More than half the writing in a new, independently published anthology of Chicano writing “¡Ban This!” is by Southland authors. They wanted to respond to the state of Arizona's ban of a Mexican American studies program in the Tucson Public Schools.
The Cypress Park branch of the Los Angeles Public Library hosted a signing party Tuesday night for the anthology.
The anthology includes the work of 39 writers from Mexican American and Latino backgrounds. Some are middle aged, others, much younger. Some are novelists, others are academics. Santino Rivera published the anthology.
“There’s science fiction in here, there’s humor in here, there's poetry, there’s prose, there are short stories, there are some dynamite essays in here. There’s things that speak to politics, current issues, there’s things that speak to the lack of Chicanos in Hollywood and in film,” Rivera said.
The title, “¡Ban This!” refers to Arizona’s dismantling of a public school Mexican American Studies program. State education officials said it promoted separatism and the overthrow of the United States. Publisher Rivera says he wanted to counter the program's elimination with a collection of writing for the students it had served.
“I wanted to show them, to the kids who had their books taken away from them, you can our books but you can’t ban our minds,” he said.
A public reading by the book’s Southern California authors attracted a hundred people to the Cypress Park Public Library.
Poet and Cal State LA professor Karina Oliva took the microphone and told the audience that her contribution attempts to capture the complexity of her Latina identity.
“What you’ll hear in it is someone who was born in El Salvador who grew up among Mexicans and Mexican Americans and other Central Americans, who had a Cuban step father, who’s lived in Arizona and who practices Native American spirituality,” she said.
A Northern California poet read a tribute to students arrested for protesting discrimination in Arizona. A former Marine from East LA talked about the way a fellow soldier of Russian descent wondered why Mexican Americans remain outsiders in this country. And a gay hip hop artist read a short story about a raspado, a Mexican snow cone.
The audience gave a standing ovation to contributor and Cal State Northridge scholar Rudy Acuña. His book “Occupied America” is a founding text of Chicano studies. Acuña told the audience that he took college students to Arizona to protest the ban on Mexican American studies in public schools, and helped raise money for legal challenges.
“We wanted to give hope to students, we wanted to give hope to a community, we wanted to tell them that they couldn’t single out a person,” Acuña said.
Loyola Marymount University instructor Annemarie Perez, another contributor to the anthology, says critics of the Tucson program based their analysis on writings nearly 50 years old.
“Yes, there are radical writings, even the separatists, and I put that in quotation marks, were and are always talking about the idea of community ownership of schools of hospitals. It’s not this idea that most Chicanos or a significant minority of Chicanos think that we’re going to wake up one morning and secede from the United States,” Perez said.
“¡Ban This!” isn’t the only recent anthology of Latino writing, Perez says, but it's perhaps the one most in keeping with a Chicano tradition of small presses that publish creative work in response to crises.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the story identified Perez as a professor. She is an instructior.