Arizona Bars Children From Learning About Themselves (The Librotraficante) [Why We Write Series]

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Luis Rodriguez

What Luis Rodriguez makes evident in the following excerpt from the preface of Always Running is our responsibility to speak to the injustices of the world from the lens of a common struggle. Check:

Criminality in this country is a class issue. Many of those warehoused in overcrowded prisons can be properly called “criminals of want,” those who’ve been deprived of the basic necessities of life and therefore forced into so-called criminal acts to survive. Many of them just don’t have the means to buy their “justice.” They are members of a social stratum which includes welfare mothers, housing project residents, immigrant families, the homeless and unemployed. This book is part of their story.

The more we know, the more we owe. This is a responsibility I take seriously. My hope in producing this work is that perhaps there’s a thread to be found, a pattern or connection, a seed of apprehension herein, which can be of some use, no matter how slight, in helping to end the rising casualty count for the Ramiros of this world, as more and more communities come under the death grip of what we called “The Crazy Life.”

Last Friday, a bunch of artists, students, and activists convened for the 50 for Freedom Librotraficante event on La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem, USA, to listen to and read excerpts from books that have been banned by Arizona’s legislature for specific (read: Mexican / Latino) teachers to read with students. With writers like Martin Espada and Luis Urrea in attendance (both of whom had some of their books banned in Arizona), performers gave powerful interpretations of texts such Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street and Rodolfo Acuna’s Occupied America.

Under the guise of “universal education,” legislators have walked into classrooms all over the state, pulled these books out of teachers’ libraries, and put them in boxes and cases like some sort of literary internment camp, assaulting the right to a relevant, cultural education for our most disenfranchised students. We’ve already seen how this plays out as a model for civic engagement. How does this fare for teachers in the classroom?

Well, we already have an excess of standardized testing, a battle we need to have ad nauseum until our children win. In Arizona, all the national issues around education only get exacerbated. The law has stripped those teachers of the choice to even present culturally relevant texts, and the students of seeing their histories told through the learning they do. The lawmakers saw it fit to assure that one of the few centers where our most disadvantaged students learn about their people became centers for acculturation, not unlike what happened to Native American / indigenous people in this country in the late 19th century through early 20th century.

Reminding people of their histories starts in the places where we shape our young minds.

Thus, the Librotraficante movement (a play on words meaning “book trafficker / smuggler”) means more to the American people than just an assault on American studies. It’s a referendum for the proliferation of an oral and written tradition, of speaking to civil rights and the necessity to incorporate everyone into the story, and assuring that those of us entrusted with the duty of teaching our youth have a say in letting them know that they belong.

We get to strengthen the common thread, the pattern or connection, that assures of all of us gets the right to an equitable education well before they become a statistic.

Jose, who thanks Rich Villar, Charlie Vasquez, Aurora Anaya-Cerda, and Tony Diaz for having the event …

p.s. – Full disclosure: Yes, I did read excerpt from the aforementioned Always Running alongside Papo Swiggity and Mark Anthony Vigo, and it was an honor …