Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Educated, Non-Hysterical Debate is Too Much for Arizona

by Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano May 18, 2010 01:31 PM (PT) Topics: Civil Rights, Immigration, Multiculturalism, racism

Regardless of where you stand on Arizona’s SB1070 (which legalizes racial profiling) and HB2281 (which bans ethnic studies in public schools), you’ve likely heard about the backlash against such laws. As I've previously written, opponents are pushing for mass state boycotts, while others plan to descend on Arizona to protest.

In all these efforts, most of us enjoy the sense of being part of a group. Few of us are standing physically alone — before, for example, an anti-immigrant audience — while carrying the weight of an entire movement and people on our shoulders.

But Dr. Sandra Soto, professor at the University of Arizona, is one such person. While delivering the convocation address at the University of Arizona’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences graduation ceremony this year, Dr. Soto publicly criticized Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB1070 and anti-people of color HB2281. This speech evoked immediate, roaring protest from the crowd, subsequent hate mail and demands that the University of Arizona terminate her employment.

So who is this woman at the center of the storm? To name just a few areas of her expertise, Dr. Soto is a leading voice on Chicana/o Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies. As someone wedded to her convictions, she committed a dangerous and courageous act, standing firm in her delivery while speaking out against Arizona’s racist legislation. In so doing, Dr. Soto not only challenged these laws — she also called on the graduating class to adhere to a higher degree of humanity.

In her speech, Dr. Soto declared that it's our civic responsibility to have "educated, well-informed and non-hysterical debate.” Those words are especially true when it comes to the debate over Arizona's laws. Unfortunately, we've reached a point at which Dr. Soto’s words are actually getting deemed radical, when all she intended was to appeal to the basic humanity in all of us. After all, what's so radical about asking that we have educated, well-informed and non-hysterical debate about issues affecting the lives of thousands?

Perhaps the threat in these words lies in how they might actually encourage — as Dr. Soto describes — the development of "solutions that are fundamentally respectful of human and civil rights.” The crowd’s reactions, and the backlash that's followed, illustrate how low our society's regard for basic civil rights has sunk. As a scholar, a woman of color — a Chicana — Dr. Soto was simply honoring her own integrity by speaking on behalf of those of us who cannot or will not. For that, she's been publicly pilloried.

I once identified as a progressive — someone who believed in fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Based on the conservative wave washing over our “post-race” America, I realize the term progressive falls short. It seems those of us who hold beliefs like Dr. Soto's are in fact, radicals, perhaps of another planet. Arizona Governor Brewer was right; I am an alien.

Photo Credit: Ken Lund

Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano is the Associate Director of Justice Matters and has previously worked in queer communities of color in the South and Southwest.

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