When the Nazis first set fire to books, there were some people who said, “Don’t worry, they’re burning only paper.”
Other people formed the Resistance.
We are part of the Resistance.
I can see the Aztec Muses rising from that portal of shade, the black hole.
And just like the cactus eaters who rose to become emperors, and just like the dish washers who rise to become restaurant owners, the Aztec Muses took the jobs of the Furies, too.
They like what offerings I bring to them, and they usher forth, from the black hole of shade-banned authors, politicians, punk rockers whose voices shall pass through the magic conch I have brought for them, which to the rest of the world just looks like a Public Announcement system, a good one, for our press conference, also a good one, with a lot of important people who just walked out of cabs or were dropped off in cars.
Yes, the Aztec Muses adore me today, and have relented with their relentlessness.
They will not torture me today.
They love me today.
And since I know most people need an address to give their muses, and some need a map, here is it is:
It’s March 12, 2012. Arizona has passed a law to prohibit courses that promote the overthrow of the government. The Tucson Unified School District used that law to get rid of Mexican American Studies. All the books, almost 90, that were part of the curriculum have been confiscated from classrooms and boxed up.
This is not a Sci-Fi movie, okay, more like Star Wars.
We are The Librotraficantes. We’re smuggling the banned books back to Arizona. We’re hurdling through space in our Magic Bus that launched from Houston with a payload of 1,000 books of mind-altering prose donated from all around the country. We will open 4 Under Ground Libraries. We will caravan in this bus all the way to Tucson, stopping first in Albequerque, Mesilla, El Paso, and here we are in San Antonio.
Hours later we will be part of a kick ass, packed house pachanga with poetry, dance, music, and dancing til late at the Southwest Workers Union to inaugurate the first of our Under Ground Libraries. The next morning we’ll meet with public officials at the Esperanza Center about organizing elections for school board campaigns across the South West; we’ll conduct a Teach-In at the Bil Haus Art Center, a Banned Book Bash at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, eat a Vegaterian Dinner prepared by the Hari Krishnas at the Gallista Art Gallery.
We’ll be exhausted, thrilled, and then realize we’re just 200 miles into a 1,000 mile trip, with 4 more cities to party/work in. For the Cause.
Hard work, but it fuckin’ beats picking alfalfa.
Of course, sometimes details bite you in the ass. I’m brought back to reality for just a bit by one such quotidian detail.
The bus driver is asking in Spanish for the address to the Alamo.
He doesn’t know how to get there.
Do you need an address for the Alamo?
It’s the Alamo. In San Antonio. Or at the very least you know it’s in Texas.
near the border, some border, border of something.
On this trip, I learn the details to listen to and the spirits to ignore.
Américo Paredes wrote With His Pistol In His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero. Well, I’m gonna write, “With His Smart Phone in his Hand.” I give the device to Librotraficante La Laura, one of the caravanistas. She sits next to him and reads out loud, in Spanish, the GPS mapped-out instructions. That’s the only muse he gets.
The rest are mine.
Librotraficante High Tech Aztec and Librotraficante Lilo manage the squad in charge of the book racks, and by the end of the trip will be expert at displaying the books banned in Tucson, Arizona. Some of the other Librotraficantes are fiddling with phone chargers, boxes of snacks. I know we don’t know exactly what to take with us. I know I need to say something. Anything.
I say in a confident voice, “We got the books, we got the sound system, we got the Librotraficantes, and we have the Alamo as a stage. We got everything we need to make history, folks.” My 30 passengers cheer. It makes me happy, too.
The driver asks me, in Spanish, “Sir, where do we park?”
Again with the questions.
The place is teeming. It’s Spring Break 2012. Thousands of tourists have descended upon the Alamo, lines of kids all in matching T-shirts, thin legged kids in shorts, many of them not just Anglo, but like shiny paper white, middle school spring break field trips to The Alamo, on the day that the Librotraficantes arrive to unleash misfit muses.
We get off the Magic Bus like the first day at a new school where we heard the kids are tough. We raise the skirts of the bus where the luggage is kept to pull out our racks, books, the speaker system.
The Alamo never looked bigger to me. There seem to be several streets circling around it.
It’s hotter than in Houston. I’m starting to sweat. My smuggler-ware, a cool, purple long sleeved shirt with a white graphic on the back, of a wing or something, is suddenly not so cool. I walk, slow, because of the crowd. And for the first time that day, I get a sinking feeling, like my buzz is wearing off, like maybe I’m listening to just voices in my head-not muses. Like maybe I’m about to fuck up.
I have to decide where to hold this press conference-for an undetermined amount of people, to go over an undetermined number of undetermined things.
We’ve had only 2 months to organize the entire southwest to rise against Arizona’s oppression. We’ve raised $15,000 in donations, just enough to put on a $80,000 caravan, and I’m about to get knocked out in the first round by a jab if I don’t find the right spot to conduct this press conference that like the entire Chicano Movement and Internet is waiting to report happening.
We walk, slow, and I realize everyone is nervous. And I realize it’s normal to be nervous. And I realize I shouldn’t’ be normal right now.
I look around for hints of where to set this all up. No muses answer.
I don’t stand still.
Time to rock.
I see the door to the Alamo. The Alamo has a door. Might as well walk towards the door.
It is so friggin’ hot. We walk past this grassy part and under all those trees it’s so much cooler that it’s like a forest, it’s so dark in there. And there are families sprawled out on blankets, having picnics. And yes, there are a lot of tourists, but as we are prone to do I forget we outnumber them. My people are there resting in the forest, in the shadows of history, for a bit. But we must not set up here. We are the ones that must come out of the forest.
I look to the other side of the door to the Alamo where there are stone monuments so bright you can’t really read them. It’s like white light white noise obscuring even the stone reliefs of some history Texas sanctioned.
And there, like the vision that came to Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac I see the 30-foot halo of shade in front of the Alamo created by the trees we just shunned.
Every now and then, you are given a chance to name things, to decide where things start or where things end.
I point to the halo of shade and say, “Let’s set up that bad ass shit right here, my Librotraficantes.”
And my bookies sing, the crowd forms, and banned writers start ushering forth from springs, or maybe car or cabs.
That must be where Santa Ana placed his cannons.
I place my sound cannon there, but point it the other way, towards the t-shirt shop, so the people across the street will hear my speech, like they would an evangelist’s talk.
And I have a vision. This time, we will win this public relations war. Unlike Santa Anna, we have our own halo of media walking with us: Texas Monthly, The Texas Observer, Italian Media, Latinopia, Free Press Houston, mamiverse.com, The Nuestra Palabra Radio Show, Librotraficante Comandante Carmona shooting his documentary, then arrives San Antonio Channel 4, Texas Public Radio.
Then more people form around us.
I say one of the lines I will become famous for, “Arizona tried to erase our History, so we decided to make more.”
Arizona legislators should never have fucked with writers.
We writers create reality. And we had already written a glorious end to this story.
Posted: July 8, 2013 at 4:24 am