TUCSON, Ariz.—On May Day (International Workers’ Day), the march and rally for immigrants’ and other workers’ rights was smaller than in previous years, only about 500. In contrast, in 2006, nearly 20,000 marched in Tucson on April 10, and about the same number two years ago, to protest Arizona’s racial profiling law, SB 1070, which was signed by the Arizona governor on the eve of May Day that year.
Among the likely reasons for this drop-off in numbers is the economic downturn, making jobs more scarce and people less willing to take a day off work to demonstrate on a workday.
Also, a higher level of intimidation undoubtedly plays a role, the impact of unending racist attacks on Mexican Americans and undocumented workers in general. The Obama administration openly boasts that it has deported unprecedented numbers of undocumented immigrants during Obama’s time in office.
The Mexican American community here suffered another hard blow this year. It has been deprived of the Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson public schools, a program that the community won about 20 years ago and which was helping alienated youth find something to identify with in school.
Participants in the Raza Studies program had a higher rate of staying in school, graduating, and going on to higher education—against a background of disproportionately high dropout rates among Mexican American youth.
Among the speakers at the May 1 rally were two teachers from the now closed MAS (Mexican American Studies) program. One said, “There is a lot of fear out there right now.” This was caused by hard-line school officials, who threaten and carry out reprisals against student protesters, backed up by police attacks.
The speaker said that though the authorities have kicked out the MAS program for now, “we’ll be back!” The other teacher who spoke, Maria, stressed that they were fighting for future generations, not only those in school right now.
Richard Elias, an elected public official from Tucson’s Mexican community, vowed that the four out of five School Board members who voted to shut down the MAS program will be ousted, and that new people who support an MAS program will have to be voted in.
Union support for the march and rally was expressed by Sue Hay of SEIU Local 48 and Mike Corrio of AFSCME. There was a new layer of support this year, a large presence of Occupy Tucson activists. A diverse array of community groups and social movements supported the event, including a speaker from Wingspan, the local LGBT organization, and three little girls who sang a song in Nahuatl, one of the native languages of pre-European Mexico.
> The article above was written by George Shriver, and first appeared in the May 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.