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January 24th, 2012
07:24 PM ET

Congressional caucus wants investigation of Tucson Mexican-American studies ban

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) - As students and faculty of several Tucson high schools protested the end of Mexican-American studies and removal of text books, some members of Congress are seeking an investigation into the ethnic studies ban.

On Monday, hundreds of students from Tucson Magnet High School and from Pueblo, Cholla and Wakefield high schools walked out of morning classes and marched to the Tucson Unified School District’s headquarters to protest the removal of dozens of Mexican-American studies textbooks, as well as the state-ordered suspension of the Mexican-American studies program. A petition aimed at getting the books back in the schools had gained more than 11,000 signatures as of  Wednesday morning.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office asking it to investigate the language of the law banning ethnic studies and its specific application against Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program.

On Tuesday, the American Library Association passed a resolution condemning the suspension of Tucson’s ethnic studies programs and the removal of materials associated with them. It also urges Arizona's legislature to repeal the law that bans ethnic studies in school curriculum.

Tucson schools Governing Board President Mark Stegeman said last week that part of the reason seven titles were being taken from classrooms was because none of them had gone through a required district approval process. But Three Sonorans, a local Tucson blog, uncovered a 2007 document that it says proves that three of the removed books had already gained district approval: “Critical Race Theory,” by Richard Delgado, “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos,” by Rodolfo Acuna, and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” by Paulo Freire.

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Q&A: 'Heart and Soul' author Kadir Nelson on illustrating African-American history
Kadir Nelson wrote and illustrated the Coretta Scott King Award-winning book "Heart and Soul."
January 24th, 2012
05:06 PM ET

Q&A: 'Heart and Soul' author Kadir Nelson on illustrating African-American history

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) - "Most folks my age and complexion don’t speak much about the past," says the grandmotherly African-American woman who narrates "Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans," a book illustrated and written by Kadir Nelson.

The American Library Association announced Monday that "Heart and Soul" won the Coretta Scott King Book Award in the author category, and as an honor winner in the illustrator category. Last week, it was announced the book is a nominee for an NAACP Image Award for children's literature.

"Many of us are getting up in age and feel it’s time to make some things known before they are gone for good. So it’s important that you pay attention, honey, because I’m only going to tell you this story but once," the unnamed narrator says.

The narrator’s words are accompanied by Nelson's sculptural, intensely colorful illustrations, which interweave images of American history with those of her family’s struggles and triumphs in a country that only recently acknowledged their full potential as human beings.

Nelson’s book was selected among more than 100 entries for the award, which aims to promote children’s books, authors and illustrators that portray some aspect of the African-American experience. Jonda McNair, who chaired the award selection committee, said they were impressed by Nelson's marriage of the text to the illustrations.

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January 22nd, 2012
05:00 AM ET

The dismantling of Mexican-American studies in Tucson schools

Update: Congressional Hispanic Caucus want an investigation into Tucson's ethnic studies ban

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) -  Nearly two weeks since Tucson, Arizona's, Mexican-American studies classes were suspended, some books have been removed from classes, teachers are uncertain about what curriculum to use and some students said they'd like to give district and state school administrators some homework: Listen to the students affected by the decision.

"I just want to talk to them," said Nicolas Dominguez, a senior at Tucson Magnet High School, where administrators removed several seminal Mexican-American studies texts last week. "I want to talk to them about all of this, and I want to get to know them, because you have to get to know people before you can change them. I think it’s essential to become friends with the state superintendent and work together."

The Governing Board of the Tucson Unified School District voted January 10 to suspended its Mexican-American studies program after an administrative law judge ruled it violated a new state law and the state said the local district was going to lose $15 million in annual aid. In a district where 60% of the 53,000 students are Latino, some said they felt like Chicano or Mexican-American perspectives on history have become unacceptable.

This week, seven textbooks associated with the Mexican-American studies program were removed from classrooms, provoking claims of censorship. District leaders said they aren't banning the books, but have removed them from classrooms while their content is evaluated.

The district’s Governing Board President, Mark Stegeman, said that copies of some of the books were still available in school libraries. But a search of the Tucson district’s school library online catalog, only a handful of copies of each book were available in any of the 11 high school libraries searchable online.

"I feel really disheartened," said Maria Therese Mejia, a senior at Tucson Magnet High School. "Those are our history, you know? It's ridiculous for them to be taking away our education. They’re taking (the books) to storage where no one can use them."

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King's final message: Poverty is a civil rights battle
Thousands gathered at the end of the Poor People March, on June 19, 1968, in Washington D.C.
January 16th, 2012
01:51 PM ET

King's final message: Poverty is a civil rights battle

Editor's note: See CNN's complete coverage of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) - On Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, some will volunteer, some will attend celebrations of his life and legacy, some will do nothing at all. "I have a dream," the title of King's best known speech, will be repeated countless times, along with well-known stories about his  commitment to nonviolence, his letters from a Birmingham jail, his marches against segregation and the bullet that ended his life on April 4, 1968.

But few will remember how King lived his last birthday, as he turned 39 on January 15, 1968.

According to accounts of the day retold by Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III, King spent the day working on a campaign that he hoped would force Washington and the American public to acknowledge and resolve the problem of poverty for people of all races, religions and backgrounds in the United States. The Poor People's Campaign was the agenda for the day, with a short break for birthday cake.

While King's dream, the march on Washington and fight against segregation are well-known to children and adults now, fewer are aware that King spent the last months of his life fighting poverty.

When he died in Memphis, he was there to support fair wages and union representation for Memphis sanitation workers.

Rebecca Burns, who wrote about King's last days, death, and burial in "Burial for a King," said King's antiwar and anti-poverty legacy are overshadowed in part because their solutions are more elusive.

"It’s a much more complex issue – it's not, pardon my choice of words, as black and white as voting rights or where you sit on a bus," Burns said. "It’s harder to talk about that in sound bites."

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Is Hollywood 'whitewashing' Asian roles?
A live-action movie of the beloved Japanese manga and movie "Akira" could feature white American actors.
January 13th, 2012
01:39 PM ET

Is Hollywood 'whitewashing' Asian roles?

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) - America’s embrace of Japanese pop culture, particularly manga and anime, hasn’t resulted in an embrace of Asian and Asian-American actors when those storylines go to Hollywood.

Two upcoming feature films based on Japanese material are already stirring controversy after rumors that white American actors will be cast as characters originally written as Japanese.

Tom Cruise is rumored to be in talks to play the lead role in the Warner Bros. adaptation of Japanese novel “All You Need is Kill,” replacing a Japanese main character. Warner Bros., which is owned by the same parent company as CNN, is also in the pre-production stages of making a live-action version of “Akira,” a graphic novel that was made into a landmark 1988 animated feature film in Japan. All of the actors rumored to be in consideration for the upcoming film’s main characters are white Americans, although casting calls invited actors of “any race” to audition.

That’s troubling to both the series’ devoted fans and advocates of diversity in casting.

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What's the 'gayest' U.S. city? Not necessarily the most gay friendly
Salt Lake City's gay community is not as large as some other cities, but their pride parades are well-attended.
January 9th, 2012
07:06 PM ET

What's the 'gayest' U.S. city? Not necessarily the most gay friendly

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) - Salt Lake City, Utah, is known for breathtaking mountain scenery, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the 2002 Winter Olympics.

But today it was also named the Gayest City in America by The Advocate magazine.

The Advocate ranked cities according to its own admittedly nonscientific criteria, including the number of gay and lesbian bookstores, elected officials who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and some edgier metrics like the number of International Mr. Leather competition semifinalists and the presence of nude yoga classes. This year’s list intended to examine cities that are outside the usual orbit of San Francisco, Boston, Miami and New York, and came up with several surprises - Grand Rapids, Michigan, Knoxville, Tennessee. Even Little Rock, Arkansas, ranked 11 out of 15.

Salt Lake City LGBTQ advocates were pleasantly surprised by the rankings.

“Well, you know, we’re all very proud of our community here, and we’ve done a lot of growing and empowering of each other and our allies in the community,” said Valerie Larabee, the executive director of the Utah Pride Center, but “we probably wouldn’t have a higher ranking if the homework was done … We don’t have naked yoga, or at least none of us know about it.”

(For the record: The Advocate counted one nude yoga class there, and one Mr. Leather semifinalist, too.)

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Remembering Gordon Hirabayashi, Japanese-American civil rights hero
Gordon Hirabayashi fought for the rights of Japanese-Americans, like those in this WWII-era California internment camp.
January 6th, 2012
01:42 PM ET

Remembering Gordon Hirabayashi, Japanese-American civil rights hero

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) -  Twelve years before the U.S. Supreme Court decided separate was inherently unequal, and five months after a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Gordon Hirabayashi took a stand that he believed would validate his rights as a citizen of the United States.

The son of Japanese immigrants, Hirabayashi lent his name to a landmark court case that challenged the U.S. government’s policy of treating anyone of Japanese descent as a potential enemy during World War II. Hirabayashi, 93, died January 2 in Edmonton, Alberta, after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for several years, according to his son. Hirabayashi’s former wife, Esther, died hours later at a different medical facility in Edmonton. Hirabayashi was cremated, and a Quaker memorial meeting for worship is scheduled for Friday at the Edmonton Japanese Community Association.

"It’s a sad day, but I think all of us in the family are happy to see the recognition Gordon’s getting," said his nephew, Lane Hirabayashi, a UCLA anthropologist who is co-authoring a biography of Hirabayashi with his father, Hirabayashi's brother. "This can also be a time that people reflect on what happened. That’s really important."

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Increasing diversity redefining America's Jewry
American Jews as a group are becoming more ethnically diverse due to intermarriage, immigration, adoption and conversion.
December 28th, 2011
07:00 AM ET

Increasing diversity redefining America's Jewry

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) - "But you don’t look Jewish," Jen Chau remembers being told often as a child.

But then again, what is a Jew supposed to look like? The usual implication in those words was that it was not supposed to look like Chau, who was raised Jewish by her European-American mother and Chinese father.

"I still think society's idea of a Jew is someone who looks like Jerry Seinfeld or Woody Allen," said Chau, 34. "They don’t look at someone like me and think, 'Oh, she could be Jewish.'"

But the face of Judaism in America is changing, as the community becomes more diverse through intermarriage, adoption, immigration and conversion.

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Elizabeth and Hazel: Little Rock women struggled after iconic civil rights image
The key figures in this famous photo are featured in the new book, "Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock."
December 22nd, 2011
01:20 PM ET

Elizabeth and Hazel: Little Rock women struggled after iconic civil rights image

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) - David Margolick’s latest book, “Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock,” explores what happened to two teenagers captured in one of the civil rights movement’s most iconic photos.

Elizabeth Eckford was one of nine black teenagers to integrate Little Rock, Arkansas', Central High School in 1957, and the photo shows her walking a gauntlet of shouting, taunting white students and adults. In the photo, Hazel Bryan, now Hazel Bryan Massery, was the white girl caught in the midst of yelling a racial epithet. The moment depicted in that image continued to reverberate throughout both girls’ lives.

Eckford struggled with depression and anxiety throughout adulthood, once being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the near-constant bullying she experienced at Central High. She attended two colleges before depressive symptoms forced her to drop out. Bryan Massery transferred to another high school before dropping out to marry at 16. She was the mother of two children when she first called Eckford to apologize for what she'd done. Although the two women eventually reconciled and even became friends, the pain and guilt each experienced because of the events in the photo crushed their friendship, and they no longer speak to each other.

CNN: What motivated you to write this book?

Margolick: I was in Little Rock doing a piece, a [Bill] Clinton-related piece for Vanity Fair that didn’t pan out. While I was there, I went to Central High School, which had always been a legendary building for me. I was well aware of what had happened in Little Rock in 1957 … Central High School was a holy place for me, and I wanted to see it for myself. When I was there, I went to the visitors’ center across the street, which had just opened, and right when you got in you saw the famous picture.

It seeped into my consciousness the way it seeps into the consciousness of every historically curious person.

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Gay marriage comes to Archie's Riverdale
December 21st, 2011
03:00 PM ET

Wedding bells to ring for Archie Comics' gay character

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) - One of Archie Comics' archetypal all-American teens is getting married – and it isn't to girl-next-door Betty Cooper or scheming sophisticate Veronica Lodge.

A year after introducing Riverdale’s first gay character, Kevin Keller, Archie Comics is showing his marriage to an African-American physical therapist named Clay Walker. The issue with their wedding, "Life with Archie #16," debuts at comic book stores January 4 and newsstands January 10.

It's part of a series that imagines the gang five or six years after graduation, with two alternate timelines - one in which Archie married Betty, another in which he married Veronica. Kevin's wedding appears as part of a story showing Archie and Betty's married life.

Kevin Keller is shown to have followed in his Army father's footsteps - in images released to CNN, readers learn that he served in the military and was injured while serving in Iraq. He meets Dr. Clay Walker while in a hospital’s rehabilitation unit.

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