The Banning of Books is a Despotic and Violent Act

It happens in our classrooms and libraries more and more

Let’s see. You, the reader, have school-aged children, right? No? Well, then these are your grandchildren, or siblings, or your friends’ children. They go to school to study. They are assigned tasks that involve reading. Reading books. The books are in the school classrooms and libraries. They are discussed in class. Sometimes between yawns and bad taste jokes. Sometimes with attention and emotion, when the books touch on topics that kids care about, that allude to their own lives. If the protagonists suffer, they suffer with them. They get it. The same if the “happy ending” of our movies appears in the books. Tears or smiles.

Among all the thousands of volumes that are accepted in school libraries here in the United States, there are many written by Latin authors. Some of those books are famous. From well-known authors. Others, not yet.

In recent years, since the rise of Donald Trump and his extremist movement, many of those books are now banned from classrooms and libraries. Or they have been singled out, challenged, asked to be banned and the requests are pending in the hallways of the School Districts.

Banning books is a violent act, an act of hate, endorsed by governments. Not all of them. Do you participate in school activities with other parents? So did you know about this? You would know if you participated, because the control that extremists have over the parents’ councils is due, not to their number, but to their militancy. They succeed because we are not there. We left the school running to work and left our children to the whims of other parents that impose their own idea of raising children. 

Because these books have been banned as a result of a crusade (the name suits them) of MAGA activists or Christian extremists who are parents of school-age children and are organized, coordinated, and planned to kill the books they don’t like.

From HispanicLA.com.

This article was supported in whole or in part by funds provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library and the Latino Media Collaborative.

One might think that among those thousands of books – there are more and more – there are explosives manuals or guides to Satanism. Not so. But those books present are ideas, ideological or political positions that some people do not like. Or simply, good literature.

Irrational and dangerous fears

This is how they banned the books of history professor and activist Rodolfo Acuña, including Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. Rudy, who is 91, until recently was still teaching at California State University, Northridge, near my home. Nothing extremist in the book except researching the history from the identity of the Chicano, the Mexican American proud of his Mexican heritage. 

Luckily, we live in California, where in September, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law banning the banning of books in the state’s 10,000 schools. That put a stop to the tyranny of the parents of a minority of students.

As of last year, the number of books presently banned was 801 books in Texas, 566 in Florida, 457 in Pennsylvania, 349 in Tennessee. Even in liberal New York, 13 were banned.

Between December 2021 and December 2022, many more were banned:  in Texas, 438; 357 in Florida, 315 in Missouri, 150 in Utah, 109 in South Carolina. All of them have republican governors. They incite against those who are different because they supposedly infringe on their freedoms (theirs, the Republicans), but then happily approve the raids against books they don’t like.

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The American Library Association recently documented 1,269 challenges to more than 2,500 books just in 2022.

The ones that appear most often are about LGBTQ themes and those that refer to explicit sex. Banning books about LGBTQ is a way of telling LGBTQ people that “they are not full citizens with the right to participate in community institutions like the library,” as Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, in the American Library Association (ALA), said.

Some of the book club members celebrate “Banned Books Week.”

 

As for explicit sex: it is everyone’s duty to oppose making pornography content available to children in classrooms and libraries, but it is also a duty to reject the extension of that opposition to also prohibiting art books, or books about witches and wizards (Harry Potter) or books about other religions. Where does the book ban end?

What are banned books?

Reviewing the list, a high percentage of the authors of banned books are African American and Latino.

The books that have been banned have in common in many cases that they make gay kids proud of being gay instead of withdrawing, hiding and hating themselves. They allow black boys and girls to draw energy from their history of resistance and struggle. They lead Latino children to have an idea of the culture of their parents, to feel solidarity with those who are like them, to learn that to achieve an advancement of “the race” they must organize and fight.

The arguments that books have sexual allusions are laughable when we look for the allusions and find data that is natural and not pornographic.

Although pornography is also there. But I can’t imagine a teacher or a librarian directing the child to a pornographic book… because that’s what the house and its computer connected to the Internet are doing these days, and the parents are outside working or watching TV. So, no pornography in schools.

How do you ban a book?

I read that when a mother dislikes a book, she can report it and ask for it to be removed from the classrooms or the library. That is to say that they take away the possibility of reading it, not from her own child, but also from all the children of everyone else, whether they like the book or not.

The requirements are minimal: “The person who initiated the challenge must read the entire book, fill out a challenge form and explain why, how and where in the book the offensive action took place, then the case will be presented at a hearing and It will be decided whether it should be withdrawn or retained”.

The ALA list

Recently, the American Library Association and Amnesty International held their annual Banned Book Week campaign, which began in 1982. They contend that unorthodox books, books with unpopular points of view, must be accessible to those who want to read them, so that they can develop their conclusions, alone or in a group. ALA also prepares an annual list of banned books.

Whoever read books ever will at once recognize in the banned books the classics: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960), cut short by the use of “the N word” (nigger, a forbidden word, not by African Americans, but by those responsible for the repression of African Americans); Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937), again, because it raises racial issues; The Bluest Eye, by the acclaimed Toni Morrison (1970), a story about the oppression of women who suffer not only “the horrors of racial oppression, but also tyranny and rape by their own men.” So why is it banned? For the same reason, for describing sexual violation, when common sense dictates that it does so as a way to allow us to perceive the abomination and vileness of that act.

If we continue with the list, we meet the books that our mothers recommended to us when we wanted to read something good: 1984 by George Orwell, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Lord of the Flies, The Call of the Wild, The Lord of the Rings …

The banned books of the Argentine dictatorship

Ah, the banned books. The last Argentine dictatorship, from 1976 to 1983, the one that disappeared 30,000 Argentines, was characterized by its disdain for the truth and the printed word that expresses it.

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They went further: They banned books for everyone, in general, they removed them from circulation, they persecuted their authors, they persecuted their readers. They banned Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig, a novel about the dialog between a homosexual and a revolutionary militant in the same cell. 

The military junta led by Videla detained, tortured and disappeared the writer Haroldo Conti, a militant. It also disappeared his books, attacking with special viciousness the ideas of “Mascaró, the American hunter”, a book that received the Casa de las Américas prize in 1975, a few months before the author’s kidnapping. It tells of the boat trip and the circus performance of some typical characters, who bring a message to the lost towns.

Who is missing? Julio Cortázar, then a veteran of the French exile, doesn’t. He was blacklisted for his book of stories of resistance and denunciation “We love Glenda so much”, a mirror of those years of “cultural fences”, as he defined them in a posthumous book

That is to say: the banning of books is an introduction and also a consequence of dictatorships. It announces them and they also are their natural corollary.

Here too, in the America of 2023, in the interregnum of Donald Trump, books are on the altar of sacrifice,  and attempts to ban more and more of them have reached records that are reflected in the number of books that disappear in classrooms and libraries. For now, only in schools. But the same logic of not letting others read can lead to wanting to impose that idea on the entire society.

And in the same proportion as the misnamed “cultural war” – which is not a war because there is only one side that attacks – in the United States spreads in those classrooms and those libraries, more and more books are disappearing.

The easy target: LGBTQ issues, under the cruel and false premise that gay people – and much more than that trans people – are dangerous for kids because they seduce them and transform them into someone like them.

Is this a known accusation? Yes, it is the same as that of Argentine dictators regarding “Marxist” teachers as a virus. The same idea appears in those horrible zombie movies. Be careful, they touch you and you are one of them: horrible, murderous, dead in life and deserving of death.  

Banned books and the Latino community

The prohibition of books by Latino authors in classrooms and libraries is a conscious barrier that is raised to prevent awareness of our community regarding the situation they are going through.

They are banned: One Hundred Years of Solitude by García Márquez, The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, both of them mandatory readings to enjoy a book and that have no reason to be prohibited. 

But the list also includes classics of American Hispanic literature.

As part of the effort to raise awareness about the growing number of banned texts, the Pima County Library in Arizona published a list of some of those that had historically been reported or banned, in honor of Banned Book Week, which took place between October 1 and 7.

At the top of the list is a novel that shows in its greatest brutality the racism, discrimination and ignorance experienced by many members of the community, attacked by those who are different and if they are women, in many cases by their own men. It is “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez, in which because she having a relationship with another race, the protagonist is raped by her stepfather, who ends up murdering her and her lover. And yes, there is a crude, anatomical description of the violent, implausible moment, seen entirely from the victim’s point of view. It is not really sexual nor exciting, much less pornographic. But it’s painful.

The list continues with “Borderlands/La Frontera, The New Mestiza”, by Gloria Anzaldúa, a hybrid of prose and poetry and today a classic of Latin literature in the US. It was part of the university curriculum until it was banned under law 2281 of the Arizona House of Representatives, signed in 2010 by then-Governor Jan Brewer, which made the teaching of Chicano ethnic studies illegal on the premise that they “promote resentment toward a race or class of people” and “uphold ethnic solidarity rather than treating students as individuals.”

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The banning of this particular book was an important moment for the development of Chicano, Mexican American resistance against the repressive practices of the state government. Borderlands/La Frontera was selected by the Literary Journal as one of the 38 best books of 1987.

Anzaldúa refers to those who are born, grow and develop in the “borderlands”, in the stretch of the border that is neither from here nor from there and that causes people to have more questions than answers about their identity. They are expected to be only from the United States or Mexico. In the same way the author shows the differences between men and women, between heterosexuals and gays. She reaffirms their identity, as well as her own as a lesbian and a “shaman.” Her poetry is considered an essential contribution to the Spanish-English language developed by Latinos in our country.

Another classic of Latin American literature that was repeatedly banned is “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros (1984), a series of vignettes about what a 12-year-old girl writes from the Hispanic neighborhood of Chicago. These are testimonies of her growing up as a teenager in the midst of social stereotypes, unexplained prohibitions, sexual abuse, racial discrimination and other circumstances of life in a patriarchal and poor society. Six million copies were sold. It was translated into 20 languages. It’s on the New York Times Best Sellers list, and yet it was banned in several places.

It was banned by those who do not want these topics that could make one want to change society, that is, topics of injustice, exploitation and violence, to surface. It comes from those who prefer to close their eyes because they do not want the pain that accompanies the suffering of others, or because they are part of those who cause that suffering.

It is also one of the 80 books banned by the Tucson, Arizona School District as a corollary of law 2281, falsely claiming, as in many other cases, that the book encourages and advocates the overthrow of the United States.

There are many more. In some cases, banning books sparked interest in them that they otherwise would not have had. In others, the banning aroused astonishment at the ignorance of those who have the power to prevent the reading of the best books we have: those that make us think and feel. As we said: the banning of these books is a violent, repressive and obscene act.

This article was supported in whole or in part by funds provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library and the Latino Media Collaborative.

 

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Founder and co-editor of Latino Los Angeles. Editor Emeritus of La Opinion, former Editor-in-Chief. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a journalist, columnist, blogger, poet, novelist, and short story writer. Was the editorial director of Huffington Post Voces. Editor-in-chief of the weekly Tiempo in Israel. Is the father of three grown children and lives with Celia and with Rosie, Almendra and Yinyit in Los Angeles.

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