Wednesday, February 29, 2012

We Are All Librotraficantes: On the Banning of Books in Tucson, Arizona

This past Saturday, I was privileged to take part in a panel at John Jay College addressing the ban on Mexican-American Studies in Tucson, Arizona. Over 80 books, the vast majority of which are books by Latina/o authors, are now effectively banned in the Tucson school district.

With me at the panel were the novelist Sergio Troncoso, whose book The Last Tortilla and Other Stories is on Tucson's banned list; as well as the members of a remarkable movement called Librotraficante, which has sprung up within the last month to combat these bans. Professor Tony Diaz of the University of Houston, and radio producers and hosts Bryan Parras and Liana Lopez, have come together to create a caravan of banned books that are slated to be trafficked BACK into Arizona from Texas, into four (at last count) underground libraries which will exist to celebrate, and provide students and the public with access to, the sacred literature which Tucson now wishes to toss into the incinerator.

Anyone with interest in combatting this genocidal action by the Tucson school district should visit Librotraficante on the web, where you can contribute to the caravan, contact the organizers, and find ways to make your voice known.

Make no mistake: facism is alive and well, and the State of Arizona harbors it. We have not forgotten SB 1070.  And we will not forget this.  Unless we step up now to combat facism, it will bubble the surface elsewhere, like a bad memory.  (It already has.)  Do not stand still now.

In the meantime, have a look at two clips from Saturday's panel discussion, from myself and from Sergio. I will post more clips as they become available. 

A big word of thanks to the intrepid Erasmo Guerra, who was on hand to document the event and who posted these clips to YouTube. 


Librotraficante said...

An honor to get to be on a panel with our our New York Familia, Librotraficante Juega. East Coast, Gulf Coast, and West Coast, Tucson Unified School District is surrounded. We shall prevail for our cultura! Tony Diaz, El Librotraficante

The Velvet Blog said...

We can replace TUSD board members all we want, but this law originates in Phoenix, and TUSD can only vote not to comply.

Were that to happen, I wonder how much support TUSD would get. Because the fact is, that the ONLY MAS PROGRAM IN THE STATE was not supported or promoted by Libroficante when it was in place, nor were other school districts, who had no initiative to start a MAS program, called to task by your group.

It is incorrect to say that Tucson doesn't want the MAS program. We always have, evident by the fact that we established such a program, and populated it with books "from the cannon", as Rich so rightly put it. We should be concentrating our efforts in Phoenix, where these racist laws originate, and supporting efforts in Tucson, where we are fighting these laws.

Rich Villar said...

So then the question I have is, as a New Yorker with no voting power in the Tucson school district: How did the members of the school board vote when it came down to compliance or non-compliance? Was there such a vote taken? Are you saying this was a top-down approach applied by the state of Arizona, and forced upon Tucson? Can the district defy the state? Would they dare?

Librotraficante was formed, so far as I know, as a response to this action, so it's hardly fair to blame them, as you say, for not supporting the MAS program in Tucson, being that they didn't exist then. I'm sure that individually, the members of the collective were eager to support such a program. Their reputation for supporting Latino literature in general was unimpeached...which is why they came to organize in the first place, when this thing happened, I believe.

Of course, I don't live in Tucson, but I had family who lived in Arizona at one point. I'd be hard-pressed to think that Phoenix squashed the liberal dreams of Tucson's populace...but maybe you know something I don't? In either case, I remain, with all due respect to those in the trenches, uninterested in hurt feelings among people who essentially agree with each other that this program should remain in place. No. I want to hurt the feelings of the policymakers in Arizona who seem to view harassment and erasure as culture preservation. As the norm.

I humbly suggest that the problem we aim to solve is bigger than one program in one school district. This is a national crisis, a national disgrace.

So, Tucson, you tell us: what can Latinos outside Arizona do to support you?

Matthew Conley said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response. It is true that the MAS program is not fully supported by every member of the TUSD board, so there is still work to be done here in Baja Arizona. There's a lot of hate here, but a lot more interest in these programs, as evidenced by the fact that TUSD was the only district in the state, OR THE CITY, with the initiative to establish this much-needed program.

But what to do? Well when it comes down to it, it's the young people who have the most to lose here. I'd like to see groups like Libroficante put pressure on other school districts, in Arizona, in other states, to establish a MAS program. This action would do the most, I think, to address the needs and potential of students

Barbara Renaud Gonzalez said...

Bravisimo! Books made me free, and saved my family. We are supporting Tony in San Antonio, and I wish I could go to Tucson, but can't. Ay que comprar libros, they are the only land we have left, the only land that matters.