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 Texas’ current state poet laureate is Lupe Mendez, who helped “smuggle” books to Arizona in Librotraficante caravans. Source: Twitter
Texas’ current state poet laureate is Lupe Mendez, who helped “smuggle” books to Arizona in Librotraficante caravans. Source: Twitter

'Librotraficantes' are back to work

The movement created in 2012 to smuggle banned Mexican-American books into Arizona was reactivated in the face of the threat of new censorship.

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In 2012, a group of writers, creatives and educators from Texas created  the Librotraficante caravan, a nonprofit organization that smuggled 'censored' books from Texas to Arizona after the state banned Mexican-American Studies. 

"When the state of Arizona tried to erase our history, we decided to do something  more," Tony Diaz, the Latino writer and activist who pushed for the creation of Librotraficante with the goal of bringing illegal books from Texas, his home state, and making them available to the public in underground libraries, told reporters at the time. 

After a decade of court battles, courts ruled that Arizona's 2010 law banning Mexican-American studies (censoring well-known books on Chicano history and literature) was racist. But recent attacks have emerged in various states, including Texas, threatening books about Latino and Black history, racism and discrimination, and LGBTQ+ identity have brought the work of Librotraficantes back to prominence.

"We can't respond to this current attack with the same approach we used 10 years ago because, clearly, people who want to erase our history and culture have studied the success of the Librotraficante movement, the ethnic studies movement, Black Lives Matter," Diaz told NBC News on March 11.

Among the books banned in 2010 were The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros; Drown by Junot Diaz; and Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, considered the father of Chicano literature.

On March 12, Librotraficante celebrated its tenth anniversary in Texas and reaffirmed its intention to continue fighting against book censorship both in its home state and in neighboring states such as Arizona and New Mexico. The movement has the support of Texas’ current state poet laureate Lupe Mendez, who once helped "smuggle" books into Arizona in Librotraficante caravans.

"The Librotraficante Movement has been crucial in giving a voice to students of color across the nation. A decade later, that work stays with you," wrote Mendez in the Texas Observer, recalling that in the year of its founding they collected more than 1,000 copies of the banned books in Arizona and distributed them to community libraries via book packets for Arizona high school students. "Now, 10 years later, I'm still a Librotraficante. And I'm willing to do it all over again." 

In the state of Texas alone, authorities have targeted more than 800 books in local schools, many of them LGBTQ and gender identity-themed, including several by Latino authors. As reported by NBC. There are also books on racism, Black Lives Matter, police violence, violence against Native Americans, abortion, sex education and Latino culture, such as the 2010 book Quinceañeara by Ilan Stavans, which explores the origins, history and traditions of the traditional Latina 15th birthday celebration.

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