I had two books on the banned list—The Magic of Blood and Woodcuts of Women—so I’m very honored. I’m humbled. I have worked all my adult life trying to be an important writer in America and to our community, so I want to thank (Gracias, gracias!) the state of Arizona for its recognition. Although I was a little disappointed—we are ambitious peoples—that my new book didn’t get any attention. But in time, they’ll hate that, too.
Of course this banning is raw, ugly racism. But may I suggest that it’s good it’s out in the open and publicly displayed? And with this we teach metaphor: our literature has always been put away, carted to storage. What’s new is that books got out, to ambitious, bright young people no less, and now has been confiscated. Doesn’t that sort of describe the Mexican American experience for the last 200 years? We’re not treated as if we’re from here, that we have our history here, that our land and history is part of the country’s land and history.
The usual insight to explain the ignorance about us is that we’re invisible to them. If ever so, clearly not this to Arizona anymore. I’ve been trying to understand their ailment for years, and my latest is that they (you know, the governing culture) has an ocular disease like macular degeneration: delighted to find tasty tacos and enchiladas in front of them, they don’t see any faces, only the hands that made them. Arizona would have no culture without the Mexican one, no cool Southwestern architecture or landscaping, no tourist cuisine. What Arizona loves about itself comes from a heritage that has no people, like they walked into a well-maintained ghost town.
What subversive information did those Tucson students learn? What is kept from the government-approved textbooks and classrooms all across the West?: You don’t have to be from somewhere else more important and better to be a lawyer or an artist or a doctor or scientist. You don’t have to leave your culture. You don’t have to be ashamed that your parents struggled with English. We don’t have to accept being only the cooks and maids, custodians and gardeners.
Arizona brings to a head, kind of like a boil, what we’ve been going through all these years.
I’d rather be positive. We’re so not ashamed of us. We know how many hours our family puts in, and we won’t stop. We see our beauty. Let them be ugly if they want.
Dagoberto Gilb’s latest book is Before the End, After the Beginning. He’s also the author of The Flowers, Gritos, Woodcuts of Women, The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña, and The Magic of Blood, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award.