Update #9: Tucson Freedom Summer at El Casino Ballroom

Supporters of Tucson's Mexican American Studies program from around the country take the stage in solidarity at El Casino Ballroom.

Supporters of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program from around the country take the stage in solidarity at El Casino Ballroom.

Over the past year I’ve heard stories of history that happened at El Casino Ballroom, from political rallies and the birth of Tucson’s Chicano movement, to the rise of Tejano music in the city.

Tonight I felt like I was watching something historic unfold in front of my camera.

Earlier this year, Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American studies program was dismantled by the TUSD school board under a threat from the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction that he would withhold 10 percent of the district’s budget if the program was not shut down. The justification was another of Arizona’s recent unjust, discriminatory laws, this one forbidding the teaching of classes aimed at any particular ethnic group.

Tonight ethnic studies teachers and students from around the country came to the El Casino Ballroom to show their solidarity with the Tucson program that inspired the creation of many of their programs. Over the next week they will be holding events around town and going door to door to make the case for a program that demonstrably keeps kids in school, gives them a sense of place in our society, and propels them to college and a lifetime of critical thinking and working toward social justice.

They’re calling it Tucson Summer Freedom 2012, and patterning it after the civil rights efforts of the 1960s. The symbolism was not lost.

Most of the evening was spent dancing and celebrating, getting to know one another and letting their presence be known. On hand were Tucson’s own Mexican American studies teachers, some of whom still have jobs in the district, others of whom have been deliberately purged.

Tomorrow and in the days ahead they will be holding events and discussions around the city to call local and national awareness to the issue.

Paraphrasing one speaker, this program has not been buried. Rather it has been planted to sprout anew throughout the country

Every documentary film makers dream is to somehow intersect with a clear moment of history over the course of filming. I have heard so many stories of similar moments that transpired under El Casino’s roof. Tonight I was lucky enough to be there to see one.

And I got an extra bonus. Over the past week, while I was recovering from walking pneumonia, a new roof started to take shape over the top of girders where the old roof had blown off over 20 years ago. A special fundraiser to help restore El Casino Ballroom to its former size will take place there on July 15. And God willing, I will be there with my camera to capture that historic moment as well.

There are hours left to fund this Kickstarter project, and a long ways dollar-wise to go. But regardless of whether we make that hurdle, this film will be made. I am proud of what has been done so far, and I thank all of you who joined me in this from the bottom of my heart.

– Daniel Buckley, Producer

~ by Daniel Buckley on July 7, 2012.

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