Why libraries buy books in Spanish

by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 to October 15, which may seem unusual until you realize that the independence days of seven Latin American countries occur in mid September. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua celebrate their independence on September 15. Mexican Independence Day is September 16. Chile marks its freedom two days later.

According to the U.S. Census Department, Hispanics comprised 46.9 million of the U.S. population in 2008 and will likely be 132.8 million strong in 2050. Sixteen states have at least a half million Hispanic residents.

Reforma informs

Thanks to San Francisco librarian Ida Zee, I now am aware of Reforma (The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), which in turn made me aware of an important figure in American music history, the late Lalo Guerrero.

Also, even though it focuses on Hispanics, Reforma’s site will lead you to library associations representing cultures ranging from Chinese Americans to Native Americans.

Even if you aren’t a librarian, Reforma can provide you with perspective about issues such as why it is important for libraries to purchase materials in Spanish. One posting at Reforma, an article by Albert Milo titled “Why Buy Spanish Books?,” was written in response to a library patron who objected to the purchase of Spanish books with taxpayer’s money.

Libraries serve the entire community

Milo is the retired director of the Fullerton Public Library in California. In his article, he cites ten reasons why it is practical and fair to purchase books in another language. It is the kind of information that is good to have when wading into a conversation about the English-only movement or when jousting with someone who wants to send all Spanish speakers back to…well, back to wherever they came from, even if that is California or Texas.

Here are some important points from the article:
Libraries need to consider whether they are serving their entire community. Fullerton’s policy at the time of Milo’s directorship, was to provide materials in another language when five percent or more of the population spoke that language. At that time, the Hispanic population of Fullerton was 21%.
Community residents who speak another language pay taxes just like everyone else.
“Not all important literary works ever written have been written only in English.”
Everyone has a right to information, especially about crucial matters such as health.

Father of chicano music

The article is on the Reforma Gold page, which is bursting with information about many different Hispanic topics including, tucked at the bottom of the page (or should I say, the toe of the stocking) the “Tex- Mex Version of the Night Before Christmas” by  Lalo Guerrero. It is a great way to test your Spanglish.

Guerrero was referred to as the “father of chicano music.” The terms chicano (male) or chicana (female) refer to people of Mexican-American heritage.

Multi-talented, Guerrero was a 1940s bandleader who also wrote a wide variety of songs from the “Muy Sabroso Blues” (hear it in the video below) to parodies of popular songs such as Willy Nelson’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Guerrero’s version is “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Busboys.”

You can read about Guerrero in his 2002 memoir Lalo: My Life and Music, which you can find, where else, at the library.

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One thought on “Why libraries buy books in Spanish

  1. Yes, exactly. People pay taxes whether their first language is English, Spanish or Mandarin. Libraries are here to serve everyone, not just the privileged. In fact, you could argue that libraries best serve the marginalized and the poor, since the services are “free” to all.

    In addition, I would much rather that people read books, especially informational and health books, in their native languages in order to receive and comprehend the full information presented. Some topics are hard enough to understand in English,

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