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Arts & Culture

Books abound inside SWU's Librotraficante-founded library

Photo: Greg Harman, License: N/A

Greg Harman

The shelves at SWU's Underground Library are organized by first edition, signed, fiction, poetry, and banned. Underground Librarian Diana Lopez said that recognized local writers like Sandra Cisneros and Dagoberto Gilb have contributed works to the effort. SA Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla even donated multiple copies of her book of poetry, Curandera, republished with "Banned in Arizona" on the cover.


In the 1981 film My Dinner with Andre, a burnt-out theater director advances to a burnt-out playwright, amid quail and cocktails, a theory that in the very near future there will soon be alien planets right here on Earth that people will travel to in order to receive the energy necessary to cope with the rising forms of fascism and ignorance taking over Manhattan, and, more terrifying, the world. Did Louis Malle know when he was filming his masterpiece that this future would be about taco carts filled with Rudolfo Anaya paperbacks in downtown San Antonio, and that those "alien" planets might be considered "illegal" as well?

Last May, when a bill authored by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (a man who has been on a notorious mission to eradicate the Mexican American Studies program in Tuscon for years now) was signed into law, serious dread spread in the Latino literary community. Cut to Tony Diaz, the Houston-based author and radio host of Nuestra Palabra, who wasted no time getting a group of concerned writers and readers onto a bus tour to get these "wet-books" back into Arizona — well, back into the public imagination, if not the actual public classrooms.

He wasted no time getting his message on YouTube either, and, with spots on The Daily Show and Democracy Now, the conscientious theatrics of Librotraficante became a bona fide media success; and now that the bus ride is over, it seems there is room, and even demand, for a second stage.

San Antonio is one of four cities (the others being Houston, Albuquerque, and Tuscon) that will host, what Diaz has dubbed, “underground libraries,” community-minded reference/lending facilities forged with the primary purpose of keeping at least four copies of each book that was taken out of Arizona classrooms when the HB2281 law (sounds like a virus vaccine, no?) effectively killed off Tucson's ethnic studies and sent boxes of Latino literature to a book depository for the interim.

The Southwest Workers Union, an organization, according to its mission statement, "of low-income workers and families, community residents, and youth, united in one organizational struggle for worker rights, environmental justice and community empowerment," will be housing one of these libraries in The Movement gallery. And Genardo Rendón, director of the nonprofit outfit, is absolutely convinced of the need for such literary partnership in San Antonio. The SWU is, according to Rendón, all about families, community, and the future, and this library "is more than just books, it will be a way to build esteem."

Diaz sees a real benefit in joining with well-handled, not necessarily literary-based, community nonprofits such as the SWU. "We do want to broaden the audience for books. It is not rare to find writers and academics collaborating. However, especially in the case of San Antonio, it is rare to see those same groups collaborating with a union organizer. Now, we do."

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