American Library Association, Arizona's ban, Banned Book Week, Banned books, Books, Chicano studies, Chingonas, John Huppenthal, Librotraficante, Mexican American studies, Occupied America, poetry, TUSD

What Does "F-READ-OM" Mean?

Stack of Books tattoo-photo by S. Archuleta, flickr.
Stack of Books tattoo-photo by S. Archuleta, flickr.


I love books, maybe not as much as the young woman shown here, but I could definitely see myself with a minute bookshelf of my favorites, tattooed above my shoulder blade. That’s how much I esteem books.

So it pisses me off whenever I hear about another book being banned-and I’m not talking about banned books in Iraq or North Korea, I’m talking about banned books here, in the U.S.A.

Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” failed to make it through the US Post in 1873, its stories deemed “obscene” and “filthy.” Oh, I definitely remember that one. It was on my Freshman reading list at the conservative Catholic school I attended. Racy! (I jest.)

Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” was also temporarily banned in California in 1939, for its allegedly unflattering portrayal of the Monterey/Salinas area.The Supreme Court overturned the prohibitions on these and other books since then.
While not ‘technically banning’ books,  Arizona chose to eliminate Mexican American Studies in the Tuscon Unified School District in 2010. The TUSD board voted (4-1) to end the Mexican-American Studies (MAS) curriculum, thus ending the use of certain books. 

Their view is that they have ‘removed’ books, not ‘banned.’ It’s an ongoing debate based on perspective.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, J. Huppenthal, declared the MAS program illegal last year under a new state law banning “racially-divisive classes.” He determined that Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program violated a state law, a law that he helped write, that bans courses that “encourage resentment toward a race or class of people,” and are designed primarily for one ethnic group.

The seven removed books are:
Occupied America: A History of Chicanos – Rodolfo Acuña
Rethinking Columbus: The next 500 Years – Bill Bigelow
Critical Race Theory – Richard Delgado
Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Freire
Message to AZTLAN – Rodolfo Gonzales
500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures – Elizabeth Martinez (ed.)
Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement – Arturo Rosales
I’ve read four of the seven books. My mother has read all of them, but then again, she did have a double major in college: Sociology and Chicano Studies. Both of us have had careers in law enforcement and social service agencies. Neither of us resent a race or class of people.

What troubles me is the prohibition of another writer’s viewpoints and removing the ability for young people to be able to read a text (that is approved in all MAS and Ethnic Studies curriculum), debate its contents, and then make up their own mind. 

The organization Librotraficante (Book Traffic) is diligently working to overturn Arizona’s removal (banning) the MAS texts from classrooms. Their by-line:

Vote to Restore the American Dream in Arizona. A Great Nation Does not Fear Kids Reading Books.

Families in a 38-year-old segregation lawsuit against Tucson Unified School District are asking a federal judge to reinstate the school district’s recently suspended Mexican-American studies classes, arguing that they are critical to ending discrimination for students. A U.S. District Court judge has overseen the settlement between the school district and the families, which included the creation of an African-American studies program and then Mexican-American studies in 1997. 

 Danger does not arise from viewpoints other than our own; the danger lies in allowing others to decide for us and our communities which reading materials are appropriate! (Roberta Stevens, Pres. American Library Assoc.)

In support of the right to choose books freely for ourselves, the American Library Association  co-sponsors Banned Books Week (its inception was 1982), an annual celebration of our right to access books without censorship. The ALA and several other associations such as American Booksellers sponsor the event. 

For 2012 the week is September 30-October 6. “It is the one time during the year that booksellers and librarians can talk to their customers about the hundreds of book challenges that occur in schools and libraries around the country every year. 

In 2010, the American Library Association counted 348 challenges.  The most frequently challenged title? And Tango Makes Three, a children’s picture book that tells the true story of two male penguins that adopt an abandoned egg.”

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression will help booksellers make videos of people reading from banned books and post them online. Last year, ABFFE promoted the Internet read-out to booksellers, who produced more than 90 videos. Altogether they and others posted more than 800 videos of people reading from banned books on YouTube, which, ABFFE said, “helped attract unprecedented press attention to Banned Books Week.” Details are available at

So, in praise of books and a big Bronx Cheer to the threat to our 1st Amendment rights and the ability to make a choice in what books we can read, I offer this chingon poem from a Chingona Poet, that I read on La Bloga

By Sonia Gutiérrez
After hearing the ruling,
some people say
they went hiding behind trees.
They scattered
Some escaped the classrooms
and ran across fields, deserts, cities, borders
looking for the place of books.
While others once caught
were stamped with green Bs
on their chests. (Those books
are lost—and nowhere
to be found.) They were taken
by officials to places unbeknownst
to readers—places where their words
were dissected
and formed into secret algorithms
and placed into memory chips
and carefully encrypted 
Others wore scarlet 
Cs across their breasts. These
books always walked in fear
of being booknapped. 
Others, veiled and wrapped
 in brown paper bags,
were singled out during routine patrols
with a, “You. Show me your pages,”
as their private parts
were publically leafed
through, and their words
were poked with accusatory 
index fingers. 
Startled by the news,
others tripped as their letters
fell from the pages
and lay transfixed collecting memories—
of hands grasping their scuffed edges,
of hundreds of identical books being burned, 
of being trampled and kicked
on the spine and then urinated on 
and stuffed in plastic bags.
And yet, these books
banned together—
found their words,
organized, and stood up
in unison shoulder to shoulder
to celebrate
the contents of their pages
as they exchanged smiles
with their ineradicable 
trailing ghosts always always always
looking for the place of books.
Any book lovers out there have something they want to share?