A three-bus caravan will leave Houston on Monday, March 12, and head to Tucson, carrying a group of Latino writers and hundreds of copies of the books removed from the Tucson Unified School District's former Mexican-American studies classrooms. Houston novelist Tony Diaz came up with the idea for the project, Librotraficante, along with other writers and artists. The caravan is scheduled to arrive in Tucson on Friday, March 16, and on Saturday, they'll celebrate the El Battalion Santo Patricio. They could use an escort at the New Mexico border (oh, and a taco truck). For more information, call (713) 867-8943; email email@example.com; or go to www.nuestrapalabra.org.
How did this idea start?
This is the result of 13 years of work with our organization Nuestra Palabra. We've been promoting Latino literature and culture for 13 years in Houston. It's also become a graduate school for activist writers. A lot of the writers have been involved for more than 10 years, and a lot of them now have 10th-degree black belts in activism and promoting literature.
What kind of projects does Nuestra Palabra do?
We've worked to counter ideas that Latinos don't read, or Latinos don't write. We started the largest book event in the fourth-largest city in America. Our first Latino book festival brought together 15,000 people. A lot of people went, "Wow, when Latinos get together, amazing things happen all around literature, education and cultural values." These are things others take for granted, but (Latinos) really appreciate them, so for us, this is an amazing issue.
Do you think this issue will better organize the Latino community?
I think it has been eye-opening for many of us across the country. With Nuestra Palabra ... we've learned that the work of the Civil Rights Movement never rests. But what really opened our eyes was when we heard that administrators walked into a high school classroom and boxed up the books of our beloved authors in front of students. That was a deep cultural offense.
What writers are involved?
First, I heard from Dagoberto Gilb (Woodcuts of Women and The Magic of Blood), who started helping us. He was saying, "This is going down. You're in, or you're out." Another is Manuel Muñoz. ... He lives right across from Tucson High (Magnet) School, where his book (Zigzagger) is now banned. Other writers we've reached out to (Sandra Cisneros, Helena Maria Viramontes, Stephanie Griest Elizondo, Sergio Troncoso, Richard Delgado, Luis Urrea, Carmen Tafolla, Barbara Renaud Gonzalez, Denise Chavez and Rudolfo Anaya) will either be hosting us along our way or be there in Tucson for a huge event.
When do you leave?
On March 12, we will leave from Houston, and reporters from the show Flashpoints on Pacifica will ride along the way ... (as well as) someone from the Texas Observer, the Texas Monthly, and we even got a call from French media. ... People from outside the U.S. are telling us, "We can't believe that people are trying to keep the books out of students' hands." From here, we will go to San Antonio, where Sandra Cisneros is hosting us. ... And we are also starting underground libraries. ... We want to leave sets of the banned books at community centers everywhere we go.
Who will be in Tucson?
We know Stella Pope Duarte will be there, and Luis Alberto Urrea and many others. The list is growing. (Urrea) was one of the first writers who jumped on this by Twitter. He said, "I want a taco truck full of free books in the barrio." We're not sure where the hell we'll get a taco truck, but we are working on it.
Why is this important?
We need to organize. I think for too long, we've taken for granted that we are organized here in Houston, but we don't do much across cities and states. ... (Latinos) are not the sleeping giant. We're the working giant, and we're reporting for work. ... But now what's different is that this is bringing people together, and not just Latinos, and not just writers. We also need to teach each other. There's a lot to learn from your students (UNIDOS) and how they are organized. They are doing great work out there. ... Maybe the young are supposed to teach us. But this is what I'm also hoping—that people will see this. And if this happens in Alabama, I want them to know we will come there next.