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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Rain in Alpine The Culture Wars Arrive in the Trans Pecos BY NICOLAS KANELLOS Most book banning and censorship take place away from the public eye. When they order books or plan curriculum, the powers that be in schools, libraries, and other public institutions operate far from the scrutiny of their constituents. In advance of their deliberations, publishers, reviewers, and wholesalers filter and sort texts, using criteria that would be suspect to most of us. The cases that attract the attention of the media and our guardians of free speech, such as the A.L.A., PEN, the A.C.L.U., and People for the American Way, are usually examples of the most egregious affronts to the First Amendment, as groups in power attempt to impose their morality, ideology, or religious orthodoxy on books, music, screenplays or a curriculum. Often, these attempts at censorship have less to do with repressing a text than repressing the rights of a community or racial or ethnic group that the text is perceived to represent. “Alpine, Texas,” reads the sign, “is the gateway to the Big Bend,” the Texas desert wilderness visited by thousands of tourists and naturalists each year. The high desert town of Alpine, home to some 5,600 souls and the Sul Ross State campus of the University of Texas System and where Hispanic citizens now make up the majority of the population has just inscribed itself into the map of the culture wars tearing asunder this country’s institutions. Battle lines were drawn last May when First Baptist Church Pastor Phillip McCraw approached Alpine High School with a good book in hand albeit not the Bible and demanded it be removed from the curriculum immediately on the basis of its explicit sex, violence, and foul language. Without consulting the Board of Education’s written policy, the panicked school principal ordered Elsa Dominguez to remove the book from her advanced placement English class. Dominguez rallied the faculty and staff, and even apprised the author of the machi A From the cover of Rain of Gold nations of his would-be censors. Her students found their way to the nearest bookstore and, with their own money, purchased the book that had held them rapt, but whose conclusion had been withheld from them by school authorities. The banned book fast became the most-read book in the high school and probably the whole town. The object of contention in this nascent cultural war has never before been described as “pornographic.” It is the autobiography of a family that made its way to the United States from the revolution-torn mountains of northwest Mexico in the early part of the century. The best-selling Hispanic biography of all time, Rain of Gold, had been embattled from its beginning but not because of the Reverend McCraw’s objections to it. G.P. Putnam’s Sons \(New issue it as non-fiction autobiography Instead, they intended to change the title to “Rio Grande” and publish it as a fictive ro Rudy Fernandez mance of the West. Victor Villaserior refused and bought back his book from the publisher, mortgaging his house to repay the $75,000 advance and ensure that the history of his family and community in the United States would not be called “fiction.” This act of individual resistance to the forces of multinational business \(which routinely negate the history and identity of ological. It was the desperate act of a man struggling to attest to and celebrate all that his parents had achieved after much suffering: a truly American story of a family’s immigration to the United States, where the family not only survived but prospered. But Villaserior’s act of resistance became the basis for ideological interpretation, after the author was blackballed from major commercial publishing in the United States. In a debate that made its way from the small world of publishing into various JANUARY 21, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25