Ds Scholarship

Texas Poet Laureate Lupe Mendez on Banned Books and Librotraficante

A decade ago, in March 2012, a group of writers, artists, educators, and activists banded together to combat the deplorable actions of the Arizona legislature. State lawmakers recently passed a bill making the teaching of “ethnic studies” illegal, along with banning courses that “foster resentment toward a race or class of people” and “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.” The bill also created a list of banned books. Of the more than 80 books eventually added to the list, many of the authors were black and Latinx.

Arizona law was so restrictive that it made news here in Texas, where we created a file book dealer A movement to highlight the attack on books, educators and education by “conservative” politicians. book dealer It means “book smuggler,” and this is what we did: collect books in Texas and “smuggle” them to Arizona, where those same titles were suddenly banned. We used all of our book-obsessed talents to create an old-school cruise, gathering 35 bus and caravan passengers to six cities: Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Messila, Albuquerque, and Tucson. We collected over 1,000 copies of books banned in Arizona and distributed them to community libraries through book bundles for high school students in Arizona. the book dealer The movement was crucial in giving a voice to students of color across the country.

A decade later, that business stays with you. Now attacks are happening here in the Lone Star State.

In the last legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 3, which would ban the teaching of “critical race theory” in classrooms in Texas. Governor Greg Abbott and other Texas Republicans have also called for a ban on school library books that could make students “uncomfortable.” State Representative Matt Krause, a Republican from Fort Worth, has named 850 books he would like to remove from bookstores. As in Arizona, the listings appear to target non-white and gay authors. This is very clear: the Republican Party intends to deprive children of books, authors and education that would stimulate their intellectual development. In an effort to appease their base, Texas Republicans are turning away the population that needs their attention the most: young adults — and more specifically — young people of color.

Lupe Mendes

The turnover of state Republicans to libraries and classrooms comes as the state’s demographics continue to shift. In the 2019-2020 school year, Hispanic students made up the largest proportion of students enrolled in the state with about 53 percent. White students made up only 27 percent of the students; Black students represent 13 percent, and Asian students represent 5 percent. The diversity of Texas schools increases every year, but the same cannot be said for the state legislature.

It’s worth noting that at the same time the legislature was preparing Senate Bill 3, the body quietly dropped another bill that would have created a whole new set of possibilities for young people in Texas. House Bill 1504, introduced by State Representative Christina Morales (D-Houston), had allowed school districts to create an Ethnic Studies course as an alternative to World Geography and World History courses. The bill did not provide for any mandates but would have given thousands of school districts across the state the ability to tailor their courses to their specific student bodies. It was a beautifully fair bill that won both Republican and Democratic sponsors.

However, the bill could not survive the state’s escalating culture wars. He was put on the Senate’s calendar of intentions in May before he died.

This brings us to the present. For an instruction manual on how to combat the disturbing new measures in Texas, I think back to the last days of book dealer mobile home. When we arrived in Tucson, where the school district closed the Mexican-American Studies course, a few of us were given the task of sorting through the more than 1,000 books collected during the caravan. It was early in the morning – 7:30 or so – when we noticed a small group of teenagers had come. They quietly approached to see the books and took some, and retreated without saying a word. Later, a young lady grabbed a book and took it away to the corner to read.

As the day went on, the young woman came back saying, “Thank you for giving me this moment. I was about to finish this book the day the district clerks came to take the books from us by force.” Wisdom beyond her years, she left us with a break tip: “I want you to take this book back. Give it to someone else. I hope someone learns from this book.”

As a teacher and writer, these words were especially powerful. If you can get a child to pick up a book he hasn’t seen for three months, read it as if it were a scripture—hell, you’ve seen all that is good in education.

Now, 10 years later, I’m still book dealer. And I’m ready to do it all over again.


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