Home Creative writing Houston’s ‘Librotraficante’ calls on Chicanos to fight censorship

Houston’s ‘Librotraficante’ calls on Chicanos to fight censorship


Houston-based writer, activist, talk show host and “cultural accelerator” Tony Diaz goes by many nicknames. He was Antonio Diaz when he was a schoolboy in Chicago’s Southside. He became the AztecMuse as a writer in Houston, where he was the first Chicano to earn a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Houston. A sleek performer known for pacing and telling jokes with the quickness of an experienced emcee, he is also known as “El Librotraficante” for his role in a movement led by a fearless group of Houstonians to fight the Arizona Ban on Mexican American Studies for a Decade. from.

the said librotraficantes— which included current Texas Poet Laureate Lupe Mendez and Houston environmental justice activist Bryan Parras — rode in a trailer to Arizona, smuggled books in and created underground libraries. Ultimately, they aided in a successful court battle that overturned Arizona’s ban. Among the targeted books was the classic novel by Texan Sandra Cisneros, The house on Mango Street. Diaz has continued to build networks of Chicano writers, artists, allies, and “cultural accelerators” ever since.

Diaz, who also runs the nonprofit writers organization Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, is now the author of a nonfiction book commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Librotraficantes caravan, entitled The tip of the pyramid: cultivating community cultural capital. The book launched at Latin bookstore in San Antonio and the festivities will continue on October 3 at Houston’s Alley Theater with an event that will reunite Diaz with veterans of Nuestra Palabra and also feature dance performances.

His book is a call to action. He is looking for other cultural accelerators to stand up, unite and act against a new wave of book bans and other challenges: “We must mark Our victories. We must recognize that, with Librotraficantes, We have reached the tip of the pyramid and we will return. We have to look at the risks, the costs, the beauty of it. We must study tactics,” he writes in the atypical “PROS” (prose) style of the book.

In this interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, the Texas Observer spoke with Diaz about the book, his life and his dreams.

You talk a lot in your book about “cultural accelerators”, what do you mean?

My first job as a child was to learn English as fast and as good as possible to translate the outside world into Spanish for my parents. And I soon realized that even adults weren’t exactly sure what they were saying in either language.

Likewise, we need common ground. Thus, in the book’s preface, one way of describing the “cultural accelerator” metaphor is that of members of our community who have achieved self-determination and progress in areas of their choosing or who remain in contact with the community and then in an act of self-determination, some of us say, well, we’re Chicano.

I mention it in the preface and then I dramatize it in the rest of the book because I think society ignores people like us or, you know, we don’t understand the power our community can have when we come together.

Today in Texas, you and other Chicanos, Mexican Americans, and Latinx writers play a leading role in the arts. For example, Lupe Mendez, your colleague liberator of Houston, is Poet Laureate of Texas. The current and past presidents of the Texas Institute of Letters are Mexican Americans. Are you partying?

I think these are huge milestones. At the community level, we are thriving. The complication becomes that what is given more prominence in corporate media, corporate education, corporate entertainment, are these generalizations about our community. The executives in charge of corporate entertainment, they’re illiterate about Latinos.


At the community level, I emphasize that we are not only powerful, we proved that power by coming together to overturn the ban on Mexican American studies in Arizona, as it was clearly created to destabilize the cultural capital of our community. And here in Texas, you know Librotraficantes came back and we reignited the ethnic studies movement. And together we were able to get, you know, the Mexican-American story approved at the state level. These are two examples of what I call the “tip of the pyramid”. They are powerful examples of the power of our community.

[pull]They think our communities will say, “Well, it’s not us, it’s the other community. They do not understand the plurality of the community.[/pull]

What are some of the challenges you still see in the current round of book bans?

What happened is that “the right” is no longer going to ban Mexican-American studies. However, when I look at the list, there are plenty of books by and about Latinos on that list. Texas State Representative [Matt Krause] set Gloria Velasquez Tommy is alone on this list. She is Chicana, then she wrote about the LGBTQ experience. Benjamin Alire Saenz comes from Texas. He is Latin. His books are on this list. Rigoberto González, “Mariposa Boy” [author of Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa]it’s on this list.

So what’s happened is that the attempts to censor us have come to light, and they’re trying to play on the fact that they think our communities will say, “Well, that’s not we are the other community.” They do not understand the plurality of the community.

Your talk show airs on left-leaning radio station KPFT, and you’re also a political commentator for the local FOX News affiliate in Houston. How do you do this?

One thing I say in the book is that you have to co-opt everything!

I was also shocked when FOX 26 asked me if I wanted to be on their political talk show. And I warned them, I said, ‘I’m going to complex these right wingers’, and they said, ‘Well, bring it. So too, I wanted a chance to respond to people who were trying to spread stereotypes about our community. I will also add that being both at KPFT and FOX, as well as on social media, also helps to spread awareness of our various campaigns. We fight for ethnic studies here in Texas and it was very helpful to be on both mediums.

I know you’ve worked on the boards of many different organizations in Houston, not just with people in your wheelhouse, writers and storytellers, but with many other types of artists and thought leaders. Why?

This is the goal of my book, it is to reveal “cultural accelerators” and to bring us to unite immediately, because not only is there this opening, but there is this assault. There are people who want to destabilize our communities. And I also believe that the country needs us. I mean, the country really needs all levels of society to be engaged.