Latino history and culture is under attack in the educational system of Tucson, Ariz., according to the film “Precious Knowledge.”
The film, by filmmaker Erin McGinnis, follows Tucson High School students enrolled in the 2009 Mexican American/Raza studies courses. The screening occurred in the Centennial Hall of the Alumni Center and was organized by Dottie Morris, chief officer of diversity and multiculturalism at Keene State College.
Morris said, “Part of what we did is we worked with folks in the educational department to bring the film to campus, so I contacted the filmmaker to see if she was willing to come to the area for a couple of days and to show the film and have discussions about it.”
McGinnis is a cultural anthropologist from San Diego State University and has made a number of documentaries including “The Girl Next Door,” which was short-listed for an Oscar. “It was a huge struggle to make this film,” McGinnis said.
“We had to shoot it with no funding, which is a painful thing to do. We did get funding from PBS (Public Broadcasting Services) and the Latino Public Broadcasting for what we call post-production. Also, just shooting in Arizona in the summer was really hard because it was so hot,” she said.
The main story of the film is not the average day of a student, but rather the legislation and political action which took place during 2009 to shut down the history programs.
According to statistics shown in the film, the dropout rates of Latino students decreased from 50 percent to seven percent during the time Raza studies were introduced.
The opponents of the courses cited the courses as being “racially dividing to the school” and “teaching anti-American values.”
The students in the film staged peaceful protests against the legislation and the film went in-depth in showing what happened at the protests and how the opponents used footage of the protests as proof of their anti-ethnic studies platform.
One of the protests was a 110-mile run from Tucson to the capital building in Phoenix as part of a cultural practice studied in the classes.
Footage from the film also included racially motivated demonstrations against Latinos and Latinas, including threats made against Latinos and Latinas and the burning of a Mexican flag.
Throughout the film, one of the teachers, Jose Gonzalez, said, “Read the world, and you will find that it is not a pretty place.”
The film did not show violence from the students against the opponents of the classes, only their resilience against the multiple bills against Raza studies.
Eventually the classes were cancelled and the teachers were reassigned to other departments.
The movie ended with the last group of Raza studies students graduating from the high school and moving on from there.
Some students still protest the decision and are still fighting for the right to have Raza studies programs even after graduating.
After the screening, a discussion took place in which audience members weighed in with their opinions on the situation in Arizona.
One audience member, KSC graduate student Andreas Lawrence, said during the discussion, “If history was taught accurately, then we might not have these problems.”
He also commented on the film after the discussion, “I find that prejudicial behavior is unacceptable in this day and age, and I want to support anyone who is trying to raise awareness.”
Disturbing aspects of making the film were also discussed. McGinnis said she received calls from one of the major opponents of the Raza studies program while in her home.
Another remark was made about the flag burning protestors seen in the film. “They are a very small, but very vocal group,” McGinnis said.
After the discussion, KSC senior Corey Stein, said, “I thought it was extremely educational and offered a lens into a pretty scary reality that’s happening right now in the minds of lawmakers and decision makers and the local government in the state of Arizona and the mass government of the United States.”
Sophomore Athena Arrindell, said, “I am here because this should be a topic that should be discussed here and around our campus.” She also talked about what stuck out to her during the screening.
Arrindell said, “What stuck out to me is people are still trying to hold down other races and learning about other races are being called anti-American because they are learning about other cultures when America is a melting pot of cultures.”
People were invited by McGinnis to buy signed copies of the DVD version of her film.
She also noted to the audience the newest developments in the case of Raza studies in Arizona.
She said her footage was subpoenaed by the court to use for the trial and there would be a statement about the case in May according to the faculty’s lawyer.
She also talked about the latest educational scandal in Arizona relating to Mexican-Americans, the banning of books written by Mexican authors in school libraries.
Ryan Loredo can be contacted at