taught.
Like Howard Zinn and Ron Takaki, I am a people’s historian. Like bell hooks, Betita Martinez and Gloria Anzaldúa, I am a feminist/womanist of color. My Back has been a Bridge. I have Rethought not only Columbus, but all the conquistadores and crusaders you admire. I have sung the praises of Tecumseh and Jigonsaseh and Urayoan who were likewise dedicated to building solidarity among their own people and advocated the overthrowing of any government built on genocide, conquest and exploitation. I don’t, it’s true, bother with instigating mere resentment. I go straight for rage and its beautiful daughter, esperanza.
My mother Rosario boldly stated “I will not eat myself up inside anymore. I am going to eat you.” She said she was what she was. She wrote a Master’s thesis calling Claude Levi-Strauss a racist, and she made fun of him, too.
In the spring of 1933, German Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels called for a literary cleansing by fire, to purge the “un-German” spirit from educational institutions, “purify” German language and literature, uphold “traditional German values” and turn the universities into centers of nationalist propaganda. Like you, he was worried about civilization. Mobs of nationalists pulled books from the shelves of college libraries (including the works of Ernest Hemmingway, Helen Keller and Jack London,) and threw them on bonfires in the streets. German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht, whose books were honored in the flames, wrote a poem on behalf of those, like myself, who were not, establishing a precedent for my complaint.
In “The Burning of the Books” he wrote of “a banished writer, one of the best” who scanned the lists of burned books and like me “was shocked to find that his books had been passed over.” The writer rushed to his desk “on wings of wrath” and wrote to those in power “Burn me! Haven’t my books always reported the truth? And here you are, treating me like a liar! I command you! Burn me!”
By failing to ban Getting Home Alive, Medicine Stories, and Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriqueñas, you are treating me like a liar instead of a digger for the roots of truth, a scribe for the imperial chronicles of Fox News instead of the many-colored codices of liberation, a sad assimilationist longing to be just like you, instead of the fierce, malanga-eating, mixed-blood madre poeta bruja revolucionaria that I am. You are insulting the memory and tarnishing the reputation of my mother spitting in the eye of colonial anthropology and the FBI. You have committed libel by omission.
Like the banished German writer of Brecht’s poem, I demand for myself, and for my Bronx Boricua mama whose ghost can still eat you: Ban me! I command you! Ban me!
Causes Aurora Levins Morales Supports
Middle East Children's Alliance, Sins Invalid, Jewish Voice for Peace, Re-evaluation Foundation