Mexican American

The Book Smugglers

Author’s Note: When Arizona House Bill 2281 was used to dismantle the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson public high schools earlier this year, books used in the courses were removed from classrooms—in at least one school as students watched. Most of the titles, but not all, were by Latino writers.

Instead of swallowing their dismay, several students documented what they witnessed through social media. That’s how members of the Houston-based writers’ collective Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say heard about what happened in Tucson. Incensed by the stifling of knowledge, they organized the Librotraficante (literally, “book traffickers”) book caravan. Their goal was to “smuggle” the “contraband” books back into Tucson, and bring attention to what critics contend is a troubling combination of anti-intellectualism and the state’s anti-immigration stance enacted earlier.

Nuestra Palabra members worked with partner organizations along the caravan route to hold press conferences and celebrate Latino arts and culture at several Librotraficante book bashes. In addition to the public events, the five-day journey stopped in six cities, seeding Librotraficante underground libraries along the way. This is a reflection on riding the Librotraficante caravan, which took place in mid-March.

SEEDS. My parents were farm laborers for part of their young adult lives. They did that body-leeching work in the hot Texas sun, picking and hauling cantaloupe, watermelon, onions, and anything else that required a human hand.

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