The Devil's Highway

by Luis Alberto Urrea

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What are reactions to Arizona's ban of ethnic studies, specifically, The Devil's Highway? Which reaction aligns with Urrea's historical purpose?

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When then- Arizona state superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, wrote the ethnic-studies law, his argument was that he did not want to sanction literature and teaching that denied the promises and possibilities of America.  Horne argues he targeted work and teachings "that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, encourage resentment against a group of people, or are created specifically for one group."  Additionally, Horne felt that ethnic studies such as Chicano history courses advocated examining history "through a racist and politicized filter that wrongly informed students that they’re oppressed by white people."  He goes on to suggest that, “It’s a fundamental American value that what matters about us is what we know, what we can do, and what is our character—and that what race we were born into is irrelevant...This program is teaching students the opposite—that what matters about people is their race.”  The reaction of Horne and supporters of the law that banned teaching ethnic studies in Arizona is that race should not be a defining quality that individuals use to examine the world and their place in it.  Within this, books like The Devil's Highway were banned from being taught in schools.

Urrea's desire to detail the history of the region and of "the devil's highway" in general is to bring out how political reality impacts the immigration issue.  When Horne suggests that he repudiates the "racist and politicized filter" that compels him to ban ethnic studies, it becomes clear that Urrea wishes to explore this condition of being.  Urrea wishes to detail the history of the region and its political underpinnings to illuminate the complex reality that governs this stretch of land that has become "the devil's highway."  It has become this due to its history, topography, and political manipulation.  When Urrea brings out how "Arizona profits from its relationship with Mexico,"  it is a reminder that there might be a more "fundamental American value" in the history of the region.  The profiting off of human hardship is about as old as the region itself.  Urrea's desire to bring this out is strongly connected with the purpose of detailing of the history in the region.

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