Librotraficante: A Book Trafficker. (yes, books!)

Spanish for 'Book-trafficker'

Earlier this year, I read a blog post from Latino Rebels and saw a video that, at the time, I thought might be a joke. Thankfully, it wasn’t! Someone was taking serious action against Tuscon’s decision to remove selected literature and classes from public schools.

Tony Diaz, founder of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, led a group of “librotraficantes” from Houston to Arizona where many books have been allegedly banned in the Tuscon Unified School District. And guess what they are smuggled in with them? You guessed it! The banned books. Read more about their courageous, historical and necessary caravan to Arizona on their website and while you are there, send in a donation 🙂

The caravan kicked off in Houston and then spent two days in San Antonio. They held a press conference at the Alamo, had an inauguration of San Antonio’s own underground library, held a school board review, a Teach In for teachers and of course, the Banned Book Bash. They continued to El Paso and Albuquerque before the big arrival in Tuscon. Diaz and crew are on a mission to bring awareness to prohibition to Mexican-American Studies Programs, promote banned authors and their contributions to American Literature, celebrate diversity and create a network of resources for art, literature and activism. (

On Tuesday, March 13, 2012, El Librotraficante Caravan made a stop in San Antonio at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center for a Banned Book Bash.  My husband and I attended and we were in for a treat.  Rep. Joaquin Castro welcomed the audience and said that it was wonderful to be with us but sad that it was such an occasion as this.

We heard from a variety of local community champions and authors reading their own work and others’. A few of my favorite readings were from Carmen Tafolla reading from her own work Curandera. San Antonio’s own Maria Antonientta Berriozabal read from one of my favorite writers, Tomás Rivera.  Author John Phillip Santos shared a piece of Cesar E. Chavez’s Address to the Commonwealth Club of California.  Anthony the Poet, a San Antonioan poet, did an amazing reading of Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States by Lori M. Carlson.

Lorna Dee Cervantes
Sandra Cisneros
John Phillip Santos

It’s always great to hear Sandra Cisneros read from A House on Mango Street. Author Lorna Dee Cervantes read from a magazine in which she published J. Montalvo’s poem about the Sasquatch Bicentenniel (she mentioned she could have this online soon). It had me laughing out loud!

What moved me about the night was the sense of unity in the room. Authors, students, teachers, activists, concerned citizens were together to support a movement with a message:  You cannot take away or silence our culture and history. These books, short-stories, essays are the students’ stories too.

I didn’t come across these books or ones similar until I was in college. Growing up in my small West Texas town, there was no Mexican-American Studies class to take in public school. (Although at that age, I was so confused about who I was, I might not have taken it anyway. Sad but true.) However, in college, when I did become more aware of my own heritage and culture, I couldn’t get enough of Chicano Literature and Mexican-American studies.  They were the few classes that I looked forward to attending. These works and authors began to give me a sense of self. I was reading about topics that seemed real to me like not understanding why my grandmother used the egg on me when I was sick and why talking openly about sex was taboo. Until I read these topics in Chicano literature books, I didn’t realize that this was more of a cultural ‘thing’ and not so much just my weird family ‘thing’.

My books from college. Now 'banned' in Tuscon!
Stories from Dagoberto Gilb shed light on hardworking people like my dad, uncles and grandfathers. It gave me a glimpse of what life could be like for Mexican-American men providing for their families with so many obstacles. The men in my family didn’t talk about the challenges that affected them. Messages like these gave me an appreciation for my family, history and culture.
I remember sitting at a table discussion in a Chicano literature class and admitting to my class how grateful I was for taking the class. When I began the class, I felt like I didn’t belong. Most of the students had a ‘Mexican’ accent as they were from the Valley (border area South Texas/Mexico). I told myself that they were more Mexican than me and they surely would ‘get’ these works and I surely wouldn’t. And by the end of the class, I believed that the stories we had shared as a group were as much mine as they were theirs.

Yes, this is only my experience reading Mexican-American literature and to me  these works ARE important. Students shouldn’t have to wait until college to get to read them. Taking these books out of the classroom is raising more awareness around these works than keeping them hidden. So, way to go ‘librotraficantes’! Get these works in the hands of as many young Latinos as possible.

Me with Tony Diaz. El Librotraficante.

Tony Diaz, El Librotraficante himself, said, “Our history and culture must never be at the mercy of the administration again.”  The caravan has returned to Houston after leaving their love notes for the students in Tuscon. And Phase I is complete, be on the look out for details about Phase II.