"Book smugglers" open "underground library" in protest
Photo: Video by kgun9.com
CREATED Mar. 16, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
SOUTH TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - They drove all the way from Texas to show their support for the now defunct Mexican-American studies program and their opposition to Arizona laws they call anti-immigrant. The group calls itself Librotraficante, which means "book smugglers" in Spanish, and it arrived in Tucson Friday afternoon. Its members are using textbooks once part of TUSD’s Mexican-American studies classes as the focal point of their campaign.
They departed Houston four days ago. Arriving in the Old Pueblo Friday, they stepped off the bus chanting, “What do we want? Books! When do we want them? Now!”
The “Librotraficante caravan" brought with it boxes of Latino cultural and historical books, including the textbooks once used in Mexican-American studies classes.
“When we found out that Arizona legislators are trying to erase our history, we decided to make more,” organizer Tony Diaz told KGUN9 News. “When we found out that they prohibited some of our books, we decided to bring them back.” Watch the group's YouTube video "Wet Books: Smuggling Banned Literature Back Into Arizona" for more on the group's goals.
They created an "underground library" at a South Tucson youth center, covering with caution tape what they call "contraband books” in TUSD.
After the district shut down the program, it has repeatedly said the textbooks, removed from classrooms, would still be accessible to students. “I don't believe that position has changed if the position is that we don't believe that those books have been banned,” said Dr. Abel Morado, assistant superintendent for high schools.
In early February, KGUN9 checked if and how many of the books were available to students, counting every copy listed in the district's library catalog. Back then, we found 75 copies of all the titles in school libraries. We searched again Friday, finding an additional 22 copies. Ninety-one percent of them were available for check out.
"Then, how is it a book ban?” Keen asked Diaz. “I understand why people ask these questions when they don't understand how writing works and if they're not lawyers who can see through the walls. I'm at an advantage because I’m a Tucson’s legislator's worst nightmare. I'm an anchor baby--I can't be deported. I have a master's degree so I read between the lines.”
The district says it doesn't mind the protest. “That's a choice that they make. That's something that they do,” Morado said. “They want to call attention to some issues. That's absolutely OK with us. But, I want to make sure that we're being clear by way of TUSD, making sure that it's understood that we don't believe that we ban books.”
Librotraficante also opposes the state law that forced TUSD to end the Mexican-American studies program in the first place.
Tucson was the group’s final stop. On their bus ride, they set up "underground libraries" in three other places in New Mexico and Texas. They say they don't want what happened here in Tucson and Arizona to spread.