It’s Octember! Or is it Septober? It’s the time of the year when the weather starts getting cooler, politic shenanigans get ignored and eyes begin to glaze over from lethal injections of sports, beer and chicken wings.
Septober is also the pseudo-month that we deal in tragedies of two kinds: “Hispanic Heritage” and banned books. Interestingly enough, both tragedies cross paths in Tucson, AZ, ground zero for censorship in the 21st century.
The ballad of Tucson is a long and sad corrido. It will make you laugh and it will also make you cry. If all the world is a stage then Tucson definitely has its players; many of them clowns but most of them sad, voiceless puppets manipulated by a system hell-bent on pushing an agenda of whitewashed ambivalence.
And of course there are cameos from clowns and heroes alike from all over the place who have thrown their hats into the ring.
A long, long time ago, in an Internet far, far away, I had the idea to publish a book of Chicana/o authors because such a thing did not exist. It was the kind of book that I always searched for as a kid but could never find. I came up with this idea after being disappointed by Penguin’s 20th Century Anthology of Poetry.
But it wasn’t until Chicana/o books were officially banned in Tucson and after discussing things with friend and colleague, Luis Alberto Urrea, that I decided to run with the idea of a publishing a book as a challenge to the system. That idea became Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Xican@ Literature.
Urrea actually came up with the title when he said, “We ought to make a book and say, “Ban this, motherfuckers!”
My original goal was to inspire people to go around the system rather than through it because as history proves time and again, the system does not work.
My goal is still the same. So is the system.
When my colleagues and I spoke about ¡Ban This! in Tucson, C-SPAN covered it and broadcast the panel live on TV. I thought to myself: Wow! Things might actually change!
But that doesn’t mean I gave up. So here we are again. It’s Hispanic Heritage Month and also Banned Books Month (week? year? Hello?). And where are we as far as progress in Tucson goes (or anywhere for that matter)? Well, we’re actually worse off than before, if you can believe that. But you would never know it by listening to the national media or literary mainstream.
I have been highly critical of both because they remain largely ignorant when it comes to Chicana/o authors, as does the public at large. Chicana/os make up the largest portion of Latinos in the U.S. yet no one knows anything about us – how’s that for irony?
If you mention Captain Underpants, the most highly challenged book for this year’s Banned Books Week, people instantly know what you’re talking about and either shake their heads in disgust or express outrage. And rightly so.
But if you mention Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, most people’s eyes will glaze over again with fantasy football statistics. And this is where we’re at in 2013 with regards to both Hispanic heritage and banned books – the mainstream is clueless about both.
But so what?
The truth of the matter is, we don’t need the mainstream. The mainstream needs us.
If you don’t believe me just look at the boatloads of cash they are spending to market to us everywhere you look. They might dress it up, repackage it and shrink-wrap it in the glossy, shiny stink of “Hispanic” but all they care about is your dollars.
I am inspired by the educators, students and everyday people who are in fact, going around the system and NOT pushing a personal agenda or waiting for Hell to freeze over.You have students studying Chicana/o studies independently of the school system in Tucson now and getting college credit for it. That’s amazing and a big middle finger to the system.
But as Dolores Huerta so eloquently reminded everyone about yesterday, we still have a long way to go!
“There are still a lot of (white) people in this country who have learned nothing about diversity and inclusion,” the activist said.
In the midst of Hispanic Heritage Month (which started September and runs through October 15), Huerta said that in many schools, no Hispanic textbooks are allowed.”
So stop with the celebrations, put the Velveeta cheese down, shut off the TV and ask yourself: what can I do to help..?
Maybe you don’t care. But maybe you do! And if you do there are always things you can do to help out. Demand change. Be the change. Go around the system!
It’s 2013 and books are still banned in AmeriKKKa, many of them by Chicana/o authors. If that doesn’t bother than you should check your pulse or possibly move to North Dakota.
Banned Books Month is about more than the mainstream would lead you to believe. And Hispanic Heritage Month, while a complete farce, could be so much more than beer ads and White mariachis at halftime.
But the decision to act or ignore remains with you – it always has been and always will be.
- Santino J. Rivera is an Indie Publisher and Author at Broken Sword Publications – Tweet him @sjrivera.