When Tony Diaz first walked up to the State Capitol last month, he had to pause. The man -- normally so well-regarded, so well-spoken -- was, of all things, tense. He'd never given testimony at such level. He'd never gone to the mat with state legislators. He'd never put his beliefs and his efforts on such a stage.
"I had to pause -- I was a little nervous," Diaz, who helps run the activist Librotraficantes organization, told Hair Balls. "You're going to be sparring intellectually with state representatives, so let's see how it is."
Diaz was appearing at the Capitol to attempt to dissuade legislators from moving forward with HB1938. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione and paired with Sen. Dan Patrick's SB1128 in the Texas Senate, was seeking to restrict the types of classes that would meet public university history requirements in Texas. Instead of allowing Chicano, women's and African-American history classes to continue as courses fulfilling such requirements, those bills attempted to force students into either "comprehensive" or Texas-based history courses.
The move is similar to recent attempts seen in Arizona, which the Houston-based Librotraficantes have spent the last few years fighting. But while they've achieved certain successes there, their largest concern remained in Texas.
"If it fell here, it could fall anywhere," Diaz noted. "We're trained at hunting out oppression, finding it, tackling it -- but I really never imagined it would be in our own backyard."
After months of rallies and cold calls, after touring the state to recruit followers and friends, Diaz was exhausted. Every time he thought the bill wouldn't move forward, it did. Into committee and on to the next. A hearing in which Diaz and his allies outnumbered the opposition by a magnitude, only to have the panel vote to continue the bill's progress.
"I kept hearing some folks who would say, 'You know what, that law will never get a hearing,' and I'm like, this is almost like telling a patient, 'If you drink that poison, it might not kill you.'" Diaz said. "To me, it was a nail-biter, all the way to the end."
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But on Tuesday evening, Diaz and his colleagues got the news they'd been looking for. The House bill had officially stalled in the Calendars committee. Barring identical language being pasted onto another bill, it looks, according to Diaz, as if Texas has escaped the restrictions the bills were looking to impose.
"I'm ecstatic," Diaz said. "Now we get to have this community of activists across the state who can come together, and we can turn from defensive to offensive...Texas came through."
And as for those debating skills? Diaz laughs, and answers as honestly as he can: "I would debate Capriglione any day, anywhere, anytime."