Tony Diaz: The Father of the Librotraficante Movement

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 9/22/2017, 7:08 a.m.
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Houston Style Magazine is recognizing some of Houston’s most prominent Hispanics that are making ...

Tucson public schools in Arizona didn’t know what they had unleashed when they dismantled the ethnic studies programs from high schools taking away numerous books by notable Latino writers. Books were removed as a resulted of legislation passed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Arizona House Bill 2281 prohibited courses that promoted the overthrow of the U.S. government, promoted resentment toward a race or a class of people, were designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or advocated ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals. Schools caught violating the law that went into effect in May 2010 could lose state funding. Not under the watch of NP, they wouldn’t stand for it. Diaz along with NP members began an underground library of sorts smuggling the banned books back to Arizona. The group would establish four such libraries with over a 1,000 books. This would be the start of the Librotraficante Movement.

The movement would take roots in Texas when similar legislation in the form of Texas House Bill 1938 and Senate Bill 1128 was brought to the table to eliminate ethnic and women studies courses from Texas colleges. His group again used the power of language to fight the system.

Now Diaz has gone back to his roots as a writer with his book The Mexican American Studies Toolkit to lead students to discover what it means to be Mexican American. It is his hope that once kids learn of the history of Mexican Americans they then will be intrigued to learn about other cultures. “This is not a course for Mexican Americans but for all Texans. I hope it starts a resurgence in all the different histories that have led up to us. So to me, that is the main message of the toolkit that we have this rich shared history that can be engaging and powerful to uncover but we can do it together,” said Diaz.

It is an idea and concept that he calls Quantum Demographics. “If I am fulfilled with my history and culture I have the wisdom and the actual framework to find bridges to other cultures that may not seem to have elements in common but do. And I can image where years down the line through incredible courses we are talking about that in class. We can investigate where Asian and Mexican Americans combine, Chinese and Mexican Americans combine, and African and Mexican Americans have worked together. But right now we are at the starting point because it is still very new and controversial.”

Controversy has never stopped him before and it won’t stop him now. He is in it for the long haul. The movement has already seen success, as the Arizona legislation was deemed to show discriminatory intent by a federal judge and a portion of the bill was struck down. In Texas, the fight continues as Diaz marches on to change what students learn with his book, The Mexican American Toolkit. It is one of two ethnic-based books being looked at for adoption by the Texas Board of Education.