Editor's Note: We are proud to call Tony Diaz, the Librotraficante, a key member of the Latino Rebels familia.
I was recently knighted.
I didn’t fully understand what was happening at the time as I flew to New York. But I did know that we were making history.
All around the nation Librotraficantes convened, on the same day, at the same time, to take a stand against Arizona House Bill 2281 passed to prohibit courses that promote the overthrow of the government. This was the legal trigger that Tucson Unified School District pointed at Mexican American Studies to force teachers to walk into class rooms and in front of our young confiscate and box up books by our most beloved authors—all accused of promoting the overthrow of the government.
I arrived in East Harlem, to packed Casa Azul bookstore, to convene with banned prose king pin Luis Alberto Urrea and banned iconic poet Martin Espada and other book traffickers. It was there that Martin read from and then handed to me his contraband book ZAPATA'S DISCIPLE.
Here are some of the words that an entire state did not want our people to hear:
“Some day, my son will be called a spic for the first time . . . I hope that I can help him handle the glowing toxic waste of rage . . . I keep it between the covers of the books I write.”
After he read more from the work, he formally handed the book to me.
On the title page, he wrote: “Para Tony-Librotraficante y discípulo de Zapata. Un abrazo de Martin Espada, banned author Sept. 21, 2012.”
I wear those words like a tattoo on my broad back and broader imagination.
I open the book to read about Frank Espada, pictured on the front of cover, and his son writes, “He was the most dangerous of creatures, a working class radical. James Graham in THE ENEMIES OF THE POOR, compared my father to a guerrilla-disciple of Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican Revolutionary.”
No, this was not an instruction manual on how to overthrow the government.
This a manual on how to save a people.
And to jaded eyes and ears it will seem I mean only a few people. I mean us all, all of the people. But I can’t slow down to explain because right now we are making History and changing the world so fast that English has to catch up—on its own time.
I always knew we needed to tell our stories. That’s why I earned a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Houston Creative Whitening Program. And then I wrote my novel THE AZTEC LOVE GOD, published at a university press. So we also needed to publish our own work.
Then I realized we had to promote our own work, too. So 14 years ago I founded Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, in the fourth largest city in America, with one of the highest drop our rates in the nation, with person after person even our own people telling me there was no interest, there was no audience. We went on to organize the largest book events in Houston, in Texas for all demographics.
And then six years ago, our familia in Tucson devised the Mexican American Studies program to teach our own stories to our youth from Kindergarten all the way to Senior year in High School.
And yes, I too, thought, that was enough. We had arrived at the promised land of the American Dream.
But this year Arizona officials prohibited that course. They yanked now sacred books out of the hands of our young, they banned our history, they made our culture contraband.
We had to join our brothers and sisters fighting for our culture in Tucson, so Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say organized the Librotraficante Caravan to Smuggle the Wetbooks back into Arizona in March of 2012, getting thousands of books donated from across the country. I thought that we would return to our old lives the Monday after. Instead, we had unleashed a national movement.
On September 21, 2012 thousands of us convened to honor the books banned in Arizona, and all our lost histories. We extolled the young students still protesting in the streets of Tucson, arguing in the Arizona Supreme Court, and still studying to earn their diplomas, degrees. We reminded America that everyone’s Freedom of Speech rested on the backs of young Chican@s suing the state of Arizona. We raised funds for the Raza Defense Fund for heroes like Sean Arce, former Director of Mexican American Studies, and Jose Gonzalez, former Mexican American Studies teacher at Tucson Unified School District who were being sued as a result of their activism. That’s like the grape companies suing Cesar Chavez for picketing them.
We united to make our literature go viral the old fashioned way-one person at a time, Librotraficantes in New York including Ivy League Tejano Sergio Troncoso, Chicago, The Bay Area Librotraficantes in San Francisco with Super poeta/organizer Naomi Quiñonez and La Mera Mera banned poeta Lorna Dee Cervantes, The City of Angeles Librotraficantes at banned author Luis Rodriguez’s awesome spot in L.A. Tia Chucha Cultural Center, featuring El Padrino of Contraband prose Dr. Rodolfo Acuña, in Iowa City, Boston, Milwaukee, Manhattan, Kansas; Kansas City, Lincoln, Nebraska; San Antonio, Texas; Minnesota, and more—thousands of us, across the country.
But in New York, in the confines of a book store owned by a Latina, in the barrio of the largest city in America, our mission became even more clear.
We also had to buy our own bookstores, too as Aurora Anaya-Cerda did with Casa Azul bookstore, so we could meet there on that night.
We had to promote our own events.
We had to report our own news.
We had to create ceremonies, initiations, readers, and we have to not only make history, but record it, spread it, and then repeat it.
That magical night of the written word when we were inducted into the sanctum of Protectors of The Word we were assembled by the concerted efforts of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, The Librotraficante Movement, The Latino Rebels, poeta extradionaire Charlie Vazquez, Sangre Viva Alliance, Hostos CC, John Jay College, Fordham U., Casa Azul, Rich Villar with Accentos, Universalist Unitarian Assembly HUManists, Dreamer across the nation, The South West Workers Union, and more, so many more.
The blessing is that we are poised in a moment in history, when all of that is within our reach, within our grace, within our ability to put it into words.
And now these movements too delivered an election.
Arizona officials knew that we would never overthrow the government through violence. They knew we would over haul the government by voting them out of office. And by banning our literature, they created that which they feared the most: An Army of Zapata’s Disciples knighted Protectors of the Word.
America, I give you the dawning of the Librotraficante Nation.
Yes, the essay is over.
But since we are smugglers, here are some more words.
If it were a sheet of paper, they would slide off, since it’s the internet, we can just sneak more in.
If the Librotraficantes were a band, I’m the lead singer, and my cofounders are dear friends who have been with Nuestra Palabra for over a decade each: Librotraficante HighTechAztec Bryan Parras, Librotraficante Lilo Liana Lopez, Librotraficante La Laura-Laura Acosta, Librotraficante Lips Mendez-Lupe Mendez.
I also got to flow in NYC with poets Bonafide Rojas, Miguel Ángel Ángeles and John Murillo; representing the NYC Latina Writers' Group Peggy Robles-Alvarado, María Rodríguez, and Nancy Arroyo-Ruffin reading from “The House on Mango Street”; Representing the Capicu Cultural Showcase Juan “Papo Swiggity” Santiago, Mark Anthony Vigo, and José Vilson be reading from “Always Running”; and John Rodríguez, Grisel Acosta, Isabel Martínez, Elizabeth Calixto, and Vincent Toro reading from “Occupied America;” and Anamaría Flores, Jani Rose, Kim Possible and so many others!