April 16, 2004

Barrio BookFest Combats the Lack of Independence

By Raymond R. Beltrán

“At one time during the Chicano Power Movement, there was a tremendous amount of press during the sixties and seventies with all of its limitations, whether that meant logistical or material, or [technological],” says RPA (Raza Press Association) member Ernesto Bustillos. “In San Diego alone, there were three or four progressive papers, and most universities had a newspaper or a magazine . You don’t see that today.”

Having been an active member in raza organizations since the mid-1970s, as well as co-editorial board member for the RPA, Bustillos attributes much of the dilapidation of progressive Latino media to the pressure from U.S. governmental factions that neutralized the Chicano revolutionary movements in the past, i.e. harassment of an already struggling community and the arrests of many activists.

What ultimately came to fruition is the lack of raza media and cultural expression within working class barrios, like Logan. Although, a San Diegan does not have to be a patron of the barrios to know that independent bookstores are depleting with the rise of corporate chains like Borders or Barnes and Nobles.

To combat the vacuum affect such businesses can have on independent media and booksellers, the RPA, an independent press association dedicated to combating oppression and exploitation, and the nascent activist/artist organization, the Red CalacArts Collective (RCAC), have come together to organize an event that will up the ante in the struggle to produce relevant literature to raza, and or, progressive communities. It is called The First Annual Barrio BookFest 2004.

“We’ve seen how mainstream publications have completely cornered the market and how small bookstores have become an endangered species,” says Bustillos. “And if progressive people don’t do something about it, we’re not going to see independent bookstores in the very near future.”

The keyword in the event’s subtitle, Liberation Through Media and Cultural Expression, is ‘media,’ and all of the organizers agree that the definition of the word has itself progressed and engulfed multiple forms of expression, including not only newspapers and magazines but websites, music, poetry, teatro, murals and other visually artistic disciplines, all of which can be a channel to provide an abundance of socially charged thought to neglected barrios.

“It’s needed to learn how to disseminate information to the community,” says RCAC President Brent Beltrán. “With the lack of a relevant education and our raza working through the regular grind everyday, there’s not much of an opportunity to gain a social consciousness, to see how the world functions.”

In resurrecting the impetus from the roots of the Chicano Power Movement, organizers say the Barrio BookFest’s goals are more dynamic than a two fold event. The purpose is to one, produce information that consciously wakes up the community in creative ways; two, expose Anglo communities to their own realities and histories, which reflect exploitation and crime in raza communities; and third, it’s about networking. In a time when progressive Latino writers and publishers fall to the wayside without the support of mainstream, corporate businesses, the BookFest is to introduce publishers to writers, writers to the barrio and vice versa.

“What’s cool is that we’re doing this book festival in our own community,” says Beltrán. “We’re doing this in Barrio Logan, at Memorial Academy, where the community itself is eighty to ninety percent Mejicano, the vast majority of which live below the poverty line.”

With the ideological backbone in place, the struggle in organizing a truly grassroots event such as this takes the utilization of any resources on hand, meaning the manpower involved comes from those willing to donate their time, like former librarian and Normal Height’s Community Association volunteer Annie Ross, who currently serves on the Barrio BookFest Publicity Committee and who donated a plane ticket to fly in Austin, Texas’s veteran poet Raul R. Salinas (East of the Freeway, Un Trip Through the Mind Jail y otras Excursions).

Volunteers do anything from calculate financing issues to passing out fliers from North Park to Downtown to the southern boundaries of Chula Vista. “I’ve had no problem doing it with a full time job,” says Ross, who spent hours, along with a team of other volunteers, last Saturday to leaflet fliers to various establishments across the county.

She claims it was the incorporation of art into media that attracted her to the Barrio BookFest. “The mainstream media is so lopsided to the right,” she says. “The schism between the have and have-nots is devastating, and art is so critical because it’s so much more accessible.”

Prominent raza activists and writers have gotten wind of the event and have been rushing the stage, writers like Luis J. Rodriguez (Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A, Republic of East L.A.), Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez (Decolores Means All of Us: Latinas Views for a Multi-Cultured Society) and César A. Cruz of The End-Dependence Collective will all be donating their time to attend and speak on various panels relating to the purpose and role of Latinos in the media.

The Barrio BookFest has acquired minimal funds through their vendors, which pay a price more welcoming to small publishers and independent bookstores, like Groundwork Books, Tía Chucha’s Café (Los Angeles), Casa del Libro and Resistencia Bookstore (Austin, Texas). All funds are recycled back into publicizing the event and attempting to compensate the writers and artists who attend. Organizers are not paid for their work.

The Barrio BookFest will take place on Saturday, May 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Memorial Academy Charter School (2850 Logan Avenue, San Diego).

“One thing I’d like to see is that it’s a guarantee that [raza] are going to be able to buy books there’s no bookstores in the barrio,” says Beltrán. “This may be the first opportunity for some of the gente that live down there to see books by Latinos authors, books that speak to the community, and hopefully it’ll help to lead to building more community empowerment.”

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