It’s a long ride from San Antonio to El Paso, and the Librotraficante Caravan members were feeling every mile of it. A successful Banned Book Bash at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Tuesday topped off the second, full day of events in San Antonio, which also included a Latino Cultural Caucus and a teach-in. The former was a discussion with local area organizers about the importance of school boards and how to make them responsive to all students’ needs. (Hint: voting matters.) The latter was a workshop where Librotraficante members suggested ways to engage, challenge, and inspire students with literature and the arts. (Hint: ask students what they are interested in learning about and why.)
At the Banned Book Bash later that evening, writers from John Phillip Santos to Sharon Olinka to Lorna Dee Cervantes read selections from works by banned writers like Cesar Chavez, William Shakespeare, Cervantes, and many others. The audience of about 300 was electrified as the reading progressed, but just as often, was stung. A disbelieving gasp was a familiar exclamation, as those who came to support the Librotraficante’s mission discovered that a book, their book—the book that changed their life, freed their spirit or altered the direction of their life—was among those removed from Tucson public schools.
“How could they ban Bless Me Ultima?”
“How could they ban Zoot Suit?”
“How could they ban The House on Mango Street?”
“They banned Drown, The Tempest, Zigzagger? How could they?”
The “how” is now part of the public record and understood as something that needs to be corrected. It’s the “why” that was beginning to cause a great deal more consternation. (The Tucson Unified School District removed the books, citing a state law that banned ethnic studies programs on the grounds that they promote hatred and division.)
When the Librotraficante Caravan left San Antonio at daybreak for the second, and longest leg of the trip to El Paso, caravan members were understandably bleary-eyed. The first hour on the bus was silent, as the Librotraficantes napped to the persistent whir of the bus.
It was after the meal break in Ft. Stockton that caravan co-organizer Bryan Parras suggested that the group watch Precious Knowledge. The 2011 documentary outlines the events leading up to the elimination of the Ethnic Studies program in the Tucson public high schools and the response by students and educators. There were more of those familiar gasps and expressions of outrage, and maybe even a slight sense of foreboding. Just what kind of storm was this caravan driving into? When the film stopped unexpectedly, the shouts were particularly sharp. Just as anger was percolating around the series of events Precious Knowledge detailed, Parras had stopped the film so that another Librotraficante Caravan rider could speak. Lupe Mendez of Houston announced that he’d just been accepted to graduate school. Furthermore, once they learned of his participation on the Librotraficante Caravan, he was offered a scholarship. The cloud of dismay was wiped away with a hearty round of applause and cheers for Mendez’s news.
Precious Knowledge ignited a thoughtful discussion that could have gone long into the night, but there was no time. The caravan rolled into El Paso with just enough time to check in to the hotel before heading to the second Banned Book Bash at the Mercado Mayapán. The evening ended with music, a hot plate of food, readings, and more importantly, a renewed sense of purpose.