ABA to Collect Books at Winter Institute 14 for Refugees at the Southern U.S. Border

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The American Booksellers Association is asking booksellers, authors, and publishers who will be attending the upcoming Winter Institute 14 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to donate Spanish-language books for refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Esperanza RenaceThe “Libros Para el Viaje” (Books for the Journey) book drive will collect books of all genres for children and adults, which will go to families, individuals, parents, and children who have arrived at the southern border from Central America and Mexico, usually with nothing.

Booksellers, publishers, and authors who are interested in participating should drop off their new or gently used books at the Wi14 welcome desk at the Albuquerque Convention Center, where booksellers pick up their badges; the drop-off spot will be denoted by clear signage. In addition, ABA will contribute 50 Spanish-language books to the collection.

The idea for a book drive at Wi14 originated with Denise Chávez, owner of Casa Camino Real Book Store and Art Gallery in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which is located near the Tornillo, Texas, tent city facility for minor immigrants run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Since the summer of 2018, Chávez has been distributing books to refugees in her hometown of Las Cruces by way of Peace Lutheran Church, under the direction of the Border Servant Corps (BSC), a refugee hospitality center that partners with others in the region.

“Our commitment is to deliver books to our children, young people, and adults, wherever they are housed. My first-hand experience has convinced me deeply that books matter more than ever,” said Chávez. “We’ll provide book suggestions to those who are interested. All genres are welcome. We’re looking for books that are classics, modern, and contemporary, and that offer an understanding of our world; books that empower, educate, inform, and elevate.”

Books collected in the drive will be distributed to refugees at facilities that connect them with their sponsors, either family or friends. Many refugees have arrived at these smaller facilities from larger hospitality centers like Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, one of four shelters that has provided hospitality to reunited families detained and separated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the last year. As the project continues, Chávez will be working with local volunteers at these smaller hospitality centers to sort through the collections and distribute the books.

This month, Border Servant Corps Executive Director Kari Lenander wrote a letter to ABA in support of Chávez’s work and expressed gratitude that ABA would be joining in the donation.

“Denise Chávez has been an integral part of the hospitality efforts. Each week we receive families, she has brought books and other gifts to offer them for their continued journey. The face of each recipient brightens as they receive these most precious gifts,” wrote Lenander. “Denise’s lively, genuine, and compassionate presence has made such a difference in the lives of the families we welcome. In addition, she has connected with other authors — all over the world — who have also supported her efforts to bring books to our families.”

To prepare booksellers for the drive, Veronica Liu (Word Up Community Bookshop in Washington Heights, New York) and BrocheAroe Fabian (River Dog Book Co. bookmobile in Wisconsin), members of ABA’s Diversity Task Force, of which they and Chávez are founding members, have come up with lists of suggestions for Spanish-language books, which are now posted on BookWeb. Chávez said that in addition to purely Spanish-language books, bilingual Spanish/English books are also good as they offer those learning English a chance to work on their skills. She also offered a list of specific guidelines for those Wi14 attendees who would like to donate. Said Chávez:

  • English dictionaries/grammar books and other books that can help refugees learn English are good.
  • There are many small children, babies as young as three weeks old, so board books are appreciated.
  • Remainders or marked up library books are not as desirable as new or gently used books, though used books are fine if they are clean and tight. I have taken many used books from Latin America and they are appreciated.
  • Classics are always popular, whether they are Latin American classics or world classics. H.G. Wells in Spanish? Yes! Gabriel García Márquez, Paulo Coelho, you name it.
  • Contemporary fiction is appreciated, especially by young people, including Harry Potter and Stephen King. Donate books that introduce readers to contemporary Chicano/a and Latino/a literature and authors like Rudolfo Anaya, and American writers like Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison.
  • Don’t think that the reading level is low. I recall one young mother hugging three Isabel Allende novels. She took them all.
  • The books should be empowering, in general just good books. I have held back from taking books that reflect a darkness, i.e., books about the femicides in Juárez or serial killers.
  • Self-help books are good as well as books on health and well-being. I don’t take Bibles as the churches generally provide these, but then again, Bibles are appreciated.

Booksellers who would like more suggestions for Spanish language books are invited to contact Chávez via e-mail.