public forums, observers began to consider Villaseflor’s struggle with the publishing industry in the context of the negative depiction of minorities in the media, and the lack of minorities in the ranks of the information and entertainment industries. As one of his last recourses, Villasetior appealed to a cash-strapped non-commercial publisher: the University of Houston’s Arteiblico Press \(where I work as publisher, and which will confirm, as the reader has likely already concluded, that this artiPublico is the nation’s largest Hispanic publisher, yet by the standards of the indus try it is tiny. Although it never had competed in the front-list, hard-cover marketing of a title before, Arte Public \(and Rain of Gold a verified best-seller in the West and Southwest, as the book won high praise from more than one hundred major critics from coast to coast. And again the cultural divide: Rain of Gold might have become a national bestseller, but the major wholesaler to bookstores in the United States rejected it, claiming that the book’s cover was “too ethnic” to sell. Nor have the rights to Villaseflor’ s story been optioned for film or TV; much of this epic narrative deals only with Mexican or Mexican-American characters, so the money men and industry gatekeepers question its appeal to a broad segment of ticket buyers or TV sponsors. Now, eight years after its publication, Rain of Gold was under attack in a town whose resident majority is Mexican-American, and which lies 108 winding miles north of the river that unites Texas and the Mexican state of Coahuila. The Alpine school administration knew it had violated its own policies regarding a challenged text, and formed a committee of teachers and librarians to implement the official policy. The committee worked through the summer and fall, and unanimously recommended that Rain of Gold is appropriate for use in the curriculum. Reverend McCraw appealed the committee’s decision to the school board, citing a list of some five hundred off-color words such as “piss,” “ass,” and “damn,” as well as “seven instances of the f-word” that appear in the book. He and his support ers also objected to a passage where a woman is depicted giving birth, which they described as “sexually explicit,” and to various passages depicting violence \(this is a narrative based on the Mexican Revolubook is very spiritual and mentions God and prayer well over 1,500 times and that the 500 instances of foul words he identified were embedded in a text of more than 250,000 words. The censors printed a pamphlet and even took to the airwaves to develop popular support, reading the questionable words over the air while avowing that they had never and would not ever read Rain of Gold. \(McCraw says he only “skimmed” other hand, enlisted parents in the battle, and invited Victor Villaserior and me to testify at the School Board hearing of McCraw’s appeal. The issues seemed clear: The right of individual parents to prescribe what would be taught and read by all of the students \(the School Board already has a policy that allows parents to exempt their own children from curricular material Separation of church and state, considering that it is a pastor interfering with the curriculum of a public school, even if he insists that he is only doing so as a parent. Censorship and denial of basic constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. Self-determination of cultural minorities, which should include their right to teach, write, and have access to their history and culture through their public schools. This latter issue was the real issue, hardly mentioned by the speakers at the School Board meeting. Many of the Anglo Americans addressing the School Board, and even Board members, repeatedly stated that the dispute had nothing to do with race. Oh, but they protested too much! AngloAmerican students in Alpine attend a high school that is predominantly MexicanAmerican, in a town that is the same, in which the School Board president and the principal and the teacher whose decision was challenged are all Mexican Americans. Alpine is what demographers tell us Texas will be in ten to twenty years a “minority-majority community.” Yet it is a community that still reads the canon of the Anglo majority. Rain of Gold is one of three texts by Mexican Americans, which are occasionally used in the entire high school curriculum. In the very same course, The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn are taught, and each includes language and themes that some might consider unacceptable. But these “American classics” are acceptable to the pastor and the people he organized. The fact that they had not read the book they intended to ban made their protest transparent; the fight over a book was a veiled attempt to demonstrate who is in control and who matters in Alpine, in Texas, and in the U.S. To exercise that control required that this small school on the border where the curriculum is built on acculturating the students to Anglo-American identity, yet where the majority of the students are Mexican Americans could not allow one small opportunity for students to learn about the struggles, values, and hopes of their forebears who did not trace their heritage back to the Mayflower or to immigration directly from Europe. The Mexicans may be winning the numbers game in Alpine, because the size of their voting population has given them political power to elect school board members and hire superintendents, principals, and teachers. But “community leaders” could still see to it that Mexicans do not prevail in the culture wars. If there are any heroes to emerge from this battle, they are the students. Mexican and Anglo students rose to the defense of Rain of Gold and seemed equally outraged at the heavy-handed attempt to subvert one of the most memorable experiences of real learning in their high school careers. Some claim Rain of Gold is the best book they have ever read; some say it is the only book they have ever read cover-to-cover in their four years of high school. “I hate books, but I latched onto this one,” said senior John Skinner. “I read it all the time. It was incredible and I was shocked when we got the book taken away. I didn’t see anything really terrible with it…. Reading this book taught me that I couldn’t hate anyone.” Tony Rodriguez testified, “This book showed me that my heritage is not just in Spanish class; it’s in literature as well. This book let me know who I am.” See “Rain,” page 28 JANUARY 21, 2000 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.