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Banned Books: The Kanellos Connection

Book of the Month, In the News, Rare Books

In addition to the over 7,000 linear feet of archival collections made available for study at the University of Houston Special Collections, we are also proud to offer over 100,000 rare and antique books for use in our reading room. Each month we will highlight a text from our collections and what makes it so special.

This week, as we observe Banned Books Week along with the American Library Association and other members of the book community, we shift our formula a bit and focus on works in our collection which have historically been challenged, banned, or otherwise removed from public consumption.  The chance overlap of National Hispanic Heritage Month makes for a unique opportunity to highlight our Kanellos Latino Literary Movement Collection.

cover of Negocios by Junot Díaz (1997)

cover of Negocios by Junot Díaz (1997)

Banned “Confiscated” Books of the Month Moment:  Unfortunately, there are a few.  Negocios by Junot Díaz (his Spanish translation of the English language Drown), Zoot Suit and Other Plays by Luis Valdez, and The Magic of Blood by Dagoberto Gilb were all challenged by the Tucson Unified School District in 2012 and, also, all part of a generous donation of works from Dr. Nicolás Kanellos (founder and director of Arte Público Press and the driving force behind the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project).  Thanks to his work, foresight, and longstanding connections in the community, the Kanellos Latino Literary Movement Collection, consisting of over 1,000 books, covering a broad scope and time range of works printed in limited runs, unpublished works, and other writings critical to scholars studying Latino literature, is available for study at the University of Houston Special Collections.

Why so Special Scary?  Warning!  According to the Tucson Unified School District’s decision in the wake of the passage of Arizona House Bill 2281, these books may “promote the overthrow of the United States Government… promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

cover of Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez (2010)

cover of Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez (2010)

In 2012, rather than fight 2281, Tucson USD officials chose a path of compliance that suspended the district’s Mexican American Studies program.  This process included a public show of collecting, boxing, and carrying off a number of books that were part of the Mexican American Studies teaching materials, sometimes in the presence of students.  District officials insisted that they were not “banning” books, simply “confiscating” a handful of the more egregious outliers.  And, in the spirit of Banned Books Week, who are we to quibble?  A closer look at the MAS reading list, however, will raise some eyebrows.  In addition to the aforementioned “dangerous” works, other pieces on the reading list include revered Latina authors like Sandra Cisneros, as well as canonical and mainstream “Western” or Eurocentric works, like Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.”

In 2013, a federal court order mandated reinstatement of the program as part of federal desegregation laws aimed at providing equal eduation.  While the issue remains a contentious one in Arizona politics, it is hoped and assumed that this school year, Shakespeare, Thoreau, and all the rest have found a home in the Tucson USD curriculum.

Location:  Those interested (and brave enough) to study these works can access them in the Special Collections Reading Room during our normal hours.  With Banned Books Week and National Hispanic Heritage Month in full swing, why wouldn’t you visit us?

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