by David Safier
I've been waiting to see if any local press or TV news program would cover the Thursday screening of "Precious Knowledge," the documentary about TUSD's Mexican American Studies program. After reading the Sunday Star and searching Google, I've decided the screening was a media non-event. So far as I know, Mari Herreras of the Weekly was the only member of the press there, and I don't know if she's planning to write about it.
True, the Star had a rather nice article announcing the film a few days earlier. Also true, the screening of a documentary, even one shot in Tucson, isn't a momentous event. But the Mexican American Studies program was a huge issue before, during and after the 2010 statewide races. The controversy over the program continues to be covered locally, across the state and in major publications around the country. Any event related to MAS, especially one like the screening at The Fox, is newsworthy. Hell, Tom Horne got all kinds of coverage and a Page 2 story in the Star when he complained a bunch of people he wrongly labeled as "thugs" yelled while he was trying to do a television interview in Phoenix. That's news, but this isn't?
Here's why screening of "Precious Knowledge" was newsworthy.
The Fox Theater holds 1200 people, and on a Thursday evening with a UA March Madness basketball game on television, the Fox Theater had people sitting in the aisles, and a few hundred people were turned away. The vast majority of the people who showed up were members of the community most affected by the MAS program — students along their friends and families and members of the neighborhood, all of whom apparently believe these courses are worth saving. Fourteen hundred people traveling to downtown Tucson during a televised UA game on a school night to see a documentary? That shows a significant, newsworthy level of community support for the program.
And there was more to the evening than the film. It was a celebration of culture and community. TV film crews really missed out by not showing up. As we walked into the theater, we were serenaded by a high school mariachi band, dressed to the teeth, playing and singing and carrying themselves with the poise of professional musicians. Inside, before the film, students performed traditional dance numbers, introduced and explained to the audience by the students. The performances were practiced and polished. The students danced with spirit, grace and pride. Then, right before the film began, a student drum line marched down the aisles to the floor in front of the stage and got the audience's pulses pounding in anticipation of the main event: the film.
And the film itself was an education. I gained lots of nuts-and-bolts knowledge about how the classrooms look and feel, how the fight over the program has played out, and the history of the anti-MAS legislation that made it into law. Any interested journalists would have walked out of the film with a deeper understanding of the whole Mexican American Studies issue. Hearing and feeling the audience's passion would have let the journalists know how important this fight is to the local Hispanic community.
If the Tea Party gets a hundred people on a street corner, apparently, that's news. But when a normally quiet Hispanic community comes out, over a thousand strong, to show its community pride and its devotion to a TUSD program which could be cut with a stroke of John Huppenthal's pen, somehow, that's not considered important enough to deserve coverage.