Friday, July 6, 2012

"¡Ban This!: An Anthology of Xican@ Literature"

       If you're familiar with our blog or our library in general you'll also be familiar with the name Santino Rivera. There's no way around it. Despite being on opposite coasts, separated by seven states and almost 2500 miles, this author and indie book publisher is one of our biggest supporters. He's been a great friend of the library so we couldn't be more thrilled to help promote his latest project and help get the word out because,well, that's what we do here at the library. We get the word out. :) 

        "¡Ban This!: An Anthology of Xican@ Literature" is just a few short weeks away from being released and has already got a lot of people talking, tweeting and writing about it. It seems opinions are like library cards. Everybody's got one. A lot of people have something to say and believe us, Santino is no stranger to criticism. We ask him all about his latest book. Check it out.

Art: Interesting title. Three words that immediately stand out to me are "Ban", "Xican@" and "Literature" and that makes me think "Arizona" and that's a scary thought. Tell us about where this idea and title came from and what you set out to accomplish by printing this book.

Santino: Initially, this book did not start out as a response to the book banning that has occurred in Arizona, specifically Tucson. I wanted to create a book of Chicano/a lit because there aren’t that many books like that in existence. What originally inspired me to do this was reading Penguin’s Anthology of 20th Century Poetry, edited by Rita Dove. That book received a ton of negative criticism because Dove, a Black poet/editor, decided to buck the trend of putting the same old poets in the anthology and instead included some lesser known writers this time, namely people of color. And while I greatly admired what she did, the book still lacked any definitive Chicano/a presence aside from Sandra Cisneros, Alberto Rios and Lorna Dee Cervantes.

I asked myself: why are Chicano/as not more well represented in literature? Why do we not have more anthologies? And why are more of us not included in these so-called “definitive” collections? Well, I knew that none of the major publishing houses were going to create a book of strictly Chicano/a lit any time soon. Sure, there have been a few “Latino” anthologies but none of them (at least none that I know of) concentrated strictly on Chicano/a lit…which, surprising to many, there is a lot of.

So, I began crafting an idea about how to pull a book like that off, all the while, the news from Arizona kept getting louder and louder. The next thing I knew, a public school district in Tucson had banned books, namely Chicano/a books and that became the catalyst for the book. I started talking about the idea with some author friends and Luis Alberto Urrea (who is in the book) suggested that I publish a book in response to book banning. He said something along the lines of, “You should make a book and tell them: ban this, mother fuckers!” Thus, the title was born.    

I took the original idea about creating a Chicano/a lit anthology and married it with the idea of making a book in response to the censorship of Chicano/a literature and that all became the formula for ¡Ban This! I wanted to make a book of defiance! I wanted to shove the book in Jan Brewer’s face and say: Ban This!

As for what I set out to accomplish, for one I wanted to create an anthology of Chicano/a literature in response to there not being any. I think that’s pretty huge within itself. I also wanted to publish some up and coming writers as well as some established ones. I think it’s important that we are recognized in the arts and not just by other Chicano/as. Being a publisher, I have always wanted to create books that I myself would want to read – this is one of them. I think it’s wrong that in most mainstream bookstores there is but a single shelf dedicated to “Hispanic” literature (not to mention it’s in the social studies section) and that those books are deemed “specialized” whereas so-called “American lit” gets space in the giant rows of literature. Why?

I am a strong believer that our stories and our experiences ARE American stories and American experiences. I don’t want to look for Lalo Alcaraz books in the “Hispanic” section of a bookstore; I want them to be with the other art books. I don’t want to have to ask the bookstore to help me find Luis J. Rodriguez’s books; I want to find them with all of the other general literature. The time has passed for us to be considered “specialized”. Chicano/as lit should be on everyone’s shelf.

I have taken it upon myself as a publisher and a writer to market this book to the mainstream. This is a huge challenge and I will need all the help I can get. If our books can make mainstream headlines by being banned then so should our books make mainstream headlines by being read, reviewed and purchased.

I have also made it a personal goal to take some of the proceeds from this book and donate them to the kids in Tucson that had their books taken away from them. I still hope to do that depending on how well the book does.  

Art: Why the “@” in “Xicano” instead of “o”? 

Santino: This is such an interesting a great question because it has already sparked some controversy online regarding the book. The word ‘Chicano’ by itself is politically charged. There are quotes by authors that say the same thing about the word “Chicana”. These two words mean so many different things to different people and if it’s one thing that I noticed in my research, it’s that everyone has an opinion and many like to include both the female and male forms of the words, a la “Chicano/a”. I did this in this very interview to illustrate this very point. Some people also like to exclude people by refusing to acknowledge a gender. You can say (or not say a lot) by using a “o” or an “a” when it comes to Spanish.

The word “Xicano” is a modern twist on “Chicano”. I identify with the X very strongly, so much so that I permanently inked it on my skin when I was much younger. To me, it symbolizes that the movement has gone beyond the one in the 60’s and 70’s – a movement that I have much admiration and respect for – a movement I was born from. It brings the Chicano/a movement into the next century – into the future, or the digital age if you will. I can say or write “Xican@” and include everyone because the @ character is meant to represent all genders. And believe me when I say that the modern Xican@ movement is representative of all genders and all walks of life. I refuse to let anyone tell me differently. The “@” is inclusive of all within the movement and even those who don’t consider themselves a part of it. There are men, women and those in between whom identify with the “@” and if that makes people uncomfortable then that’s their problem with progress, not mine.  

You can write a dissertation on this very topic and I don’t want to go too deeply into that here but I will say that that one of our biggest issues is arguing over self-identity. We have a self-identity crisis. Just look at the news on any given day regarding “Latinos” or “Hispanics”. The arguments go in circles and then die out – all because we can’t agree on what to call ourselves. I wanted this book to be representative of the movement that includes Chicanos/as from all walks of life and from everywhere, all with different experiences. We are extrememly diversified and there is NO rule book on what it means to be Xican@. I think the writing in the book reflects that in a very positive way and I am very proud of it.

The book is not meant to be the ‘be all, end all’ of Xica@ literature. It is my interpretation of it and I think it’s a great start. The book is meant to shine the light on talent that often gets overlooked and ignored. It is meant to forge alliances and call people together into the new age – Neo Aztlán as my friend would say.

So, I’m not sure if that answers your question or not but I can tell you that those that would question the “X” and the “@” should read the book. I think the authors provide a more than adequate answer. I am excited that this book is coming out and I am eager for people to read it. I hope that people from all walks of life give it a chance. This is a fantastic book and one that I believe shows the world that we are embarking on a new Xican@ renaissance, which is a very American thing.    

Art: Saying I'm looking forward to reading this book is the understatement of the year. Can you tell us who's in it?

Santino:  There are so many talented people in this book it really is kind of mind blowing that I was able to pull them altogether. Like I said in the intro to the book, everything came together with a little bit of magic. Some of the authors in the book include Luis Alberto Urrea, Francisco X. Alarcón, Rodolfo Acuña, Gustavo Arellano, Mario Barrera, Lalo Alcaraz, Luisa Leija, Andrea, Lizz Huerta, Matt Sedillo, Sara Ines Calderon, Karina Oliva and a slew of others. There are 39 authors total in this book and their work is very diverse. When I was soliciting authors I told them they could submit anything they wanted and that it didn’t necessarily have to be about Arizona. That worked out beautifully because the book has a great mix of political stuff, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, prose, essays and art. There is something for everyone in the book including Chicano/a science fiction. Try finding that at Barnes & Noble!

I had to continually pick my jaw up off of the floor when some of the authors agreed to be on board. It was quite a feat to pull it off and it reinforced the fact that this book was a good idea – it resonated with both big name
I have created a book with some of my literary heroes in it and that feels amazing. It legitimizes my aspirations as a publisher, which is huge. I am also very pleased to have given many unknown and aspiring writers the opportunity to be included in a book like this. One of my taglines early on in my publishing career was to be the “voice of the voiceless”. With everything that has transpired in Arizona and abroad, I feel that I have done just that and it feels great.

Art: From the moment you mentioned this idea, how would you describe the kind of feedback you've received on it and did that slow you down in any way?   

Santino: The feedback that I received was mostly positive and encouraging so it really lit a fire underneath the whole project and kept me motivated. There has also been a fair amount of criticism regarding that book and I am ok with that because it’s the nature of the business. I have said that I think this book will delight many and also cause a shit-storm with others due to the title and the subject matter. Again, I’m OK with that. If anything, both types of criticism keep me motivated. I like being told I can’t or shouldn’t do something. Or that I should be doing something a particular way or that I should seek so and so’s approval for something. All that stuff is great and pushes me further in what I do. I have always been like that – it’s what drives me. That’s what’s so great about independent publishing – there are no rules or restrictions or gate keepers as far as creating a book goes. I love that kind of freedom. 

Art: I'd like to thank you for your time.

Santino: You're welcome. I would like to thank Cypress Park Library for reaching out and supporting independent and Chicano/a authors and artists. You guys rock. Your community is very fortunate to have such an active and aspiring library. 

Art: Thank you.  Okay, one last question. Where can we get our hands on this book?

Santino: The book will be available at all major online book retailers. The retail price for the book is $19.95. I’m sure places like Amazon will discount it however. I will be selling a limited amount of autographed books myself for $25 a pop, which includes shipping. Again, I am asking people to request the book at their local bookstores, libraries and schools.  

You can read another conversation we had with Santino Rivera here.

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