“Leamos” (“Let’s Read”). The response of the Texas Book Festival to a demographic shift in the population of Texas

“Leamos” (“Let’s Read”). The response of the Texas Book Festival to a demographic shift in the population of Texas

“Leamos”. La respuesta del Texas Book Festival a un cambio demográfico de la población de Texas

Adriana Pacheco

Austin is the city of events that thousands of people follow in the country. It is the home of SXSW, ACL, Formula 1, the Rodeo, and a myriad of more celebrations that are anticipated each year in a calendar that fills up month by month. Among all of them, the one organized inside and around the Capitol and Congress Avenue is dedicated to literature. The Texas Book Festival is the grand celebration of the book and a thermometer of what is happening in the literary scene of the United States with more than 300 writers from Texas and across the country. Its white tents and the sumptuous halls of the legislative chamber are filled with presentations predominantly in English. In Spanish, until now, there have been some sessions, with the exception of its famous tent of readings for children, where there is a space for bilingualism. For adults, I have listened to writers of Latin origin, Chicano or Mexican-American like Sandra Cisneros or Sonia Sotomayor, along with some that may fall into the category of Latinx like Jennine Capó Crucet, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and Ivelisse Rodriguez; all in English. And although I must say that I have also heard female writers presenting in Spanish like Gabriela Couturier and Cristina Rivera Garza, the presence of this language barely peeks through in its program.

This is particularly striking as it occurs in the second state in the country with the largest Hispanic-origin population, and now, even after the publication of the results of the latest census by the U.S. Bureau in 2022, we know that they have surpassed the non-Hispanic population at 40.2% compared to 39.8%. It happens in the state where out of the 30 million people who live there, 7 million speak Spanish; in the state where of the Texans under 18 years old, 49.3% are of Hispanic origin. All these numbers put a new face on its demographics with a racial mix that integrates immigrants predominantly from Mexico, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Honduras, and Guatemala, and with the descendants of those Mexicans who lived here before 1845, when Texas became the 28th state of the American Union.

And if there is one thing these communities have in common, it’s the language. Spanish, now more than ever, is present at home, in classrooms, universities, and workplaces. According to Pew Research, 96% of Latinos say their parents speak Spanish and that they try to preserve it through the generations; that 88% believe that maintaining Spanish is important for survival, for more economic opportunities, and to counteract the language loss that occurs from generation to generation.

All this is understood by the acting interim director of the Texas Book Festival, Dalia Azim, the Literary Director, Hannah Gabel, and the entire team that makes up the 2023 fair edition. So, for the first time in the history of the fair, there is a conscious and organized effort to have a program with more book presentations and a tent focused on authors in Spanish that they have called: “Leamos” (“Let’s Read”). This name acts as an umbrella to address one of the issues we face most when talking about hispanidad and Spanish in the United States, which is to include groups that identify as Chicano, Mexican-American, Latino, Hispanic, or Latinx. The goal is to create a more inclusive space for the great diversity of writers and topics that write in Spanish in this country; to welcome those who are read here but write from Spanish-speaking countries and that also have been translated to English; to offer to English-speaking readers who are interested in these books, a selection of books in translation and bilingual editions.

The literary curation done this year reflects this breadth with a program that includes names in narrative such as: Rosa Beltrán, who comes from Mexico to present her book Free Radicals (Hablemos escritoras y Katakana Editores), Sylvia Aguilar Zeleny, also a Mexican writer who brings Trash (Deep Vellum) from El Paso, Texas. There will also be Cuban-American writer Cristina García presenting a book on Cubans in the diaspora, Vanishing Maps (Penguin Random). Esmeralda Santiago from Puerto Rico is another guest this year with a beloved book Las madres (Knopf Publishing), and also Ingrid Rojas Contreras, born in Colombia, with her book The Man Who Moved the Clouds (El hombre que movía las nubes) (Penguin Random). In poetry are: Tim Z. Hernandez with Some of the Light (Beacon Press/ Raised Voices Series) and Sebastián H Páramo with Portrait of Us Burning (Northwestern University Press/Curbstone). In collaborative writing is the book that is the result of efforts by the University of Texas to create a Spanish writing program: Contar Historias. Escritura Creativa en el Aula (Tower Press) coordinated by Gabriela Polit-Dueñas. In graphic, Roj Rodríguez with a book that, through a photo-documentary, Mi sangre (Hatje Cantz), shows the relationship between Mexico and the United States.

Efforts like these, which take place in initiatives that reach a broad group, are the opportunity to invite the community to see from another light the cultural diversity and historical value of the countries of origin of millions of migrants and from there to avoid racism and achieve integration. For the Texas Book Festival, it is a big step where there will now be more work to open more and more spaces, bring more authors and publishing labels from outside the United States, to consolidate itself as a meeting point. Indeed, while it is true that Spanish-language book fairs in the United States, such as Leála in California or FILNYC in New York, already do a great job, those that are predominantly in English have much larger audiences, more possibilities to impact more people, and many more resources. For this reason, recognizing the change that the Texas Book Festival is making today and supporting it is important for continuing the fight to gain spaces, to preserve our language in this country, and to educate everyone in the great diversity and talent that comes from the Spanish-speaking world and that, in Texas, increasingly fills the state with Hispanicity.


Adriana Pacheco, PhD. es investigadora y es escritora. Fundadora del Proyecto Escritoras Mexicanas Contemporáneas y  la fundadora y conductora de la página web y podcast Hablemos, Escritoras. Es autora de los libros Romper con la palabra, violencia y género en la obra de escritoras mexicanas contemporáneas  y Rompiendo de otras maneras, cineastas, periodistas, dramaturgas y performes. Es miembro del International Board of Advisors en la Universidad de Texas, Austin.  Su Twiter es @adrianaXIX_XXI

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