The Range talked with banned-book novelist and poet Ana Castillo yesterday while she drove from New Mexico into Arizona for a weekend of readings and workshops that start tonight at the John Valenzuela Youth Center.
Castillio plans to meet with students later this afternoon before her public reading at the South Tucson Center at 1550 S. 6th Ave., 6:30 p.m.
Castillo, author of "So Far From God," said she reached out to acclaimed Chicano literature teacher Curtis Acosta to come to his classroom to read and work with his students.
"I reached out because of the situation that was going on. Two of my titles were on that banned list. Getting information through the internet and various sources, I decided to offer myself and visit the school or schools, not to go with my books, but to go and talk as a writer," she said
Castillo said she felt a particular kinship with Acosta after reading that he used her novel, "So Far From God," as part of an essay exam he gave his students. "So this is far reaching for me. I asked him 'How about I come to visit your class?'"
Castillo wanted to document part the visit, filming it with media or to post on her website. But that request was denied.
"As a writer of 40 years, I have always been conscientious in this country of freedom of speech to some degree. ... Serious writers may get censored in some form or fashion. But I don't think that I ever thought 'So Far From God,' which is very popular, would ever be taken out of schools in the Southwest," Castillo said.
"I don't take it personally, but what I do see is an ongoing plan, a very deliberate plan and antagonism in the US and Southwest. What is obvious is that about more than books. ... When they take out Shakespeare, Paulo Freire or Pulitzer Prize winners, that I can't imagine that they read everything and somehow determined this is a threat to democracy."
Castillo recalled watching state Superintendent John Huppenthal talking about reading Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," during a TV interview. He found it offensive.
"I have taught that book. I am very familiar with that book. It is widely known in education as a way to transform our society. ... This reminded me of McCarthyism and the red-baiting of writers, except now we are targeting a specific people. I feel we have to start paying attention to this trend. Now we are seeing similar laws (to SB 1070) in Georgia and Alabama. I don't think most of the public east of the Mississippi or the East Coast is aware. We have to make them aware," Castillo said.
Asked why she thought more people in Tucson didn't speak out on behalf of Mexican American Studies, Castillo said she obviously doesn't know Tucson and only has experience living in El Paso and southern New Mexico. But she thinks people may have become sort of complacent, apathetic and apolitical.
"But I did feel that whatever we can do to bring that awareness in some way is critical – to Latinos in particular. I'm hoping that tomorrow night can help. I look forward to speaking with students after school and also delivering some books of my own to give them and I hope they have the initiative to read them on their own," Castillo said.
"My reason is not to come and say, 'Oh you poor things.' We are all in the same situation. I see this as an opportunity for any communiy to learn about working as a community, learn how to organize, make their local officials accountable. This is really an opportunity. People have to become stronger. Work together."
From a press release about Castillo's visit, it notes other authors were allowed to have media or to record their visits earlier in the year.
The Range contacted TUSD PIO Cara Rene regarding Castillo's visit. Rene responded by e-mail, "Castillo asked that her visit be low key, but then also requested to have media with her in the classroom - that part of the request was denied to allow the students to interact with Castillo and learn from her without the disruption of a media presence in the classroom."
Rene wrote that it was communicated that Castillo could give media interviews after the class. "As I understand it, Castillo decided not to talk to the students in the classroom because she could not have the PR presence with her."
While Castillo is in Tucson she will also participate in two Save Ethnic Studies fundraisers for the legal costs of the constitutional lawsuit before U.S. District Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima.
Attendees will have the opportunity to meet the author for a suggested donation of $50 which will go directly to fund the federal lawsuit.
The first reception will take place on Friday, May 4th at 8:30pm and will be hosted by Sally Rusk and Tim Warfield. This will follow Dr. Castillo's free public reading at the John Valenzuela Youth Center in South Tucson at 6:30pm where she will read from her two titles, So Far From God and Loverboys, books banned by TUSD. Before the actual reading Ms. Castillo will meet separately with students who were enrolled in MAS classes at 4:30pm, and discuss her writing which was a pivotal part of the program.
The second fundraiser will be at 9am Saturday, May 5th at Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery & Workshop where Ana Castillo will meet with former TUSD Mexican American Studies faculty, as well as students who will be attending a private writing workshop taught by Dr. Castillo later that morning at Casa Libre en la Solana. Guests that are interested in attending can contact the persons and phone numbers provided.