We couldn’t have said it better than René A. Guzman of the Express- News. Here is the complete article:
Latino Collection and Resource Center blossoms with cultura
November 5, 2017
And you thought the Central Library shined with cultura on the outside.
Inside the enchilada red icon, the equally vibrant Latino Collection and Resource Center continues to grow, adding more books and now programming and other forms of media to spotlight the myriad struggles, successes and other life experiences of Latinos across the United States.
Those stories also include narratives from the collection’s home of San Antonio, where more than half the population is Hispanic and where such a collection, which launched a little more than 20 years ago amid community pressure for such a dedicated resource, has been seen as a long time coming.
“To have a collection that speaks to the many contributions of Latinos to American life and to our heritage and our culture and our history, I think it’s appropriate. And we should have a place like this for San Antonio,” said Ramiro Salazar, the San Antonio Public Library director. “I’m just happy that we finally made it happen.”
That resource is now bigger and brighter than ever.
What started in 1996 as a 1,200-book repository on the library’s sixth floor has blossomed to a more accessible and inviting 7,000-square-foot space on the ground floor, where marigold and orange accents highlight more than 13,000 items and several interactive spaces for even more cultural expression and creativity.
The collection’s many books — most of them nonfiction, but also fiction, young adult and children’s titles — line shelves that beam with giant photos of Sandra Cisneros, John Phillip Santos and other Latino literary talents with ties to San Antonio, each a sentinel to the collection’s many books that come in English, Spanish and that warm hybrid in between that is Spanglish.
Salazar is especially fond of the collection’s anthologies and compilations of Chicano writers, as well as the works of the late Ricardo Sanchez, an ex-convict who poured his passion for the Chicano movement into poetry.
Those join the likes of short stories by Dagoberto Gilb and women’s fiction from Latin America, biographies of actress Lupe Vélez and baseball star Roberto Clemente and many children’s picture books and other engaging reads from across the ages and for various age groups.
“There are many, many thousands of stories to be told as part of the collection,” Salazar said.
In September, the Latino Collection moved to its larger first-floor confines as part of a more than $450,000 expansion, taking advantage of the space that once belonged to the Central Library’s Teen Services department, which moved to the third floor in 2015. About half the funds for the expansion came from the city, while the other half came from the San Antonio Public Library Foundation.
The expansion came with an artists’ gallery area, which currently features the art of Rolando Briseño, Carmen Lomas Garza, César Martínez and other works from the collection of Harriett and Ricardo Romo.
The new Latino Collection space also offers a trio of study rooms, a lecture and programming space and a round writers workshop room that would look right at home in King Arthur’s court if he had commissioned the Central Library’s designer, the late Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, to craft it.
The expansion should have a good share of activity to come. Pete Cortez of La Familia Cortez Restaurants recently announced a $100,000 gift to the Latino Collection and Resource Center, stressing his family’s goal to increase and inspire literacy in the Spanish-speaking community through cultural programming, such as author talks featuring Latino leaders, culturally based children’s programs and more.
“Having a dedicated space like we do now was very, very important,” Cortez said. “You would think that this should be a given. But up until (September), this space didn’t exist.”
It’s a far cry from the collection’s more controversial beginnings.
In October 1995, the San Antonio Library Board voted to establish the Latino Collection at the Central Library. This came on the heels of criticism from the community, including Bryce Milligan, then literature program director at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and Rosie Castro, a former Chicana activist and mother of former Mayor and HUD Secretary Julián Castro and his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.
Four years after the collection’s launch, critics still knocked the library system for an approach it deemed too little, too late. In an October 2000 Express-News article, Toni Bissessar, former president of Reforma, a national association that promotes library and information services to Latinos and Spanish speakers, likened the collection’s late development to “institutionalized racism.”
Milligan recalled he was just happy the collection came to fruition at all, and said now he’s thrilled with its growth from being stuck on the sixth floor to fulfilling the need for a high visibility statement about Latino literature in San Antonio.
“It’s a pretty substantial collection,” said Milligan, who has run Wings Press since 1995 and is still active in the local literary community. “It’s really fulfilled all the expectations that I had in the beginning. And it’s not just the collection. Every branch in town has a significant component of Latino materials now. So it’s benefited every branch in town.”
And the center aims to benefit anyone from grade school students to retirees who want to learn more about the Mexican-American experience.
“It’s a very democratic, open, inviting space for any citizen,” said Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, an independent scholar of Latino arts and culture who donated more than 1,000 volumes to the collection. Ybarra-Frausto credits Milligan, Cisneros, Salazar and other supporters, especially the library foundation’s Latino Leadership for the Library Committee, or L3 Committee, for making what’s usually only available at a university library an educational resource for the public.
He said he hopes more San Antonians dig deep into their own personal archives to add to the collection.
“It’s an ongoing, open collection so that it will be added to,” Ybarra-Frausto said. Books in the collection can’t be checked out to be taken out of the library, but readers who want a copy to take home can ask if another copy of a particular book is available for checkout elsewhere in the library or at one of the branches.
And as much as Ybarra-Frausto wants to see more archival materials from San Antonio’s past, the new center’s coordinator Emma Hernández likewise wants to capture the present and future voices of the Latino experience.
“We’re in a very special time right now in San Antonio and especially a unique time in the United States where we really do want to highlight those great contributions of Latinos and give people that sense of pride in their heritage,” Hernández said.
Hernández noted the collection’s early focus on the Chicano story has grown to account for how the face of the United States is changing, and with it the face of Latinos in the United States. That means including stories of other Latin Americans, as they might not have the same space as Mexican-Americans in San Antonio do.
Hence the new center’s focus on more interactive programming.
One such presentation featured Isabel Sanchez, granddaughter of one of the last of the chili queens, who spiced up the downtown plazas of San Antonio at dusk with their cobbled together chili stands and savory creations more than a century ago. Naturally, the program included a tasty sampling.
And more recently, the center hosted a community conversation about Puerto Rico, to shed light on the history and political status of the U.S. territory as well as the devastation it suffered from Hurricane Maria.
Like many supporters of the Latino Collection and Resource Center, Hernández said she hopes the space continues to open more minds and more discussions about being Latino in San Antonio and beyond.
“We’re aiming to open the doors of cultural understanding and connect different communities that may not have had the opportunity to have conversations before,” Hernández said.
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