Librotraficante Folio Introduction
First and foremost, I would like to give a genuine thank you to Tony Diaz for the vote of confidence and Erin Wilcox and the rest of the crew at Drunken Boat for allowing the Librotraficante Movement to take hold of a few clicks and webpages in this issue. With that said, I’ll use my keystrokes to give you a heads up on what a “Librotraficante” is and where the movement stands today.
Librotraficante – (n) [lee-bro-traf ee cante] translated: Book trafficker – one who smuggles “illegal” books across borders with the intention of disseminating contraband literature and authentic texts to the masses. See: Librotraficante Movement
See what I did there? I gave you enough to pique interest and played out a garble of words that really mean, “I am a book nerd who takes books to people who don’t have them”; essentially, that’s what the movement boils down to, physically. But in a much more metatextual way, if you are a Librotraficante, you are a guardian, a rebel, a reporter, a giver, a collector, a thief, an educator, an outspoken librarian and defender of banned books. You don’t sit by and allow ANY government, local or federal, to say who can and cannot read books about race, books about gender, books about class and then you make sure you provide them to people that want them. Under the pen of Jan Brewer’s AZ HB2281, John Huppenthal and Tom Horne, a once blossoming Mexican American Studies program has been decimated in the Tucson Unified School District. At this moment, there is already a whole set of freshman, sophomores, and juniors who no longer have access to the books that for thirteen previous years turned out amazing young scholars (98% of whom end up at four-year institutions of higher learning) into the world. In Houston, I and the other four founders of the Librotraficante movement (Tony Diaz, “El Librotraficante”; Laura Acosta, “Librotraficante La Laura”; Liana Lopez, “Librotraficante Lilo”; and Bryan Parras, “Librotraficante Hightech Aztec”) couldn’t stand by. We whipped up a six-city book run to offer support and highlight the injustice done to students, their teachers, their community, and ethnic studies. What started as a one thousand book caravan from Houston to Tucson in the spring of 2012 has not dimmed one bit.
Currently, the movement is alive and thriving. We’ve developed a series of “Underground libraries” devoted to housing the original eighty books (banned by TUSD and AZ HB2281) and any other books that speak to ethnic history, legacy, and literature. These are access libraries, which function on a community level, unencumbered by legislation and backwards politics. These libraries are for the people, run by the people. It’s working. To date, we have over eight libraries working out of different community centers in El Paso, San Antonio, Tucson, Kentucky, New York, and so on. The number of Librotraficantes joining up is amazing, and as of 2012, the founders were honored with the 2012 Brown Intellectual Freedom Award from the University of Illinois-Champaign.
With this issue of Drunken Boat, we add a few more facets to idea of a Librotraficante. These Librotraficantes help give voice to the idea of “quantum demographics”—the notion that you can be from any cultural background and find truth, find foothold through the parallel understandings that come from looking at other cultures. The writers included in this portfolio offer a glimpse of the spirit and identity of the people who make up the movement. They spell out the mindset of those who deliver contraband books and those who might need them.
It has been a pleasure reading and selecting these pieces, and it is my hope you are able to see yourself in this struggle. It could be you, at any point across this country. Defend literature. Read with gusto. Introduce yourself to these writings. Welcome to the New Latino Renaissance.
Originally from Galveston,Texas, Lupe Mendez has lived in Houston for more than a decade, where he works with Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, the Word Around Poetry Tour, and the Brazilian Arts Foundation to promote poetry events, advocate for literacy/literature, and organize creative writing workshops that are open to the public. Lupe’s recent work is now part of Flash (University of Chester, England)—the international forum for flash fiction, Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature, and La Noria Literary Journal. He is a Librotraficante and an MFA Candidate in poetry at the University of Texas at El Paso.