Remembering Hank Oyama
Dr. Henry “Hank” Oyama passed away on Tuesday [March 20, 2013 at the age of 86].
The last time I saw Hank Oyama was about two years ago. I ran into him at an event Downtown and he asked me to walk him back to his car. It quickly became obvious that he really needed no particular help, but that he just wanted some company while he wandered around the heart of the city he loved to share some stories, and he was certainly someone who had more than a few stories to tell.
Hank was born and raised in Barrio El Oyo. Though his parents were immigrants from Japan (via Mexico), Hank was Catholic and spoke plenty of Spanish growing up. He sometimes joked that he thought he was Mexican until the day in 1942 that he was sent, with his family, to a desolate internment camp for Japanese-Americans on the Colorado River.
Though such an injustice would be enough to sour most folks on the American experiment, it seems to have had an opposite effect on Hank. His great faith in his country drove him to work to make things better. He joined the Army toward the end of World War II, where he was assigned to the intelligence corps for his language skills, though, he joked that he thought at the time that this was due to some sort of misunderstanding as his Spanish was better than his Japanese. Eventually, he became an officer as the Army Air Corps was spun off into a military branch of its own. He remained in the Air Force Reserve until his retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1985.
Having returned to Tucson to earn a degree at the University of Arizona, he became a teacher at Pueblo High School, where his students included numerous Tucson luminaries such as Art Eckstrom, former State Representative Phil Hubbard, and my mother. My mother tells me that at Pueblo, Hank told the largely Mexican-American student body that the language and culture that they learned at home was just as important and valuable as what they were learning in school. To a woman whose mouth had once been washed out with soap as punishment for the high crime of speaking Spanish on the playground, this sentiment was heartening.
(An ironic note here: The Tucson Unified School District named a school for Oyama in 2003. A southwest-side street also bears the name of the bilingual-education advocate. There is also a TUSD school named for the aforementioned teacher who punished my mother. Tucson is a complicated place.)
It was in this spirit that Hank worked with fellow Pueblo teachers Adalberto Guerrero and María Urquides to create what became one of the first bilingual education programs in the United States. Their revolutionary work became a national model, gave rise to an entire generation of Mexican-American leadership, and turned the public schools away from the idea that culture should be embraced and integrated rather than actively suppressed.
It was at about the same time that Hank got involved in another fight of national importance, though it seems now like it should have been a minor thing. In 1959, he tried to marry his college sweetheart, Mary Ann Jordan. It turned out that it was illegal in Arizona for a Japanese man to marry an Anglo woman, so they sued. They won in Pima County Superior Court, but the state was eager to appeal. The legislature, however, being a saner institution than it is now, was not eager for what promised to be a drawn-out battle that would likely lead to the law being declared invalid at the United States Supreme Court, repealed the statute. Had the legislature not been so ambivalent in this regard, Loving v. Virginia would have instead been Oyama v. Arizona and might have happened a few years earlier.
In 1970, Hank became an administrator at the infant Pima College, where he spent the remainder of his career. By the time he retired it was one of the largest and most well-regarded community colleges in the country.
Though Hank slowed down considerably over the last few years, he remained active and visible with regard to the causes he cared about, such as when he spoke out against the very misguided new admissions policy at Pima Community College. He always remained a humble, very principled man who was always available to dispense wisdom, encouragement, or a joke. In my own career in politics, I was always thankful for his support during difficult times (we shared a taste in guayabera shirts), and I know that I am not alone in this sentiment. He was a hero and example to me and many others.
Hank lived to see much of his work, perhaps too much, reversed in recent years. This did not seem to faze him, though it was clearly a disappointment. There are generations of Tucson leaders who are where they are because of the work he did, and this was his real legacy. I think he was quite happy with that, and that is why he always seemed to be smiling.
This piece was first published on Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.
Despite the victories, we still need signatures from educators and scholars nationwide in support of Ethnic Studies in Arizona. Please sign and circulate. Currently, there are over 4500-plus signatures. We need 5,000.”
Amazing news! But it’s not over yet. Tumblr, you know what to do.
So this comic ran in my university’s newspaper the other day.
Needless to say, we’re pissed.
AT THE RISK OF BEING OBNOXIOUS BY SPAM-REBLOGGING MY POST…They fired the thing!
Wow this is atrocious. I…I can’t even believe this would happen in a college paper. Wow. Just wow.
[Trigger warning: domestic violence]
Okay, I wish I would NEVER have to make a post like this.. but here it is.
That’s Emily, a girl I’ve known for about 10 years. That’s her face a couple of days after her boyfriend beat the shit out of her. She has to get facial surgery for broken bones, a titanium plate inserted for her “pulverized cheekbones”.
She has been amazingly open about her experience and very optimistic, retaining her sense of humour, but her ex-boyfriend hasn’t been caught yet. He beat her in Arizona but he might be out of the state by now.
His name is Chris Young. He’s a raver and a DJ. I’m not friends with him on facebook, so I can’t get any better pictures than that. But you can see that she trusted him. And he broke that trust in trying to break her.
If you see him, please call the Tucson Police. IF you know ANYTHING about him, call the police.
It’d be great if people could reblog this for her.
Seriously. This group changed my life, and just look at that video! (there are samples of the poetry in the second half.) These poets are pretty much the raddest folks I’ve ever met. And, amid one of the most crucial summers in the history of Arizona, their message needs to be heard now more than ever.
We’re representing Tucson at Brave New Voices!
For the first time, young poets from Tucson are going to be heard on an international stage. Brave New Voices is the largest youth poetry festival in the world, and this year Tucson has been accepted to compete. By the time we leave Tucson in July, we’ll have been working towards this trip for over a year, holding workshops and open competions all over Tucson.
This is big. People from all over the nation have heard the negative press coming out of Arizona for over two years. We think it’s about time they heard some of the amazing positivity happening in our community also. And who better to tell them?
We are a small, not-for-profit organization that runs on community support and rampant volunteerism. We believe in building empathy, leadership, and space for self-expression. We believe in young people, and we believe in Arizona. Our monthly slams in Tucson are open to all youth ages 9-19, and our future is bright. Please help us meet our goal and mark this moment we’ll never forget.
Please note that contributions to this campaign are not tax-deductible. To make a larger, tax-deductible donation, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
What We Need & What You Get
We’ve already raised over $4,000 to support this trip, which paid for our registration fee, plus our new t-shirts, stickers, the DVD, and more! Big foundations have chipped in, and now its your turn.
This final $2,000 will help pay for:
- Renting a 12 passenger van.
- Gas for the van!
- Food for the poets!
Even if we don’t reach our goal, we’re going anyway. This trip is going to happen. We’ll make up the rest using credit cards and pay them off later in the fall.
By contributing, you’ll get great perks and also be able to brag to your friends that you helped make Tucson poetry history! You’ll be sending youth voices from Tucson to be heard for the first time on an international stage!
Please donate and/or spread the word!
From the page:
Taking a page out of the playbooks of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Jan Brewer and extreme right-wing Arizona lawmakers are pushing a series of bills attacking firefighters, teachers, nurses and other public service workers who work hard to keep our communities safe and strong.
These bills would take away all collective bargaining rights for public service workers, leading to larger class sizes in our schools, more dangerous working conditions for firefighters and police officers and making our communities less safe.
As in Wisconsin and Ohio, these measures are not about balancing Arizona’s budget and are not about jobs. They are about the destructive political agenda right-wing politicians and their corporate funders are pushing across the country to consolidate their power.
UNIDOS Tucson student grassroots ethnic studies teach-in happening NOW.
Day two of mass walkouts in Tucson in defense of the Mexican American Studies programs. Day one of grassroots ethnic studies teach-ins led by students.
This is the people’s education! Education was denied in schools, so the students have taken their education elsewhere. MUST WATCH.
Hundreds of students from Tucson’s Cholla, Pueblo and Wakefield high schools are walking out today, in protest of the book ban and TUSD’s decision to shut down the Mexican American Studies program.
In an amazing lack of foresight, Arizona’s politicians have managed to piss off an entire generation of young brown people who are getting very good at organizing and will also soon be voting. In five years Arizona will be a very different place. And I can’t wait. Que vivan l@s estudiantes!
In lak’ech: tú eres mi otro yo. Si te hago daño a ti, Me hago daño a mí mismo. Sí te amo y respeto, Me amo y respeto yo.
Photo: DA Morales
Gabby Giffords Update of the Day: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose painful road to recovery after being critically wounded during last year’s Tucson shooting was recently documented on ABC’s 20/20, announced today that she will be resigning from Congress in order to focus on getting better.
“I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week,” Giffords said in a statement. She will not seek reelection.
Prior to the shooting, Giffords had been a member of the House of Representatives for just under four years. A replacement for Giffords will be chosen by the people of Arizona through a special primary and general election, to be scheduled by Governor Jan Brewer.
Giffords, who said she intends to resume the “Congress On Your Corner” event interrupted by the shooting, promised a return to public service. “I will return,” she said, ”and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.”
Watch her resignation video below:
Sad, but not unexpected.
The fact that Giffords will resume her “Congress on Your Corner” event as she continues to make her recovery after her resignation says a lot. I’m sad, but it’s good to know there are people like her who care about this state.
TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) -
State Attorney General Tom Horne has filed a response to two Mexican American Studies students’ motion that the state cannot outlaw the classes.
In the response’s opening summary, Horne says that if the state cannot prohibit courses that promote racism, then a school district could adopt a Ku Klux Klan curriculum and the state could do nothing about it.
Richard Martinez, the attorney for the two students who are suing to have the law changed and allow Tucson Unified School District to reinstate the classes, finds the comparison peculiar. He and his plaintiffs assert that Mexican American Studies does not promote racism.
The state should prohibit courses that promote racism? You mean, like, the standard European-American history that tells people of color that they didn’t exist until the Civil War and Dr. King? The one that tells us that American history began in 1492 and 1776? The one that tells us that racism and oppression never existed and don’t exist today?
What a grossly ignorant man. And the comments in the link after the story are just as horrific.
As part of the state-mandated termination of its ethnic studies program, the Tucson Unified School District released an initial list of books to be banned from its schools today. According to district spokeperson Cara Rene, the books “will be cleared from all classrooms, boxed up and sent to the Textbook Depository for storage.”
Facing a multimillion-dollar penalty in state funds, the governing board of Tucson’s largest school district officially ended the 13-year-old program on Tuesday in an attempt to come into compliance with the controversial state ban on the teaching of ethnic studies.
The list of removed books includes the 20-year-old textbook “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years,” which features an essay by Tucson author Leslie Silko. Recipient of a Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, Silko has been an outspoken supporter of the ethnic studies program.
“By ordering teachers to remove ‘Rethinking Columbus,’ the Tucson school district has shown tremendous disrespect for teachers and students,” said the book’s editor Bill Bigelow. “This is a book that has sold over 300,000 copies and is used in school districts from Anchorage to Atlanta, and from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. It offers teaching strategies and readings that teachers can use to help students think about the perspectives that are too often silenced in the traditional curriculum.”
Another notable text removed from Tucson’s classrooms is Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” In a meeting this week, administrators informed Mexican-American studies teachers to stay away from any units where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes,” including the teaching of Shakespeare’s classic in Mexican-American literature courses.
Other banned books include “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by famed Brazilian educator Paolo Freire and “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” by Rodolfo Acuña, two books often singled out by Arizona state superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal, who campaigned in 2010 on the promise to “stop la raza.” Huppenthal, who once lectured state educators that he based his own school principles for children on corporate management schemes of the Fortune 500, compared Mexican-American studies to Hitler Jugend indoctrination last fall.
An independent audit of Tucson’s ethnic studies program commissioned by Huppenthal last summer actually praised “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos,” a 40-year-old textbook now in its seventh edition. According to the audit: “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos is an unbiased, factual textbook designed to accommodate the growing number of Mexican-American or Chicano History Courses. The auditing team refuted a number of allegations about the book, saying, ‘quotes have been taken out of context.’”
Freire’s work on pedagogy has been translated into numerous languages, and is taught at universities around the United States.
In a school district founded by a Mexican-American in which more than 60 percent of the students come from Mexican-American backgrounds, the administration also removed every textbook dealing with Mexican-American history, including “Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement” by Arturo Rosales, which features a biography of longtime Tucson educator Salomon Baldenegro. Other books removed from the school include “500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures,” by Elizabeth Martinez and the textbook “Critical Race Theory” by scholarsRichard Delgado and Jean Stefancic.
“The only other time a book of mine was banned was in 1986, when the apartheid government in South Africa banned ‘Strangers in Their Own Country,’ a curriculum I’d written that included a speech by then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela,” said Bigelow, who serves as curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine, and co-directs the online Zinn Education Project. ”We know what the South African regime was afraid of. What is the Tucson school district afraid of?”
Somos Mas Americanos (We Are More American) by Los Tigres Del Norte. The lyrics have been translated into English below,
They have shouted at me a thousand times I should go back to my country
Because there’s no room for me here
I want to remind the gringos:
I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me
America was born free, but men divided it
They marked a line so that I jump it
And they can call me “invader”
And that’s a very frequent mistake
They took from us eight states
Who’s then the invader?
I’m a foreigner in my own land
And I didn’t come here to cause you trouble
I’m a hard-working man
And if history isn’t lying
The powerful nation settled here, in the glory
Among brave warriors,
Indians of two continents mixed with Spaniards
And if we take centuries into account
We are more American
We are more American than the children of the Anglo-Saxons
Thing is, many white Americans simply can’t handle the truth about this nation’s past. They want sanitized history books for their children, which may give a vague chapter or two to the ugliness and brutishness of our forebears, but then go on to sing the praises of the United States, and rationalize those errant chapters as the occasional potholes in an otherwise well-paved road.
William Faulkner’s dictum that, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” comes to mind. Indeed, the America we live in is the direct result of the intertwined strands of horror and greatness that preceded it.