The House on Mango Street – One of Tucson's Banned Books

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do something about Arizona shutting down the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson. I wanted to show solidarity with the students there who are being denied their right to learn about their history.

Well, I don’t know if this is the way to do it, but I made a video last week where I read one of the books that has been banned from the curriculum. I then learned that there is an entire website devoted to doing this very thing. It’s called Banning History in Arizona.

In this video I read the first chapter from “The House on Mango Street.” It’s ne of the books that is not allowed to be taught at TUSD, the school district I graduated from many years ago. Let me know what you think.

Guest Post on Spanglish Baby

Today I have a guest post on Spanglish Baby about Arizona’s attempt to shut down Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies program. Here is an excerpt:

On Monday, I sat down with my 2 boys and read them a copy of “Free at Last! The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr.” I read to them about the bus boycotts and the March on Washington. I tried to explain to my 5-and almost 7-year-old boys that sometimes people are so uncomfortable with a group of people that they will do anything they can to keep them down.

My 7-year-old said that Martin Luther King, Jr. lived a long time ago and those things were in the past. But I feel like it’s still a current issue. A startling example in my mind is how the powers that be in Arizona are doing everything they can to keep Latinos down. Click here to continue reading Spanglish Baby is an amazing website for parents raising bilingual children.

I wrote another guest post in 2009 about how lame I am for not speaking fluent Spanish (or as my mom would say “any” Spanish).

Tea at Trés in the SLS Hotel

Mommy and Me Tea at Trés

I had never been to a tea in my life, until recently, but within the past couple of months I’ve been to three. Each was at a different location, but they all had their charms.

wax candle melting lamp at SLSThe first was at the Getty Villa in Malibu and it was hard to decide what was better, the food or the scenery. The afternoon Tea by the Sea included a tour of the grounds and a delicious selection of food made with ingredients from the Villa’s gardens.

The second was at Trés in the lobby of the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. Swank is the first word that comes to mind. And over the top.

I went to the SLS tea as the guest of Sarah Auerswald and we were accompanied by Elise of Elise’s Ramblings and Alexandra, of Beverly Hills Mom. It was the last week before my family and I left for the holidays and I was a little stressed.

But once I sat down with the ladies there was nothing to do but relax. The lounge where we had the tea was dimly lit and very comfortable. I sat on a couch with Elise and sipped my Yerba Matte tea and dreamed of a life where I go to tea once a week.stuffed bears

Elmer, our waiter was as delightful as the beet macaroons with goat cheese, my favorite of all of the selections we were offered. The desserts were good, however, I thought they were trying a bit too hard with the chocolate with Poprocks until I remembered that we were enjoying the Mommy and Me Tea and I thought of how happy my kids would be if they were served chocolate Poprocks.

In thinking about the SLS hotel another word comes to mind: fascinating. The lounge area was sort of like Alice in Wonderland. The restaurant The Bazaar, which features world-renowned chef and PBS star José Andrés, is in the hotel. I’ve never been to The Bazaar to eat, but now I want to go back at night. There was so much to look at I don’t know how you could concentrate on your food. Hopefully, some day I’ll go back for dinner and let you know how I did.

tea at SLS hotelFinally, the third tea I went to was a amazing homespun affair. It was in Tucson with my oldest, dearest friends and their mothers, the week before Christmas. Looking back now, after the shootings that killed a 9-year-old girl and injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the memory is bittersweet, but at the time it was very special.

The SLS tea was over the top, but it had nothing on my friend’s mom’s fabulous spread in Tucson.

The house and table were beautiful and the food was fantastic. My friends’ kids, who are between 5 and 9 did the serving and they make me hopeful about the future of America’s youth, with their excellent manners and work ethic.

Everyone went home from the tea with a Christmas ornament, all of which had been specially selected and hung on a tree at the front of the house. It was a truly lovely day.

Tragedy in Tucson

Saturday morning I was working on a post about Arizona’s new law that makes it illegal to teach Mexican-American studies in Tucson’s public schools. It is shocking, racist, and like the Arizona immigration law, horrible foreshadowing to what’s possible in a country so divided.

But then something happened that I never would have imagined in my hometown. Jared L. Loughner allegedly shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in front of a Safeway where Gifford was holding a mini town hall. Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green who wanted to meet her congresswoman was killed along with a Federal Judge John M. Roll and 4 other people.

What is going on in Arizona and what is next? Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnick, who I consider a vocal voice of reason in the state after calling Arizona’s immigration law “racist” and initially refusing to enforce it, had a grim analysis. He said in a news conference Saturday, “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous, and unfortunately I think Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

What’s so shocking to me is not that the shooting happened in Arizona, but that it happened in Tucson. Like Rep. Raul Grijalva said on Meet the Press Sunday, Tucson has a million people, but it’s a small town.

For example, when my dad was in the hospital a couple of years ago, I called a random flower shop to order a bouquet. The woman who answered knew my brother and she was genuinely concerned for our family. Even though I oppose the state’s immigration law and am baffled by how Arizona Governor Jan Brewer got elected, whenever I go home I come back feeling good about the world.

I took my kids to Tucson 3 weeks ago to see family and friends. The weather was perfect and we had such a great time seeing all of the people we love. The friends and family I grew up with in Tucson are reasonable, generous people and I feel for the sadness and conflict they are going through. One friend said an email to me that the state is so backward, “I sometimes can’t believe I live here.”

But I can. I always thought that if Los Angeles got to be too much I could just move us home. Back to the easy life that Tucson affords. Nice people, affordable housing, and family and friends. My friends who live there say that in spite of all of the political craziness in the state, Tucson is a great place to raise a family.

That sounds hard to believe of a city in a state called the capital of hatred and bigotry by one of its own law enforcement leaders. But deep down I always felt like Tucson, my home, was the one safe place in the world left to go. But after this tragedy, I don’t think that’s true anymore.

A Weekend in Tucson

After months of talking about it, I finally made a trip to Tucson to see my family. It was my aunt’s 80th birthday and I knew I couldn’t miss her party. She is one of my favorite relatives and one of the sharpest and funniest women in the family.

She’s hilarious and biting and I remember one time in particular when my mom’s flamboyantly dressed friend was over. This woman always wore bright lipstick, tight clothes, and high heels. But this time she was wearing a turtleneck and my aunt said to her, “Oh, I didn’t recognize you without seeing your breasts.” I always think of that when I see a low-cut shirt in a store.

I left the kids at home so it was a completely different trip than I had planned. The first day and night was spent with friends, some of whom I’ve known since the 2nd grade. We had dinner at a new restaurant, Contigo, and it was very good. We shared bacon wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo, mussels with saffron, shrimp with garlic, and this treat (below right) that was cold and tasted like creamy masa with green chilis.

The next day my sister arrived with her daughter and after talking her out of going for a run in the 103 degree heat we went to Zin Burger, my new favorite non-Mexican spot. We shared sweet potato fries, truffle fries (above left), a Zin Burger with manchego and carmelized onions, and a salad with bacon and tomatoes. What I really wanted was a chocolate sangria, but it seemed too hot for that.

After a lovely day with my nieces and my mom, we headed to the party. My cousin hired a group of high school students who played at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference to perform for my aunt. They were fabulous and my aunt seemed very happy.

The food until then in Tucson had been very good, but nothing could compare to the spread at the party. And it wasn’t catered. It was all made by my aunt’s cousin from Mexico. She made shredded beef with garlic and green olives, roasted vegetable salad, homemade tortillas, and beans so good you could smell the bacon.

I can’t believe that after all of the food (and tequila) on Saturday my sister and I were able to go on a hike the next morning. We went to the Linda Vista Trail and hiked for an hour or so. It’s a nice, moderate trail and it was unusually green.

Overall, it was a really nice mini-vacation and so wonderful to see everyone.I have an entire post worth of information about the upcoming Arizona election, but I’m saving that for another day.

Arizona, Why Do You Have To Make It So Difficult?

Way back in the day when I was a young reporter in Illinois, I sang “Volver, Volver” with Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos. Long story short, a colleague at the paper knew Bruce Hornsby and this got us backstage passes for the Further Festival, where Hornsby was playing that day in St. Louis. Thrilled, my friend and I flew across the bridge to get there before Los Lobos took the stage. We were too late, but backstage we found Cesar Rosas sitting alone on a stool playing the guitar. I introduced myself and said I was from Tucson and I had seen the band play at the Pima County Fair. He said he loved Tucson and told me to sit down with him. We sang the classic Mexican song, “Volver, Volver” together. I’ve since felt a bond with the band because they love Tucson like I love Tucson.

But Los Lobos won’t be going there anytime soon. The band released this statement last week.

 “We support the boycott of Arizona. The new law will inevitably lead to unfair racial profiling and possible abuse of people who just happen to look Latino. As a result, in good conscience, we could not see ourselves performing in Arizona….”

Los Lobos is forgoing a decent chunk of change by cancelling the show near Phoenix and potentially one in Tucson later in the summer. The band is willing to make the decision to support the boycott, but can I?

I already made plans to go to Tucson to see my family and friends. My kids haven’t seen my parents since Christmas and June is a good time to go; it’s not too hot (just barely 100 and bone dry) and many of the snowbirds (a.k.a. people who voted to make Arizona the laughing stock of the country) have gone to more temperate climates. I want to go because my kids love Tucson and they love their Nana and Papi. It’s not so we can stay at a fancy spa (and give a lot of tax money to the state).

Is it fair for me to keep them from their grandparents to make a point? I wrote this blog about Arizona’s new racist immigration law and I took my husband and children to march with me in the May Day rally in downtown Los Angeles. How do I teach my children that it’s important to stand up for what we believe and then cave so we can visit friends and family?I have mixed feelings about going there and spending any money. But it’s not like the state will stop operating because I’m not eating out at La Parilla Suiza, my favorite Tucson restaurant. My friends jokingly promised that we would only frequent businesses owned my illegal immigrants or we could just go to their houses and not spend any money at all.

But it’s not just the immigration law, of course. After the shame of the state voting down the Martin Luther King holiday years ago and the new immigration law, Arizona decided that the Tucson Unified School District can’t teach ethnic studies. I can understand how some people might think the new immigration law is a good thing, and that Arizona is trying to protect itself because the federal government is not. But it’s a big and ludicrous step for the Governor and legislature to go from immigration “reform” to dictating if or how schools can teach ethnic studies. Their attempt to prevent “resentment” by prohibiting schools from teaching ethnic studies is just plain racist and lacks any rational motivation.

The Tucson I knew growing up was a perfect interracial place where African Americans, Latinos and white people got along. For the record, the Tucson City Council is suing the state saying the immigration law is unconstitutional and the city’s police chief has also come out against it.

Everyone I know in Tucson, and not just my Mexican-American friends and family, is against the immigration law and the ban on ethnic studies.

Maybe I can justify my trip by thinking about this amazing story out of Arizona. One of my good friends and her husband were worried that Prop. 100, a ballot measure that would raise sales tax by 1 percent and bring millions of dollars to schools, would not pass. So they decided that when you’re handed lemons you put up a website, facebook page, and twitter account and then make lemonade. They organized 100 Stands for Education with the goal of raising awareness about the measure by getting families to put up 100 lemonade stands in one day. They fell just a few short, but the ballot measure passed.

My friend is Mexican-American and her husband is Indian-American. They did an incredible thing for kids and no one asked them for their papers. This is the Arizona that I know and one I want to share with my kids.