Part One: Brewer Does It Again.
In my article of May 1, it was reported that the Arizona legislature had passed HB 2281 banning ethnic studies in Arizona public schools. Governor Jan Brewer, already trying to explain why the state’s anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, shouldn’t be considered racist and why it wouldn’t lead to racial profiling, had until May 11 to sign the ethnic studies ban. Waiting to the eleventh hour and after the normal news cycle on the deadline date, she did exactly that.

The first two provisions of the ethnic studies ban are relatively noncontroversial. They prohibit classes that promote the overthrow of the government and promote resentment toward a race or class of people. It is the third prohibition that draws fire by prohibiting classes “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.” The law specifically exempts ethnic studies programs for Native Americans who will be allowed to continue to benefit from such programs.

The law was a response to the Tucson School District’s ethnic studies program. The program is open to all students. It does not promote overthrow of the government or teach resentment. It is not restricted to Latino students and teaches African American and Native American history as well as Latino history. The great irony in this? Students who participate in Tucson’s ethnic studies program score higher on standardized tests than those who do not.

Brewer’s signing of the bill came several hours after the United Nations Human Rights Commission announced its formal opposition, noting that ethnic groups have the inherent right to learn their own history. Other reaction came swiftly. Augustine Romero, the director of student equity for Tucson allowed that it has become “politically acceptable to attack Latinos in Arizona.” But perhaps the clearest response came from a commenter responding to an article on the subject at the Southern California Public Radio website. The commenter identifies herself as Emily Lyons. In full, and unedited, she says,

I taught ethnic studies at Northern Arizona University and I think Tom Horne, Jan Brewer and the like would benefit from taking such a course. I can’t speak for the program in TUSD, but MY class was about celebrating diversity, not inciting divisiveness.

This law is not about curriculum. This is about race, and about the Horne and his cronies’ fear of Latino empowerment. Empowerment, by the way, does not mean an overthrow of the government, despite what Horne might suggest. God forbid that the contributions of people of hispanic origin to the state of Arizona should be recognized. Why are Arizona lawmakers so afraid of Arizona’s many Latino residents having a voice in the state? The implication that Latinos hate Arizona and America by extension is not only ridiculous, it is divisive, more so than any ethnic studies program I’ve ever heard of. I find this law shocking and outrageous and when I return to Arizona in August to begin my PhD studies at U of A, you can bet I’ll be working hard to fight it.

Understanding that there may be those who wish to defend this law on the merits, the issues of perception and timing are equally important. The combination of the proof of citizenship law with the ban on ethnic studies law presents an overall perception of a racially insensitive, at best, and racist, at worst, state government in Arizona. The perception is not helped by recently surfaced reports that the chief sponsor of the proof of citizenship law, state Sen. Russell Pearce, has been caught “hugging Neo-Nazis on camera and forwarding emails from white supremacist websites.”

The timing of Brewer’s decision to sign HB 2281 couldn’t have been worse. Just as the furor over Arizona’s anti-immigrant law had drifted from the focal point of the news and Arizona boycott proponents lost that “headline” advantage in their efforts, Brewer put another arrow in their quiver. Some, myself included, hoped that Brewer, besieged with racial issues over the anti-immigrant law, might veto HB 2281 if for no other reason than to prove that neither she nor the State of Arizona were racist. Instead she poured gasoline on a fire whose flames had begun to recede.

Part Two: The Boycott Continues to Grow

Phoenix City officials now estimate the cost of the boycott at $90 million in lost spending. The initial estimate was $6 million. They now also admit, as suggested here in my May 6 article, that their estimates do not include secondary spending for such things as cab fare, car rental, restaurant meals and local shop purchases.

The latest city to join the boycott is Los Angeles. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has endorsed the idea as passed by the city council. When fully implemented, the LA action will include divestiture of $7.7 million in Arizona contracts as well as cutting direct business relationships and barring city travel to the state.

Not all of the boycott ramifications are large or national in scope. Case in point. A northern Illinois school district athletic association has decided to pull its girl’s high school basketball team from a tournament scheduled for December in Arizona. These small and anecdotal expressions of protest don’t show on the broad radar of those tracking the costs to Arizona. But they add up and, together, have an impact.

Boycott proponents are now, with growing consistency, presenting Arizona under the banner of the “State of Hate”.

Part Three: Republicans and Arizona

National Republicans are caught between a rock and a tempting place when it comes to the anti-Latino inclined, and Republican dominated, government of Arizona. On the one hand, Arizona’s original anti-immigrant law polls well and embracing the law promises political advantage in the upcoming midterms. But, Republicans aren’t willing to bet on that sentiment holding, nor are they willing to completely alienate the Latino vote beyond 2010, by holding their 2012 convention in Phoenix. That honor goes to Tampa, Florida.

In my May 6 article it was pointed out that the real impact of any boycott would not be cancellation of already booked conventions and meetings, but the wider impact of conventions and meetings that would never be booked in the first place. The Republican Party decision is the latest example.

The official Party position is, predictably, that Arizona was one of three finalists for the 2012 convention, and that the Arizona anti-immigrant law(s) played no role in its decision. That would include, of course, simply ignoring all of the letters and emails from interest groups and individuals requesting that Phoenix not get the nod. So far, the rationales proposed by the Republican Party seem to ring hollow. That Florida is a swing state hardly separates it from Arizona, a state in transition, with demographic trends moving Democratic. My personal favorite though is that Phoenix is hot in August. Ever been in hot, tropical, humid and muggy, Tampa, Florida in August?

We will never know whether the Republican Party was influenced by Arizona’s anti-immigrant law(s) and the protests and boycott calls. The only way that issue could have been clearly resolved would have been if the Republican Party had stood up and booked Phoenix for its convention. It chose another course.

[Author’s Note: the photo depicts Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (right) arm in arm with alleged white supremacist/neo-nazi J. T. Ready at an anti-immigration rally in Mesa, AZ. – This post has been corrected to provide the proper spelling of State Senator Russell Pearce’s name. E. S.]

Cross posted at Elijah’s Sweete Spot.

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