Any good festival devoted to literacy should have a tinge of rebellion.
And author and publisher Santino Joaquin Rivera will bring some to the fifth annual Tucson Festival of Books Saturday and next Sunday at the University of Arizona.
When the Tucson Unified School District eliminated Mexican-American Studies, it removed select books from the MAS classrooms. In response, Rivera, who has a small publishing house called Broken Sword Publications, called on fellow authors to create poetry, prose, fiction and illustrations as a form of protest.
The result is "¡Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Xican@ Literature."
I sent him several questions by email. Here are his responses:
What is the Cliffs Notes version of your book?
"I wanted to react to the censorship positively and powerfully. I was able to pull together talent from coast to coast and from the past to present.
This book is a throwback to the days of (Colorado author and activist) Corky Gonzales and the Chicano-Chicana movement. It collects literature from people like (academician-author) Rodolfo Acuña, (author) Luis Alberto Urrea, (poet) Francisco Alarcón, art from Lalo Alcaraz as well as work from many new authors.
It's an anthology of Xican@ literature for the next generation that I hope will inspire people to challenge the status quo."
From your Florida home, how did you see the Mexican American Studies controversy?
"I'm very active online so I stay connected to what's going on in the literary world as well as the Chicano world. As a Chicano Press, I saw the censorship in Tucson as a challenge.
I've been able to make friends and allies with Chicano writers, educators, artists etc., from all over the country and many of us stay focused on fighting this continuing battle. La lucha sigue. (The struggle continues.) People need to remember that. It's ridiculous that we're still fighting against censorship in this day and age, but here we are.
Ban our books? Fine. We'll print more."
Why should opponents of MAS read your book?
"I like to tell people that no matter what they may think about the controversy, Chicano history is American history. No one, and I mean no one, can deny that.
Our legacy matters and we are woven into the fabric of this nation whether they like it or not. People should read this book because they are missing out on an amazing piece of Americana.
Chicanos and Chicanas are just as relevant in the literary world as anyone else. American literature classes push Walt Whitman, I push Luis Alberto Urrea - both are American literary treasures and people need to know that."
As an independent publisher, what advice do you have for writers who want to publish?
"The time is now. Never before have people had the availability to get their writing out there.
There are a ton of companies that will help with the process. It can seem daunting but if you research it, the information is there.
The biggest obstacle is confidence. A lot of the big publishers make it seem like it's impossible to get your book on the shelf next to theirs without an agent, etc. But that's not true. You just have to believe in yourself and stay the course.
Look at me. Never let anyone tell you that you can't do something - that goes for publishing and beyond."
Rivera will present at the festival at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Student Union Gallagher Theater and Sunday from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Nuestras Raíces Performance Stage by Bear Down Gym.
Join me as I moderate two discussions - first with Gustavo Arellano, author of "Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America," Saturday and on Sunday with Rubén Martínez, author of "Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West." Both will be in Koffler 218, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at (520) 573-4187 or at firstname.lastname@example.org