Latino authors and activists on a caravan against book bans

SAN ANTONIO — Paul Ortiz was a terrible student ready to drop out of high school his senior year — until a teacher gave him a list of books he couldn’t find in the school library.

They were books with sexual situations, profanity and hot topics, books like “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck and “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath.

That they were banned “is what got me excited,” said Ortiz, author and professor of history at the University of Florida.

AuthorPaul Ortiz.Courtesy of Deborah Hendrix

Now his award-winning book, ‘An African-American and Latino History of the United States’ is on a list of hundreds of books that Republicans and conservatives in Texas have removed from school libraries and classrooms or challenged as potentially unsuitable. to young minds. The list, compiled by a Republican Texas lawmaker, includes books on race, sexuality, abortion and other topics.

Ortiz’s book and the other titles became a catalyst for the first book banning caravan and march in a decade, scheduled for Friday in Texas’ capital, Austin, and organized by the Librotraficante (Book Trafficker) movement, which was formed after Arizona banned Mexican-American studies in 2010.

Writers, artists and activists along with supporters of the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the oldest Latino civil rights organization, will drive from San Antonio and Houston for Austinwhere they will hold a “March for Culture” along Cesar Chavez Street, then rally at the Capitol.

Their protest may be the most visible book ban protest staged by Latinos to date.

Librotraficante founder Tony Diaz said the caravan and march is not just a response to the latest book ban.

Tony Diaz speaks to a crowd.  The Librotraficante caravan in 2012 made its first stop at the Alamo in San Antonio.
Tony Diaz speaks to a crowd. The Librotraficante caravan in 2012 made its first stop at the Alamo in San Antonio.Liana Lopez

“We want these books in the classrooms, so people are coming together for this. It won’t be a one-time deal,” Diaz said.

Several of the books targeted in Texas are LGBTQ-themed or have been written by LGBTQ authors, some of whom are Latino. The bans came amid an ongoing anti-LGBTQ movement in the country.

“We forgot”

Attempts to remove the books exacerbate the invisibility with which many Latino authors, scholars and activists say they struggle within the predominantly white and black construct of the country. This persists despite the deep roots and history of many Latinos – even before the creation of what is now the United States.

“It took us years, decades of struggle to even be able to integrate Chicano, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, any of those stories into our schools,” Ortiz said, noting failed attempts in schools. 1930s, 1960s Chicano and Ethnic eruptions. study movements.

“My concern is that we forgot,” he said.

“We are not on enough lists at all. We are invisible to most literary lists,” said award-winning author Dagoberto Gilb, who participated in the Arizona Librotraficante movement after his works were banned. Having been on a banned list, Gilb said he supports the perpetrators of the latest book banning campaign.

Arte Público Press, the oldest Hispanic publishing house in the country, donated a box of books by Gloria Velásquez to the Librotraficante caravans, which will be donated to non-profit organizations, including one that operates a mobile library, helping Librotraficante build a chain of “underground” libraries where to find banned books.

Gloria Velazquez.
Gloria Velazquez.Courtesy Public Art

Velásquez’s book “Tommy Stands Alone,” part of his Roosevelt High School series, is among hundreds of titles targeted in Texas and has been banned in the past. Her book, she says, is a tribute to her cousin, Stevie, who lived with and died from AIDS. She said she recently discovered the importance of her character’s Latino voice in the LGBTQ community.

Just before the pandemic, Velásquez said three boys came up to her after a talk she gave at a school and asked her for an autograph.

“There’s this little boy, this little Chicanito and he’s hugging ‘Tommy Stands Alone,’ and he’s like, ‘This is the book I want you to sign,'” Velásquez said later. , from a teacher, she learned that the young boy’s migrant parents would not accept that he was gay and “don’t want him to talk about it”.

The last time her book was banned, in the 1990s, Velásquez was speaking in a Colorado classroom and was warned not to use the word gay, leading to a protest against the school by advocates LGBTQ.

In this latest book challenge, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott said the state is calling for standards to prevent children from being “exposed” to books he calls “pornographic” or “content.” highly inappropriate”.

“They’re just people”

Award-winning author Benjamin Alire Sáenz said he was insensitive to the book bans, but worried about their effects on unpublished authors.

Sáenz’s book, “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”, is also on the Texas list and has been challenged or banned in the past. “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda reads the audio version of the book and its sequel.

The young adult book was a New York Times bestseller and won numerous awards. Sáenz described the book as a tender, gay love story with two Mexican American characters. The tenderness is why curators dislike the book, “because they are such tender books that it’s hard to hate them,” he said.

“I represent Latinos and my characters, I normalize them. They’re just people,” he said.

“It’s not just gay men who read these books and it’s not just gay men who write to me,” he said. “These are straight young people. These are people who are going through this time in their lives and they are getting to know each other.”

The book is also about parents, who are good parents and good families but make mistakes, but still love and support their sons, he said.

“We have this idea that Latin American families just abandon their kids because they’re gay or queer. It turns out that’s not true,” said Sáenz, who lives in El Paso. “Latinos love their children. They may not want to talk about it, but they love their children.

Sáenz said his books offer an atypical portrayal of Latinos. In his book, a father is a poet and a mother is a therapist, or they are a high school teacher and postman who are great readers.

The banned book, on the themes of family, faith and love, “deals with everything conservatives say they’re dealing with,” he said.

He has another book in the works, “The Secret to Attracting Hummingbirds.”

The book banners lost the war, but continue to try to fight a battle “to bring us back to an idea of ​​America that never was,” he said.

“They can’t silence us. They can try to silence us, but it’s useless,” Sáenz said. “They spend all this energy trying to ban us, and yet most libraries will refuse to ban us and every year they will celebrate us by having banned books week.”

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