The next year, Acosta quit teaching at the high school. He handed his Sunday class over to a group of teachers. “I couldn't live with the idea of what I thought was political opportunism and fear-mongering,” Acosta says.
Around the same time, Lara, the Los Angeles teacher, had begun implementing an ethnic-studies course in his district. Then the district made it mandatory to graduate.
“It was an idea whose time had come,“ Lara says. “The ban in Arizona lit a fire for everyone here to think, ‘Hey, we should be doing something about this.’”
* * *
Within a year, Lara had spoken with leaders in San Diego, San Bernardino, San Francisco, and Ventura counties who wanted ethnic studies in their schools. The reaction in California couldn’t have been more different from Arizona’s. When the school board held a meeting to discuss implementation and Lara had no money to bus students to it, “teachers started reaching into their pockets and soliciting online donations. We heard from people all across the country—teachers, parents, professors saying, ‘Here's $25. And I wish I could be there.’” Lara told The Los Angeles Times, “It's been pretty amazing.”
Lara says five California school districts now require an ethnic-studies class, and 11 others offer it as an elective. There’s even a law proposed that would compel all California high schools to offer some form of ethnic studies.
This year, the National Education Association awarded Lara the 2015 Social Justice Activist Award, largely for his work in spreading ethnic studies in California.
After the success of the book-smuggling tour, Diaz and his group of traficantes went before the Texas legislature and petitioned for Mexican American studies to be offered statewide. “The ban of Mexican American studies in Arizona opened our eyes to the discrimination,” Diaz says, “and how important it is to embrace our history and culture. We realized there was nothing to ban in Texas, so we needed to start one.”
In response, the Texas State Board of Education allowed interested schools to begin including ethnic-studies courses. It also put out a call for course books.
This year, Mission High School, in Mission, Texas, became one of the first public schools in the state to offer a Mexican American studies course. Soon, Diaz says, they plan to spread it to more than 100 school districts.
As for Arizona, the Tucson Unified School District eventually rescinded the book ban. The law that banned the course is still being fought in court. A federal appeals court recently rejected arguments from opponents that the ban was overly broad and vague. But it upheld complaints that the ban was motivated by “discriminatory intent.”
It was a partial win for Acosta and other activists.
Acosta no longer teaches in public schools. Instead, he opened his own education consulting company called the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, and with a group of educators he also founded in 2013 the Xicano Institute for Teaching and Organizing. There, they instruct and consult with teachers and school staff on how to develop a curriculum for their own Mexican American or ethnic-studies programs. They get calls from across the country.
Last week, Acosta flew to an educational conference in San Francisco. Every school in the city now offers ethnic studies.