World Book Night took place this week, and I had the pleasure of being the giver of twenty copies of La breve y maravillosa vida de Óscar Wao. A brief overview: I live in south Texas, about a fifteen minute drive from the Texas-Mexico border. A couple of years ago, Forbes listed two of the four counties down here — mine included — among the top three poorest areas of the nation. It’s also about 90% Latino, so I knew when I made my World Book Night choices that the Spanish translation of Oscar Wao would make the most sense for this area (that, and I just want everyone to read the book).
I was excited about handing out books and crammed a few proper, key Spanish phrases into my vocabulary; I understand Spanish, but I only speak Spanglish at best. The plan was to give books out at the McAllen bus station, where I was more than positive that nearly everyone I encountered would speak Spanish. But then I got another idea.
I’m a fan of prison book programs — in fact, that’s where a lot of my ARCs go — but then I got to thinking…what if I gave the book to detained immigrants? Is that even possible? I didn’t think it was so I brushed the idea aside, but it kept coming back to me: a book (in Spanish!) about immigrants, written by an immigrant, and given to immigrants? How awesome would that be?!
So I started Googling. After a lot of phone tag, I finally reached someone at a detention facility about an hour away from where I live, where they house people awaiting deportation. And they were thrilled to take the books! Apparently, like prisons, the detention center has a (poorly stocked) library. But unlike prisons, almost everyone there speaks Spanish or some other language, and almost all of the books that are donated to them are in English. I was told that they’ve reached out to local libraries for donations, but haven’t had any luck. (Upon hearing this, I immediately went to my library’s bookstore to see if they had cheap Spanish books for me to buy. Indeed, the Spanish selection was dismal, though I did manage to find one Spanish translation of another World Book Night selection, Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief.)
I didn’t get to give my books out until Tuesday, the day after World Book Night. My brother and I set off in search of the detention center. We’d actually taken the route dozens of times because it was on the way to South Padre Island. Except this time, we turned off the main highway leading to the island and took a back road towards the facility.
I also didn’t get to actually hand any books out to anyone. Just getting past the gate was intense. We had called ahead so they knew we were coming, but when we got there we still had to hand over our licenses, pull the car over to wait for a security escort, then follow our escort down a long road past fenced-in, barbed-wired areas to the main building, where we then waited for someone to meet us to take the books. So yeah…we didn’t even get inside. But the books will now become part of the library, and since they’re paperbacks, the people will be allowed to take the books back to their cells (they’re only allowed to read hardcovers inside the library).
This particular facility has been on my radar for a while: a few years ago, detainees went on hunger strike to protest abuses they were experiencing there. And if you’ve read Enrique’s Journey, you might remember that the author interviewed some of the detainees and workers at various immigrant detention centers along the border, one of which was this one. She discovered that 1 in 6 of the minors (male and female) being held here reported being raped on their journey across the border. So even though my World Book Night was kind of anti-climactic, and I’m afraid I don’t have any personal, heartwarming stories to share, I wouldn’t change my donation choice for a thing. If anything, it made me want to know more about the role of libraries in ICE detention facilities and the unique challenges they face.
In other news:
- I have officially been accepted into grad school (again). I already have a MA in Women’s History, but now I’m going back to school (online) for a Masters in Library and Information Science. Because being an adjunct is great and all, but I want to one day be able to, like, pay my bills and stuff. (And dare I say: my World Book Night experience has already given me a thesis idea.)
- I’ve reorganized my review directory and made my author directory a lot more user friendly. It was getting way too unwieldy for my tastes.
- Just a reminder: my Read & Resist Tucson challenge is underway, but everyone is still welcome to participate. All you have to do is read at least one book on Tucson ISD’s banned books list and add your review to the database. If you’ve already contributed: thank you!