The words of Latino poets were heard loud and clear June 27 at the Mission Cultural Center, where activists and writers gathered for an evening of readings from books banned under Arizona’s House Bill 2281.
The event was organized by Librotraficante, Spanish for “book smuggler,” a group dedicated to collecting and smuggling banned books into Arizona and other states where similar bills are being introduced.
Librotraficante was founded by five authors and activists: Tony Díaz, Liana López, Bryan Parras, Lupe Méndez and Laura Acosta in reaction to HB 2281, the bill that outlawed ethnic studies in all publicly funded schools in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD).
“I never thought in my wildest imagination that we would have to actually defend Latino literature and literacy.” said Díaz, a Houston-based author, has been a long term advocate of Latino literacy. In 1998, he founded Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, the parent organization of Librotraficante. The group has gained national support, including the support of Latino authors such as Sandra Cisneros whose work has been banned in Arizona.
Other poets from near and far also made their presence felt at the event including San Francisco State University Professor and poet, Naomi Quiñónez, who read poetry from her own published books.
“We feel like we are being under assault for our identities, our history, our stories. Our histories are basically being eliminated in this kind of political power game,” Quinonez said.
Quinonez also shared her perspective on book banning laws, “It’s a force that we are going to have to contend with and I think all it’s going to do is make us stronger though and more appreciative … of our own body of literature because sometimes we take that for granted.”
The list of books banned under SB 2281 includes “House on Mango Street” by Cisneros and “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire.
Lupe Méndez, a poet from Houston Texas expressed thoughts on the future of book banning politics, “It is a scary, scary, scary reality,” Méndez said. “We can’t allow it anywhere else, the model for writing the laws that ban the books, that limit what we can read, we can’t mimic it in other states. It’s happening, we have to put a stop to it.”
Librotraficante asks the public for support next spring in San Francisco when the Fifth Circuit reviews the constitutionality of Arizona HB 2281.
“We’re going to need an outpour of support. The young students who are suing Arizona will be here, the legal team, the teachers, they will all be here.” Díaz said. “We are defending freedom of speech for everyone and it is affecting everyone. Everyone’s freedom of speech is at stake.”
For complete information on upcoming events and projects by Librotraficante visit librotraficante.com.