Books Without Borders (N.Y. Times)


Published: March 15, 2012

When we reached Tony Diaz, novelist and novice smuggler, by phone this week, he was in West Texas, 500 miles from his home in Houston and about a third of the way through a journey with three dozen comrades and serious contraband. That is, a busload of books.

“The Aztec muse is manifesting right now!” Mr. Diaz said, which was a gleeful way of saying: Watch out, Tucson. Dangerous literature on the way.

Mr. Diaz is the impresario behind an inspiring act of indignation and cultural pride. His bus-and-car caravan is “smuggling” books by Latino authors into Arizona. It’s a response to an educational mugging by right-wing politicians, who enacted a state law in 2010 outlawing curriculums that “advocate ethnic solidarity,” among other imagined evils. That led to the banning of Mexican-American studies in Tucson’s public schools last year.

School officials say the books are not technically banned, just redistributed to the library. But what good is having works from thereading list — like “Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941” and “The House on Mango Street,” by Sandra Cisneros — on the shelves if they can’t be taught? Indeed, the point of dismantling the curriculum was to end classroom discussions about these books.

That’s where Mr. Diaz’s “librotraficantes,” or book traffickers, come in. “Arizona tried to erase our history,” he says. “So we’re making more.” They left Houston on Monday. On the way, they’ve held readings with “banned” authors at galleries, bookshops and youth centers. After leaving El Paso on Wednesday, they followed the Rio Grande to Albuquerque, to meet with Rudolfo Anaya, a godfather of Chicano literature. They also planned to wrap some volumes in plastic and carry the “wetbooks” across the river. At the Arizona border, there will be a crossing ceremony. They expect to be in Tucson, singing, dancing and handing out books, by the weekend.