Some 30 students, teachers, and activists emerged from the bus carrying boxes of books. As they stepped onto the pavement Saturday and into the bright Tucson sun, they chanted in unison, “What do we want? Books! When do we want them? Now! Who are we? Librostraficantes!”
The Spanish term, which means “book smugglers,” is the brainchild of Houston Community College professor and author Tony Diaz, who with a few dozen supporters set out March 12 for Arizona to protest a 2010 state law that prohibits certain types of ethnic studies in public schools. In January officials shut down the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American-studies curriculum. The Librotraficante Caravan traveled through Texas and New Mexico, stopping in cities along the way to hold literary readings, collect donated books, and establish “underground libraries” filled with titles from Tucson’s banned courses. Several authors whose works were discontinued participated—Rudolfo Anaya, widely considered the godfather of Latino literature in the Southwest, even invited the caravan into his Albuquerque home for posole, traditional pork stew.
Years ago, I met Anaya, and came away from that encounter delighted by what a gentle, wonderful man he’d been. It’s nice to see my adolescent impression of him wasn’t wrong.