Guest Blog by Sonia Gutiérrez
“For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and
falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
—John F. Kennedy
“I’m also strangely pleased that the folks of Arizona have officially
announced their fear of an educated underclass.”
“The idea of destroying Mexican [American] Studies programs in a community which is heavily Mexican—it’s just outlandish under these circumstances. And as you know better than I do as far as the banning of books, that’s reminiscent I’m afraid of Nazi Germany. When you start banning books of Chicano history, Rethinking Columbus, classics and so on, it’s an international disgrace.”
Amidst the urinations and confiscations in Tucson, Arizona, banned books will find a home at the Centro Cultural de Raza in San Diego, California. With four decades of murals embracing the Centro Cultural de la Raza, a bookshelf painted by visual artists will showcase the books of authors, wishing to donate their works.
Literature, music and art demanding social justice are testimonials that our existence in this country is ineradicable and deep rooted. White-supremacist laws and regulations, such as HB 2281, carefully formulated by Arizonian officials sabotage the education of Tucson Unified School District students: “THE LEGISLATURE FINDS AND DECLARES THAT PUBLIC SCHOOL PUPILS SHOULD BE TAUGHT TO TREAT AND VALUE EACH OTHER AS INDIVIDUALS AND NOT BE TAUGHT TO RESENT OR HATE OTHER RACES OR CLASSES OF PEOPLE.” Clearly, our education and our representation in positions of power are crucial in order to claim a rightfully dignified and respected place in the United States—and abroad.
Richard Delgado, Professor of Law at Seattle University, and Jean Stefancic, Research Professor of Law at Seattle University in “Book Banning in Arizona” denounce the banning as clearly indicative of a modern case of Jim Crow laws. Delgado and Stefancic’s claim is not farfetched observing that “[i]nterestingly, the same books seem not to have been banished from classrooms in the dominantly white high school across town, where the sons and daughters of University of Arizona professors, doctors, and lawyers will continue to read Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, books on critical theory, and Howard Zinn.”
This country’s racist past continues to fester and haunt our everyday lives. In much the same way, slaves were forbidden to learn how to read books; similarly, in Arizona cutting Mexican American Studies severs the education of a conscientious eager-to-learn generation—especially now that Arizona has pronounced a war against their teachers, their role models, parents, and books. The banning and confiscations, clearly, reinforce the theory that people in positions of power and control are afraid of “an educated underclass” (Alexie).
Withstanding the fear of an educated Chicano class has not been an easy feat. According to artist and professor, David Avalos, one of the Centro Cultural de la Raza’s former muralists, “Octavio Gonzalez under the direction of Centro administrators in the mid-1970s had previously painted the area of [Ernesto] Paul’s original mural after it had been repeatedly vandalized and defaced.” With the addition of the bookshelf, the Centro Cultural de la Raza stands true to its mission by creating, preserving, promoting and educating about Chicano, Mexicano, Latino and Indigenous art and culture.
On February 3, 2012, playwright, author, and screenwriter, Josefina López, after the screening of Real Women Have Curves followed by Q & A at MiraCosta College’s San Elijo campus, was the first to contribute to the Centro’s bookshelf, which includes two copies of her play, Real Woman Have Curves and Other Plays and her novel, Hungry Woman in Paris.
Author, if you are reading this column, be assured that your book—stamped with a Centro Cultural de la Raza emblem—will find a permanent home, and your book will have an opportunity to educate future generations of guests visiting the Centro Cultural de la Raza. Please note that books promoting social justice including chapbooks and libros cartoneros are welcome. Or, you could also donate your book, and the proceeds would go to the Centro.
What if you share a deep affinity for books, are not an author, and would like to contribute to the bookshelf? You can. If you are a book lover who wants to promote education and provide the gift of literacy to readers of all ages, make your favorite book a donation. We will include your name in the inside jacket of the book. It would be wonderful if you could please take the time to dedicate the book and/or include a note addressed to future readers of your reading selection visiting the Centro Cultural de la Raza.
For the philanthropists, your gift could be a Kindle Fire or Nook. Children, teenagers, and visitors from the surrounding San Diego area will benefit from the exposure to the new techwave. After discussing technology and the environment with Ozzie Monge, Art Advisory Committee member, on the December 15, 2011 meeting, I have contemplated the effects of gizmos and gadgets infiltrating the environment steadfastly. As we face this environmental dilemma, you decide whether your gift will be a book or a tablet. If you do not have the time to purchase a book, donate mucho dinero to the bookshelf cause. The Centro will purchase a book on your behalf.
With great pride the Centro Cultural de la Raza embraces and welcomes the following—past and present—banned, challenged and/or confiscated books, music, art and poetry. The partial list of banned and challenged books that follows was compiled from Dr. Roberto Cintli Rodriguez’s “TUSD Banned Books List,” San Antonio College’s “Banned Books Week,” and “Shakespeare and Native American Authors among Those Banned from Tucson Schools.”
Oscar Zeta Acosta’s The Revolt of the Cockroach People
Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America:A History of Chicanos
Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians, and The Lone Ranger & Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven
Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima
Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands La Frontera:The New Mestiza
Isabel Allende’s Paula and Zorro
Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost Their Accents
Jimmy Santiago Baca’s A Place to Stand, C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans, Healing Earthquakes: Poems, Immigrants in Our Own Land and Selected, Early Poems, and Black Mesa Poems,Martin and Mediations on the South Valley
James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time
Bill Bigelow’s Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years
Elena Diaz Bjorkquist’s Summer Smoke
José Antonio Burciaga’s Drink Cultura: Chicanismo
Ana Castillo’s So Far from God and Loverboys
Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories
Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s Critical Race Theory and The Latino Condition: A Critical Reader
Martín Espada’s Zapata’s Discipline:Essays
Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’s Message to Aztlán and Yo Soy Joaquin/I Am Joaquin by Rodolfo Gonzales
Suzan Shown Harjo’s “We Have No Reason to Celebrate”
bell hooks’s Feminism Is for Everybody
Francisco Jiménez’s The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child
Winona Laduke’s “To the Women of the World:Our Future, Our Responsibility”
Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez’s 500 Años del Pueblo Chicano: 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures
Richard Montoya’s Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy
Richard C. Remy’s United States Government: Democracy in Action
Luis Rodriguez’s Always Running
Roberto Rodriguez’s Codex Tamuanchan: On Becoming Human
Arturo Rosales’s Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement and
Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History
Tomás Rivera’s .. .y no se lo tragó la tierra/. . .And the Earth Did Not Devour Him
William Shakespeare’s The Tempest
Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony
Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “My Country, ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying”
Carmen Tafolla’s Curandera
Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America
Henry David Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
Luis Alberto Urrea’s By the Lake of Sleeping Children, Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life, Into the Beautiful North,and The Devil’s Highway
Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit and Other Plays
Ofelia Zepeda’s Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert
Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology
As a symbol of the presence of Mexican Americans living in the United States and their contribution to American literature, the Centro proudly welcomes Juan Felipe Herrera’s Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler, former director of the Centro Cultural de la Raza and now California Poet Laureate.
The Centro Cultural de la Raza stands strong as an institution that promotes education and the arts. The Centro’s gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM. During the evenings, the Centro Cultural de la Raza is home to Capoeira arts practice, Ballet Folklórico classes, theatre workshops, modern dance classes and a host to many more activities and established groups of all ages. Spearheaded by Jeanette Narvaez, Earth Day on April 22, 2012, the day after Chicano Park Day at Logan Heights, is one of many upcoming celebrations at the Centro.
Many thanks specifically to Eduardo Cervantes for greeting mi familia: my partner and daughters—Paulino Azúcar Mendoza, Zonia Quetzalli and Paulina Xitlalli, and su servidora, Sonia Gutiérrez, one Sunday afternoon during the month of December. To David Avalos, Victor Payan, Ricardo Duffy, Ozzie Monge, and Guillermo “Yermo” Aranda for answering questions about the Centro and/or murals. To my father, Francisco Gutiérrez, a wise illiterate man, who taught me that reading and writing were essential tools he did not have but his children would use.
To the Arts Advisory Committee for giving me the green light on the bookshelf project and voting me in on March 22, 2012. A warm-felt abrazo to author Sylvia Mendoza for introducing me to Josefina López. To my brother, Francisco “Cisco” Gutiérrez, who agreed to build the forthcoming Centro Cultural de la Raza bookshelf. To Enrique Morones, Bertha Gutiérrez, and Pamela Calore for believing in the Bookshelf Project. To La Bloga for having a place to share ideas of literary and cultural relevance. In the words of La Bloga’s co-founder, Michael Sedano: “¡Advertencia! Gente, read and defend or be erased.”
In the future, if you are near Chicano Park or the Balboa Park vicinities, stop by the Centro Cultural de la Raza. You will not miss the Centro’s colorful building, founded in 1970, with murals across the years collaborated by Guillermo “Yermo” Aranda, Salvador Barajas, David Avalos, Mario Aguilar, Samuel Llamas, Antonia Perez, Ernesto Paul, Antonio Perez Pazos, Victor Ochoa, Arturo Roman, and Felipe Adame.
Send your book(s) to the following address or hand deliver your gift in person to the following address:
Centro Cultural de la Raza
Arts Advisory Committee
2004 Park Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92101
In closing, I leave the reader with “The Books” from Poets Responding to SB 1070 and La Bloga’s On-Line Floricanto because books do breathe and plant the seed of critical thinking. That is precisely how slaves in this country were emancipated. With joint efforts, the Libro Traficante movement and the Bookshelf Project will entrench books in safe places that will promote literacy, education, cultura, and the arts—not inculcate “resent[ment] or hate [towards] other races or classes of people.” Without a doubt, Arizonian officials hold the Book of Law with a tight grip very similar to those “American” individuals of the seventeenth century.
After hearing the ruling,
some people say
they went hiding behind trees.
Some escaped the classrooms
and ran across fields, deserts, cities, borders
looking for the place of books.
While others once caught
were stamped with green Bs
on their chests. (Those books
are lost—and nowhere
to be found.) They were taken
by officials to places unbeknownst
to readers—places where their words
and formed into secret algorithms
and placed into memory chips
and carefully encrypted
Others wore scarlet
Cs across their breasts. These
books always walked in fear
of being booknapped.
Others, veiled and wrapped
in brown paper bags,
were singled out during routine patrols
with a, “You! Show me your pages,”
as their private parts
were publically leafed
through, and their words
were poked with accusatory
Startled by the news,
others tripped as their letters
fell from the pages
and lay transfixed collecting memories—
of hands grasping their scuffed edges,
of hundreds of identical books being burned,
of being trampled and kicked
on the spine and then urinated on
and stuffed in plastic bags.
And yet, these books
found their words,
organized, and stood up
in unison shoulder to shoulder
the contents of their pages
as they exchanged smiles
with their ineradicable
trailing ghosts always always always
looking for the place of books.
Sonia Gutiérrez is proud and blessed to be part of Poets Responding to SB 1070 and La Bloga’s On-line Floricanto, both promoters of social justice and human dignity. She teaches English at Palomar College, where she co-advises Palomar Poets and Encuentros United. She serves as an instructor for Upward Bound (CSUSM), where she works with future leaders, young scholars and champions. Her poetry and vignettes have been published in contratiempo, San Diego Poetry Annual, Lavandería, Fringe, CRATE, Mujeres de Maíz, Frontera-Esquina, Turle Island to Abya Yala, City Works Journal, El Tecolote, alternaCtive publicaCtions, as well as other assorted journals. Her manuscript, Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña, is forthcoming in 2012. She is at work on a novel, Kissing Dreams from a Distance and a book of translations, Translating from Obsession: From a Witch’s Caldron/Traduciendo por obsesión: De la caldera de una bruja, in addition to other works. Visit Chicana in the Midst, una bloguita bien chingona, to learn more about Sonia Gutiérrez and the work of guest poets and artists.