Librotraficante Founder Tony Diaz Fights to Keep Ethnic Studies in Texas Higher Education

Timothy Garcia-Giddens: Photo courtesy of Tony Díaz.

The following is a guest post by columnist Mercedes Olivera.

Last week, reading Latino poetry was an act of protest.

It was part of a Day of Action in eight Texas cities by Latino opponents of proposed legislation that could effectively spell the end for ethnic studies programs in higher education.

It was the latest effort by Houston author and Librotraficante founder Tony Díaz to make sure Texas doesn’t go down the same path as Arizona.

Recently, he was in North Texas to organize efforts against SB 1928 and HB 1128 – state Senate and House versions of the same legislation. The bills, sponsored by Republicans Giovanni Capriglione in the House and Dan Patrick in Senate – would require six hours of history for graduation and would only allow general survey courses to fulfill the requirement.

Lolita Guerrero & Tony Diaz, El Librotraficante, discuss TX Senator Garcia Standing up for Ethnic Studies with Librotraficantes across Texas on April 26. Read her statement against HB1938 & SB1128.

Ethnic studies courses, such as Mexican-American history, would be reduced to electives.
Once they get on a path of being elective-only, demand is often reduced for these courses. They could potentially wither away.

He’s convinced that these bills are “a template to eliminate Mexican-American studies.”

And in today’s marketplace, a college education should be expansive, not restrictive.

“In a global economy, why would you build a border wall around history?”

Díaz founded Librotraficante – “book smuggler” – last year after Arizona banned Mexican American studies in its public schools and boxed up Latino literary works to the dismay of many educators.

Díaz then led a caravan to “smuggle” banned books back into Arizona and created four underground libraries.

He’s hoping this history doesn’t repeat itself in Texas.

But, just to be sure, he reminds Republican officials, who now talk of attracting more Latinos to their political party, that sabotaging ethnic studies programs in higher education isn’t the way to win Latino hearts – or votes.

Ethnic studies, in general, grew out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. In a country with a rich multicultural history, U.S. history textbooks were ignoring the contributions of its ethnic and racial communities.

Eventually, ethnic studies came to encompass issues of gender, class, and sexuality.

A study in 2011 commissioned by the National Education Association confirmed the value of ethnic studies in helping graduation rates among Latino students in today’s colleges and universities. The study found that “students of color have demanded an education that is relevant, meaningful, and affirming of their identities,” and ethnic studies filled a vacuum.
Without wading into the ethnic studies debate on campuses, let me say that my own anecdotal evidence has found that ethnic students find such courses not only relevant, but also life-affirming. They discover their own heritage and identity in an environment they often found hostile.

In the end, this journey of self-discovery is an incalculable benefit of a college education.

Díaz took ethnic studies in college and found himself.

“I didn’t even know I was Chicano until I read Chicano literature,” he said.

To be fair, however, many scholars today include the study of race and ethnicity across almost all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. But it has not kept pace with the demographic changes that have accelerated in the past couple of decades.

Critics of ethnic studies fear that it creates fragmentation.

Advocates counter that going after ethnic studies is what creates divisiveness. Being inclusive is the goal of ethnic studies.

Indeed, ethnic studies prevent fragmentation precisely because everyone – no matter what skin color or language or culture they have – is brought into the great American story.

Photo courtesy of Tony Díaz


Dallas native Mercedes Olivera has been writing a weekly column on Hispanic issues for The Dallas Morning News since 1975. She is the only Latina to write a column continuously for a major metropolitan daily on issues ranging from politics to culture to education and health care. She is also a regular contributor/commentator for the weekly Sunday show, Inside Texas Politics, on WFAA-TV Channel 8. A Fulbright Fellow who taught communications classes in UDLA-Puebla in 1996, Mercedes served as president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Network of Hispanic Communicators from 1990 to 1991, and of Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) from 2003-2004.

How to Find Latino Reads on

The following is a guest post by author Carmen Amato.

Love books? Live on social media?

Combine the two and you get, the ultimate social media site for discovering and discussing books. Latino readers are just beginning to get busy on the site which lets you:

  • connect with others who like the books you like
  • vote and express your opinion on books
  • find new authors, book contests, events, and more.

Goodreads is a little less intuitive than most social media sites, however, and the home page can look daunting. So once you have created an account—or signed in using your Facebook profile—start with these three easy ways to discover Latino literature.


Join existing groups to begin connecting with other readers and see what they are reading. Start by clicking on the “Groups” tab on the Goodreads navigation menu at the top of the screen. This will bring up a list of “Featured Groups.” Most groups are “open,” meaning anyone can join simply by clicking on the membership button. Before joining a group, however, read the description, surf the group’s discussion forum and look at its virtual bookshelf to see if it is for you. Once you join you can add books to the group’s virtual bookshelf, participate in forum discussions and connect with other members.

There are a few groups with a strong emphasis on Latino literature:

  • Latino and Latin American Literature: an active group with over 470 members. The group’s virtual bookshelf contains both English and Spanish titles including The Neighborhood by Gonçalo M. Tavares and The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. Group discussion is in English.
  • Lectores Mexicanos: one of the largest Goodreads groups with over 1260 members. Books on the group’s bilingual shelf incudes The Eagle’s Throne by Carlos Fuentes and La Insurgenta by Carlos Pascual. Group discussion is in Spanish.
  • Latin American Literature and Magical Realism: despite the name, this group of over 250 members lists a wide variety of Latino literature on its shelf plus an interesting selection of related memoirs and biographies such as The Life and Times of Pancho Villa by Frederich Katz. Discussion is in English.

If you have a group of friends that wants to talk books together Goodreads will let you form a new group. Follow the “Create a Group” prompts from the “Groups” main page, add a few books via the search box, post at least one discussion thread in the group’s forum, and you’re in business.


Lists are another great starting point for navigating the Goodreads site. To help you build your own “bookshelf” for your profile, you’ll want to check out the many lists of books that others have made.

Find lists by clicking on “Listopia” under the “Explore” tab in the header menu. Listopia is the realm of lists created by Goodreads readers. There are lists of books that should be made into movies, books that never should have been a movie, best fairy tales, best young adult books—well, you name it, and there is a list for that category.

Clicking on a book from any list will show you all the reviews of that book posted by Goodreads members. It will also show other lists containing that book, allowing you to find even more great titles.

You can “vote” on a book on a list, sending it to your personal bookshelf, where it will be posted in the “To read” section. You can also add a book to a list but only by following the prompts from that specific list’s page. When you add or vote on a book, that list will appear in the “My Lists” page of your Goodreads profile.

Start discovering Latino literature with these lists:

  • Popular Fiction With Latino Leads
  • Hispanic Fiction
  • Books Set in Mexico
  • World Mysteries and Thrillers


Once you have joined a group and found some books to add to your bookshelf, browse other features of the site from the “Explore” tab.

Don’t miss the Giveaways section. There are always more than a dozen book contests going on, organized by category so you see those ending soon. Enter to win by clicking the button next to the contest book description. If you win, you’ll receive a paperback copy of the book in the mail, generally with a personal note from the author.

Also under the “Explore” tab you’ll find Quizzes, Events and Quotes. Like lists, there are quizzes about everything, from Harry Potter to “The Essential Classics Quiz.” If you don’t find one you like, make up one of your own and see how many of your new virtual friends can pass.

The Events section is a powerful resource for book lovers who want to get out and connect in the real world. At the top of the Events page enter a location. The program will search all events that Goodreads users have submitted and compile a list of events in that location. For example, just in one week there were 50 events in the greater Washington DC area, ranging from author lectures to signings to book launch parties. If you want to attend, just send the organizer a message.

Finally, the Quotes section is a great place to find a little inspiration. Type in a keyword or an author’s name to find all sorts of book-related quotes, like this funny favorite from the Cervantes classic Don Quixote:

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”

Are you already on Goodreads? If not, what are you waiting for? There is a word of great books out there, all on one great site.


Carmen Amato is the author of political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Both draw on her experiences living in Mexico and Central America where she discovered the best coffee on earth. She currently divides her time between the United States and Central America, using travel time to work on her next novel. Join her on Goodreads at and visit her website at She can also be found on Twitter @CarmenConnects.