You could say my summer activities began several months ago when H.B. 2281, an Arizona law prohibiting Mexican American and ethnic studies programs in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) went into effect in January. In February, I helped to organize and participate in a national Read-In Day held at the University of Tejas campus, in solidarity with the No History is Illegal Campaign protesting 2281. Nationwide, students, teachers, community members, bookstore owners, freedom of speech advocates and so on, read aloud from the books banned from TUSD in accordance with 2281. A significant number of UT-American Studies faculty and students participated, including Prof. Nhi Lieu who read aloud from Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror, Prof. Cary Cordova who recited from Jose Antonio Burciaga’s Drink Cultura, Prof. Naomi Paik who shared passages from political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s memoir, Live From Death Row and doctoral candidate Jaqueline Smith who gave a fierce performance of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Across the UT campus, students and faculty donated books to the Librotraficante Movement—a Houston based initiative to symbolically smuggle banned books back into Arizona to create “underground community libraries.”
Hearing my mentors and colleagues read from these texts, many of which have shaped their scholarship and pedagogical practices, inspired me to continue an informal project which I began last summer—the creation of an American Studies graduate student library. The idea of a student library grew from my desire to broaden the currents of intellectual exchange between graduate students about their diverse fields of interest. Currently, there are graduate students doing work on co-ops, mercenary violence, transnational adoption, the American prison system, Israeli “pinkwashing”, the national park system, urban gentrification, comic books, and the history of yoga (to name a few). As I felt on the day of the Read-In, the texts we share with each other, including our favorite “AMS Go-To” books, widen our perspectives, challenge us to think more critically about how our personal research interests intersect with others, and offer interesting points of conversation that can sharpen our insights about the field itself.
Of course, the library also has its practical uses, since most of the books will no doubt be accessed for coursework, Orals preparation, and as teaching resources for AI’s. Currently, the library is up to 250 books and is arranged both chronologically and thematically. Alongside canonical texts like Henry Nash Smith’s Virgin Land and Leo Marx’s Machine in the Garden, are more contemporary AMS classics such as Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera, Jose Esteban Munoz’s Disidentifications, Ned Blackhawk’s Violence Over the Land, and Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts. Since its inception, the AMS library project has been a collaborative one with Brendan Gaughen who took the lead on collecting and organizing the books and with the various graduate students who have donated from their personal collections. Books, be they “contraband” or not, play a powerful role in my life, whether for activism or leisure. My hope is that the AMS library, much like the Librotraficante libraries, will motivate, challenge, and maybe even light some fires. The summer’s ending soon, so go get your reading on.