Celebrating Latino literary works is a way to combat cultural censorship, author says

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Author Tony Diaz defends literary works representing Latino culture Sept. 23 in the library in Moody. The session, “Opposing Censorship with Cultural Capital,” is part of the Free Speech Conference. Sergio Medina

Students can combat censorship by telling their own stories, he said.

By Sergio Medina


Author Tony “El Librotraficante” Diaz said the protection of cultural capital, referring to Latino literary and artistic works, by celebrating and spreading them are needed to combat censorship.

Diaz spoke at the session, “Opposing Censorship with Cultural Capital,” before an audience of 15 people Sept. 23 in the library performance area on the fourth floor of Moody Learning Center.

The session is part of the 2019 Free Speech Conference.

“You’ve got to tell at least one or two people today that Mexican American Studies was banned in America during our lifetime, in 2012, and the fact that it happened is mindboggling,” Diaz said.

Diaz referred to House Bill 2281, a 2011 decision by the Arizona State Board of Education, which banned the Mexican American Studies program at the Tucson Unified School District.

The bill prohibited academic programs promoting “the overthrow of the United States government,” and “resentment toward a race or class of people.”

The ban included the use of literary works in the classroom from authors such as Sandra Cisneros and Ana Castillo.

Diaz adopted the nickname “Librotraficante,” or book trafficker, after leading efforts that brought banned books into libraries in Arizona for students to access in 2017.

Judge A. Wallace Tashima overturned Arizona’s law in August 2017 because the ban violated the students’ First and 14th Amendments by impairing their rights “to receive information and ideas,” and being discriminated against, respectively.

Diaz said, “If we don’t speak, if we don’t get our stories out there, not only will people ignore those stories, they will actively try to obliterate them.”

In an interview after the session, Dias said ways students can combat censorship include recording conversations with relatives.

“I think they [students]have to be real true to their voice, and I think they got to work on telling their story,” he said. “They could write it down, they could perform it. And then, the next level would be telling their family stories. That could be as simple as sitting down with an elder and recording the chat on their telephone.”

When he was younger, he would record casual conversations with his mother on his cassette recorder.

“I think those are valuable because then it’s almost like quantifying your culture capital,” Diaz said. “You start understanding why your story is important and how to tell it and that there is material there. I think that’s key because that then teaches writers that they can actually make their own lives important, but then they also earn a lot of skills that could help them become professional writers.”

Diaz earned his bachelor’s degree in communications from De Paul University in Chicago. He also obtained a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Houston.

He is the host of “Nuestra Palabra Radio Show” on KPFT 90.1 FM in Houston.

To learn more about the Free Speech Conference, visit www.alamo.edu/sac/calendar/2019/september/free-speech-conference-2019/.


1 Comment

  1. Mr. Diaz makes a great point in using one’s voice to maintain one’s culture. And the idea of supporting one another by promoting the books/stories is key. But, the problem I’ve run into is similar to what “LatinX” authors are running into ~ Gatekeepers. Who decides what is worthy of being distinguished as having cultural capital? I don’t often write via code-switching. I don’t write about eating Grandma’s tortillas in winter, picking cotton in the summer, using an outhouse year-round. I consider myself mixed-race, but having grown up in a Hispanic culture. Do writers like me fit into this “X” group that happens to be Latin-based?
    So far, the answer is a big “NO”.

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