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2012-03-09

"El Librotraficante" Tony Diaz Defies Ethnic Studies Book Ban with Caravan to Arizona

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Self-described book smuggler Tony Diaz, nicknamed "El Libro-Traficante," is set to launch a small caravan to bring carloads of controversial books into Arizona that were recently banned by public school officials in Tucson after the city suspended its acclaimed Mexican American Studies program due to a state ban on the teaching of ethnic studies. "When Arizona tried to erase our history, we decided to make more," Diaz says. "We’ve unleashed this informal network that’s galvanized into a national movement... People are forming groups to read the protested books, to read the books that have been confiscated. They’ve actually brought so much attention to our community that I think right now we really are on the verge of a Latino Renaissance." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We end today’s show with a self-described book smuggler. He calls himself "El Libro-Traficante." His name is Tony Diaz.

TONY DIAZ: Libro-Traficante. Me and my fellow Libro-Traficantes will be smuggling contraband books back into Arizona this spring break, March 2012.

JUAN GONZALEZ: On Monday, El Libro-Traficante is set to launch a small caravan to bring carloads of ethnic studies books into Arizona that were banned by public school officials in Tucson after the city suspended its acclaimed Mexican American Studies program due to a state ban on the teaching of ethnic studies. The banned books include Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson; Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire; Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña_; and Chicano: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by F. Arturo Rosales.

AMY GOODMAN: Tony Diaz is an author, professor, founder of the nonprofit Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say.

Welcome to Democracy Now! So, explain to us, Tony the Smuggler, what your plans are.

TONY DIAZ: Sure. Basically, when Arizona tried to erase our history, we decided to make more. So we’ve unleashed this informal network that’s galvanized into a national movement. Right now there are Libro-Traficantes across the country. Even right now, here’s the irony of it. Tucson is a really cutting-edge cultural place. They’ve got a great book festival. So right now, today, they are convening to celebrate writers like Luís Alberto Urrea. But these are also some of the authors whose books have been confiscated from the classrooms. So Tucson is also at the middle of this controversy, because Arizona has spent a lot of time making our people illegal, and now they want to make our thoughts and history illegal. And that’s too much. So with the caravan, you can get the full schedule at librotraficante.com. And we are basically bringing all the books back that were confiscated and taken out of classrooms during class time. The other cultural offense here was that administrators were forced to walk into classrooms while school was in session and, in front of our young, box up books by our most beloved authors. And that’s too much.

So right now what we’re doing is we are going to be reaching out to six cities. But beyond that, we are creating underground libraries. We’re creating First Amendment reviews for all the school boards of the ground we touch in. And then also we’re going to have huge festivals, and a little theater, as well. We’ve got a fleet of taco trucks waiting for us in San Antonio to deliver fliers and books to the community to let them know where the underground libraries are, where the festivals are.

Basically, Arizona created what it fears most: they’ve woken the sleeping giant. And in fact, we’re not the sleeping giant; Latinos are the working giant, and reporting for work on this particular issue. And we need everybody to give us support. And they can just jump in and join at librotraficante.com across the nation. People are forming groups to read the protested books, to read the books that have been confiscated. They’ve actually brought so much attention to our community that I think right now we really are on the verge of a Latino Renaissance. It’s beautiful, all around art, because only art can save us.

AMY GOODMAN: Tony, earlier this year I asked Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal what he finds objectionable about the contraband books that you intend to smuggle into Arizona. He denied he banned the books and said he has read them himself.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: There’s no—nothing about my order that requires that those books be banned at all. You know, I’ve read those books myself to familiarize myself with the issues at hand. But what we have concerns about are how those books are being used. You could use Mein Kampf in the classroom, but you’d have to be really careful, because you—if you found a teacher who wasn’t using it to explore the issues in Mein Kampf critically, but you were—they were using it as a Bible, boy, that would be intolerable. And that’s where the teachers have crossed over the line. They’ve gone from using these books critically, to get the students thinking about them from many vantage points, to using these books essentially as a Bible.

AMY GOODMAN: El Libro-Traficante, The Book Smuggler, your response?

TONY DIAZ: Evidently, he wanted to replace Mexican-American studies with a real, live class on doublespeak, because that’s all doublespeak. Huppenthal knows that Americans would not tolerate a direct ban on literature. So he has actually taken oppression and updated it. At the end of the day, yes, there is actually a law, America, in Arizona, to prohibit courses in high schools. Let that sink in.

On top of it, one of the salacious aspects of the law, which really offends me, is that this law was looking for courses that promote the overthrow of the government. The implicit claim, that is, that Latinos want to overthrow the government? And I’m sorry, one of the books that was confiscated is House on Mango Street. The protagonist is a young Latina, Esperanza. And I’m sorry, I’ve read that book five times, Mr. Huppenthal. Perhaps you, as a D student, who cannot analyze literature properly, somehow found something about overthrowing the government. All I found out is issues about the American Dream, beautiful writing.

And that’s what happens when our young are introduced to the literature. Writers like Sandra Cisneros, who are the first of their family to go to college, wind up becoming Genius MacArthur Grant winners. I know they are not scared that we would overthrow the government through violence. They’re scared that we will overhaul the government through voting them out of office. And that’s exactly what’s about to happen, because what’s wrong is they’re sabotaging the American Dream for our young, and for everybody. Sandra Cisneros is on the ACT test. So if you take that out of the classroom, you are actually making it harder for your students to pass these tests. And at the end of the day, that’s what this is about.

AMY GOODMAN: Tony Diaz, we have to leave it there. Tony Diaz, El Libro-Traficante, The Book Smuggler, also producer on Pacifica station KPFT in Houston, thanks so much for being with us.

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