Martín Espada
Poet, Essayist, Editor & Translator


Another Bomb Threat in Tucson


In January of this year, I read an article by Matt Rothschild on the website of The Progressive magazine called, "Banned in Tucson,” where I saw, for the first time, the reading list of the forbidden Mexican-American Studies Department.


One of my own books, Zapata's Disciple: Essays, turned out to be on the list. Indeed, this book has been banned before—by the Texas state penal system, on the grounds that it might incite the inmates to riot.  Being banned in Tucson, however, is a far greater honor.  On the list of banned authors I am keeping company with the likes of César Chávez, James Baldwin, Henry David Thoreau and Howard Zinn, four great icons of resistance in this country.  I am keeping company with ancestors.  I am keeping company with some of the finest Latino and Latina writers alive today.  May our words always trigger the sweating and babbling of bigots.


There is an essay in Zapata's Disciple called "The New Bathroom Policy in English High School.”  This is how the essay ends:


On October 12th, 1996--Columbus Day--I gave a reading at a bookstore in Tucson, Arizona. The reading was co-sponsored by Derechos Humanos, a group that monitors human rights abuses on the Arizona-México border, and was coordinated with the Latino March on Washington that same day… At 7 PM, the precise time when the reading was to begin, we received a bomb threat. The police arrived with bomb-sniffing dogs, and sealed off the building. I did the reading in the parking lot, under a streetlamp.  This is one of the poems I read that night, based on an actual exchange in a Boston courtroom:


Mariano Explains Yanqui Colonialism to Judge Collings


Judge: Does the prisoner understand his rights?

Interpreter: ¿Entiende usted sus derechos?

Prisoner: ¡Pa'l carajo!

Interpreter: Yes.


I’d like to think that this tale of Tucson had something to do with the book being banned in Tucson, but this would give the censors too much credit. They need not read the books they ban. Theirs is the logic of fear, the reasoning of racism. In fact, this book is banned because it appears on the reading list of the banned Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson.  All I had to do to give offense was to appear on a list. Consider the almost ritualistic significance of lists to Joseph McCarthy and the repressive apparatus of McCarthyism.  In the end, this is just another bomb threat. All they have done is force us to evacuate the building. We will gather ourselves in the dark, and keep reading to each other in whatever light we can find.

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