The Importance of Banned Books

Arte Público Press just celebrated Banned Books Week! (Sept. 22-28). In light of this event promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International, we want to present three books worth checking out.

Books get banned for a number of reasons. Although it is understandable when it comes to some, most deserve to be read. We live in an age of mass censorship. A time when free speech is hindered and people struggle to get their voices heard. This trend, however, is not something totally new. The voices of minority groups have been silenced, forgotten, and neglected in U.S. history. This has been done through many different means and is still happening through the banning of books. Without them, people may never learn about the history of different minority groups and come to a better understanding of the history that they are tied to.

In historical writing, one of the things that is valued by historians are different interpretations. One true interpretation is not possible as anything claiming to be so would overlook many historical details. This is why having different interpretations is so important. With each, we come to a fuller story of a particular historical event. Some of the types of books that help with this are ones by people who were part of these events.

Book banning perpetuates the long history of silencing different narratives.

Here are three of our very own Arte Público Press books that have been banned at some point.

One of these banned books is F. Arturo Rosales’ Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. This nonfiction text chronicles an important movement in US civil rights history and is based on the four-part PBS docuseries of the same name. In addition to explaining the movement itself, Rosales begins by providing rich historical background and discussing the historical events leading up to the movement, such as the Mexican Revolution. Rosales provides a comprehensive account of the Chicano movement.

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Another Arte Público Press banned book is Message to Aztlán: Selected Writings of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez. This collection gives personal insight into the Chicana/o movement. Gonzalez was a Boxer, poet and political activist and was responsible for the first Chicano youth conference in March 1969. It’s surprising that such an important historical figure’s work would be banned. Gonzales’ book contains poems, speeches, plays, and correspondence related to the Mexican American experience. By banning this book (and others like it) it could prevent other people who identify as Mexican American from discovering it and strengthening their identity.

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Tomás Rivera’s …y no se lo tragó la tierra/…And the Earth Did Not Devour Him also deals with Mexican American civil rights. It is a novel about the struggles Mexican Americans had to go through as migrant farm workers. It is told through the perspective of a boy and it’s one that reaches the heart of the Mexican American community. The banning of this book in particular is very disheartening. It reflects the experiences of many Mexican Americans today in the U.S. More importantly, without ethnic literature such as this, Mexican Americans may not have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in literature.

Emiliano Orozco is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Houston and a Research Fellow with Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage. His research interests include the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands with an emphasis on colonial Nuevo León and early state development.

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