New play looks at Mexican American studies ban in Tucson

More from this show

Xico Arte y Cultura, CALA (Celebración Artística de las Américas) Alliance, and Cultural Coalition come together to bring Borderlands Theater production of MÁSMÁs chronicles the events surrounding the banning of the Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District and tells the story of the people who fought to save it. Milta Ortiz, from Borderlands Theater said both the program and the play focused on learning about indigenous cultures Zarco Guerrero, from the Cultural Coalition, said the attach on the Mexican American Studies program was an attack on that cultural heritage. 

Jose Cardenas: The Tucson borderlands theater is coming to Phoenix for the first time thanks the cultural coalition and others. The theater is performing MCS a play surrounding the events of the Mexican-American study. Joining us is Mitta. I think people know the story of what happened in Tucson but you were not even here. Tell us about that.

Milta Ortiz: I was in graduate school in Chicago and my partner and I watched the PBS documentary and we could not believe mas, Mexican studies classes were going to be banned. We could not believe in this day and age it would be outright racism we turned to each other crying and said we have to do something about this and my partner had the idea to write a docudrama play about what was happening. I was learning how to structure a docudrama. We ended up applying for a national new play residency. We got it and the rest is history.

Jose Cardenas: And you moved to Tucson and the rest is history. You are a native of Arizona. Your family has been here for generations and you saw the impact this had on someone else in a different state.

Zarco Guerrero: We were still battling sb1070. We see it in the bigger picture as an anti-indigenous resolution. It was part of a colonialist effort to erase our memory and make us forget who we were and ignorant of our indigenous past and ancestral memory. When this happened in Tucson it was one more slap in the face. Our organization, culture coalition, thought it was of upmost importance to bring this play to the Phoenix area inner order not to let it die. You mention it is something that people -- a lot of people know about that but certainly not enough people know the fact this was a very successful program not only in the educational system but was serving the total Tucson community as well. It was assaulted by racist politics.

Jose Cardenas: They held that was the motivation for it. I want to come back to talk about that opinion. But Milta, tell us about the play and while we talking we have images we will show on the screen. It is an interesting setting literally, because it takes place in somebody's conscious.

Milta Ortiz: Yes, it takes place inside someone’s conscious. The play is set inside a sweat lodge and it is a reembrace, which is tailored after the classes. Instead of professional development workshops, they had classes where the teachers got together and reflected on what was working and what wasn't and how they could implement change. So the idea came about to structure the play as were the Mexican-American study classes and they were steep in indigenous culture.

Jose Cardenas: Just looking at these images, the imagery day of the dead is there, the marigolds and other images reflective of that particular aspect of the Latino culture.

Milta Ortiz: Very much so. Some of the students in history English class would recite a poem that was written in NALA -- you are my other me. And they would recite these guiding principles that are based on four emergency energies of the eepist mall.

Jose Cardenas: You are talking about energy and the Aztec gods.

Milta Ortiz: The energies are summoned each energy has something they focus on. For example, one is learning/knowledge. Then there is reflection. Energy of transformation. Warrior energy to do the things we have to in order to grow. So the play is very much steeped in that indigenous epistemology which is what I thought was wonderful about these classes. This knowledge we don't know about that is part of American history, part of our history, is it just not known so what is wonderful about this play is a Chicano play and about the history and ways and culture and pride in that.

Jose Cardenas: You mentioned that it was important to bring this to phoenix when you talked about the arts in the introduction. Why do you think the former superintendent felt threatened by this representation of culture?

Zarco Guerrero: The fact of the spearheaded of the republican politicians who are adamant about the fact they want to keep us as ignorant as possible. Here you have a program that was based on ancient indigenous philosophy, ideology that has been deliberately replaced over the centuries and we had a movement that was bringing this philosophy back and giving it to our students in the education system and keeping kids in school and projecting them on to higher education. That is how we know it was working. This is a program that very much like the Chicano movement infused a sense of pride and a sense of identity. When have pride we have dignity and that is what this social justice movement is about.

Jose Cardenas: Do you feel more optimistic about the future? Initially the court battles were won by the people defending and supporting. Ironically on the same day the president was here with Arpaio this was ruled -- some optimism there?

Zarco Guerrero: Not yet. That is the reason why we are bringing this play, MCS, to Phoenix and we are supporting what Borderlands Theater is doing in Tucson. We want to bring that energy and ideology into our community. We want to go back to this social and cultural movement in order to propel us to that optimistic level we need to be in.

Jose Cardenas: And we should not end the interview without saying where and when it will be performed.

Milta Ortiz: Yes, it will be performed at the Phoenix Arts Center Saturday September 23, 2:00 p.m. And 7:30 p.m. Culture coalition and performance and borderlands theater are partnering to bring that forth.

Zarco Guerrero: This is also the first time you got your major Chicano Latino arts organization partnering up. Borderlands Theater, culture coalition. We are at point where we have to come together.

Jose Cardenas: Sorry, we out of time but congratulations and look forward seeing the play.

Milta Ortiz, Borderlands Theater

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

The Capital building with text reading: Circle on Circle: Robert Lowell's D.C.
May 2

An evening with ‘Poetry in America’

Earth Day Challenge graphic with the Arizona PBS logo and an illustration of the earth

Help us meet the Earth Day Challenge!

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 12

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: