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Arts & Culture

Librotraficantes: Caravan moving through San Antonio on way to protest Arizona's dismantling of Mexican-American studies

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"The big cultural affront to me, is that they walked into the classrooms and boxed up the books in front of Latino students. That was the single act that galvanized us and this whole movement," said Tony Diaz, author of the novel The Aztec Love God, and founder of the 13-year-old nonprofit Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having there Say, the Houston-based group that is coordinating the Librotraficante Caravan to Tucson. Nuestra Palabra also runs the Latino Book and Family Festival in Houston, an annual event that attracted 30,000 people in its third year back in 2004. Their intention is to form what they call "Underground Libraries" in cities on the route and stock them with books by multi-cultural authors and scholars. In San Antonio, a repository will be inaugurated Monday, March 12, at the Southwest Workers Union headquarters on East Commerce Street. The following day the Librotraficantes will conduct a teach-in, take stock of our local school boards in a two-hour cultural caucus, and close the day with a "Librotraficante Banned Book Bash" at the Guadalupe, featuring readings by supportive writers Lorna Dee Cervantes, Sandra Cisneros, Carmen Tafolla, John Phillip Santos, Luis Alberto Urrea, and others. Similar programs will be enacted in El Paso and Albuquerque. But the big push is to bring aid to beleagured Tucson, where the Librotraficantes will hand out books from a taco truck and stage a teach-in.

Lists of the purportedly banned books are circulating the internet, naming dozens of titles including Sandra Cisneros' beloved The House on Mango Street and Carmen Tafolla's collection of poetry, Curandera. A story that ran at claimed that William Shakespeare's The Tempest was prohibited in Tucson, too.

But TUSD Communications Director Cara Rene insists there are no banned books at the school district.

While several titles were boxed up as evidence in the tussle, those books — including Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow — have since been released back to the district and opened to librarians. "We let our librarians know that if they wanted to have any of those additional copies in their libraries, they could make a request," Rene told the Current. "Thus far, about 11 schools have done that. So there are even more books at the libraries now for students to use."

As for seizing books in front of students, TUSD acknowledges, "We regret that in one instance materials were collected during class time."

Diaz objects to the defense.

"TUSD is pushing back, saying no books are banned. But the law prohibits the courses," Diaz said.

The situation TUSD finds itself in now is as Orwellian as the language of the law that shuttered the MAS program's classes. Though they resisted for 14 months (far longer than the Alamo defenders), they are now branded the enemy by many.

"Our name, Librotraficante, is a metaphor to make people ask, 'Why is teaching prohibited?'" Diaz said. "And our other name, 'wet book.' If you can name discrimination, you can combat discrimination. … Here's another word: caravan. It refers to the Civil Rights period. All I have at my disposal is art and civil rights. At the end of the day, only art can save us. The caravan is smuggling the 'wet books' back into Arizona. Whether people can understand the satire is another matter. I need to be the poet in this."

A preliminary injunction by the federal court blocked the most onerous parts of the anti-immigrant SB 1070 on July 28, 2010, one day before the law was to take effect. But since then other states, including Georgia and Alabama, have successfully enacted even more strenuous laws against immigrants. •

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