LIBROS Y MÁS.
Every year in the Spring, the New Mexican writer and activist, Denise Chavez holds her Border Book Festival in Mesilla, New Mexico, near Las Cruces; and every year it turns out to be more successful than the previous year. She invites celebrated writers to talk about their works and the craft of writing, always show-casing, however, a Latina or Latino writer. Not too long ago she moved her well-known bookstore from its location near the Mesilla Plaza to a new location, The bromide about “Location! Loction! Location!” may be true, but not for Denise Chavez’ book-store. Wherever her bookstore, la gente finds it. That’s because of Denise Chavez. Como Denise no hay dos (there’s no one like Denise).
A couple of years ago, the Big Read Program at Western New Mexico University in Silver City tucked in the southwest corner of the state at the edge of the Gila Wilderness and right on the Continental Divide invited her to talk about her work and her craft as a stellar Chicana writer. The auditorium was filled to over-flow capacity. She is relentless in championing Latin@ writers.
As a professor of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, I used to teach a course on “The Future of the Book” polemicizing the death of the book just to rile up the graduate students pursuing Master’s and Doctoral degrees in the field. This was in the early days of the Sony Bookman and what has now become the world of IPads and Tablets. The book is very much with us and will remain so, I’m sure. Screens have replaced the clay tablets of Ashurbanipal’s Royal Library in Ninevah and the parchment scrolls of the great library of Alexandria. Like human evolution, the evolution of the book will change our relationship to the content in terms of its packaging. We can’t dog-ear the page of a kindle to mark our progress in the book.
No matter, the 2013 Tucson Book Festival was bigger and better than last year’s. In September, Silver City will launch its first book festival entitled Festival of the Written Word, attracting literary luminaries like the Tony-Award Playwright (Children of a Lesser God) Mark Medoff with whom I collaborated on Elsinore, a musical version of Hamlet in 1968, years before the rise of his star. The shelves of the bookcases in my office at Western New Mexico University are over-flowing with books on popular and arcane topics. At the Festival of the Written Word I shall talk about my life as a Chicano/Latino writer (see “Tools of the Trade: Reflections on Writing and the Pursuit of a Chicano Presence in American Life,” Historia Chicana, May 3, 2012).
In the last week of April, our university was invaded by folks from throughout the state attending a childrens’ book event touted as “The Battle of the Books.” Hijole! There were esquincles (kids) all over the place. Back to back, the university hosted a companion book event entitled Literacy Alive a program that encourages writing by high-school students. And on April 30, Western New Mexico University staged a Student Academic Symposium that highlights student research. Our rinconcito (corner of the state) is basking in the spotlight.
Important to note is that all of these events at our university included Hispanic kids, demonstrating their reading prowess and creativity with the written word. Looks like our progeny is going to handle the future well. While our kids are enthusiastic about writing, the states of Arizona and Texas are desperately whiting-out references of Hispanic contributions to the nation. The Texas Textbook Massacre is going at full-throttle in emasculating those contributions from the social science textbooks used in the Texas public schools. In Arizona, the Attorney General is dead set in eliminating Mexican American Studies from the public schools and universities. Hispanic push-back is there but slow. Perhaps a day of national outrage is needed.
At the moment, Libros Traficanes, out of Houston, is the major voice of protest to what is tantamount to demographic vilification, but in every sense of the word: censorship. This is certainly an issue for MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund), but it is an incumbent issue for all of us. The essence of our past is in these duels that imperil our future. Elsewhere I’ve asked: What are white mainstream Americans afraid of? They’re afraid of us and the “browning” of America as Samuel P. Huntington exhorted in “The Hispanic Challenge” (Foreign Policy, March 4, 2004). I’m not surprised by Samuel P. Huntington’s rant about immigration and his contention that American Hispanics will succeed in this country only if they dream in English.
Loathe as I am to say it, the shadow of an angry god is darkening the American landscape, spreading its venom of white supremacy to an already skittish and xenophobic American public. It’s this fear of “the other” that is creating so much anxiety in the wake of 9/11. And it’s this fear that is impeding congressional progress on immigration reform . This fear, however, is all the more reason why American Hispanics need to bruit their history in the United States so that our non-Hispanic fellow Americans can know who we are and that we are not nemesis to the American dream and its ideals. Our history needs to be part of American history. Y por esa razon necesitamos libros y mas (That’s why we need books and more).
At the moment, Arte Publico with Nicolas Kanellos at the University of Houston is leading the way in recovering the Hispanic literature of the United States. In Albuquerque, the Hispanic Cultural Center is doing yeoman’s work in forging an Hispanic image as part of the American character. A recent work of mine La Leyenda Negra/the Black Legend traces the history of anti-Hispanic prejudice and discrimination which is far more widespread and virulent than most of us suspect or are willing to concede.
Hasta la próxima!
Copyright 2013 by Dr. Philip De Ortego y Gasca