The Urban Review

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 7–22 | Cite as

“If There is No Struggle, There is No Progress”: Transformative Youth Activism and the School of Ethnic Studies

  • Nolan L. Cabrera
  • Elisa L. Meza
  • Andrea J. Romero
  • Roberto Cintli Rodríguez


In the wake of the Tucson Unified School District dismantling its highly successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, students staged walkouts across the district to demonstrate their opposition. Student-led walkouts were portrayed as merely “ditching,” and students were described as not really understanding why they were protesting. After these events, a group of student activists called UNIDOS organized and led the School of Ethnic Studies. This was a community school dedicated to teaching the forbidden MAS curriculum. In this article we present counternarratives from organizers, presenters, and participants in the School of Ethnic Studies. These narratives demonstrate the transformative resistance of students who created their own form of liberatory education. Our analysis highlights how student organizers led the creation of an autonomous, community-based educational space to allowed young people to engage in political analysis, self-reflection, and strategic organizing. We conclude with the implications for Ethnic Studies, urban education, and counternarrative.


Mexican American Studies Ethnic Studies Youth activism Transformative resistance Counternarrative Tucson Unified School District 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nolan L. Cabrera
    • 1
  • Elisa L. Meza
    • 2
  • Andrea J. Romero
    • 3
  • Roberto Cintli Rodríguez
    • 4
  1. 1.Center for the Study of Higher EducationThe University of Arizona College of EducationTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Social WelfareUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Family Studies and Human DevelopmentUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  4. 4.Mexican American StudiesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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