Arizona Bookseller Addresses State's Immigration Law [4]

Changing Hands Bookstore [6]co-owner Gayle Shanks wasn't sure how her Tempe, Arizona, customers would respond to the letter she sent them in May. Arizona governor Jan Brewer had just signed SB 1070, the state's controversial immigration law, and Shanks wanted to share her concerns. “In some ways it’s an uncomfortable time for me to be an Arizona resident. With the passage of this bill, I regret that we are no longer the country that opens its arms to the poor, the hungry, those yearning to breathe free,” she wrote [7].

“You just never know, when you go out on the edge, what the response is going to be from your customers,” Shanks said. On this topic, though, “they all responded in such a positive way,” she said.

Changing Hands has been working with authors and community leaders to offer customers plenty of information on the immigration debate. “Not only is there interest in the subject, but people are buying books and reading them,” said Shanks. Immigration-related books have been selling steadily, and the turnout at recent author events has been strong.

Not all the store's customers support Shanks' opposition to SB 1070. “Two or three quite vociferous people in the audience” raised objections at an early author event, where two opponents of the bill led a discussion of the topic, she noted. “We were seeing it as a community conversation instead of a debate,” Shanks said, who added that the store hadn't anticipated that there would be so much interest, or such passionate opinions. Booksellers had planned for 25 attendees at the event; nearly 200 showed up, many with questions about how the law would affect them and their neighbors.

With a federal injunction blocking many of the law's provisions, Arizona's immigration issues are far from settled, and Changing Hands hopes to continue offering customers as much information as possible. “We're talking to our state legislators and trying to pull together some author forums” for the fall, Shanks said. In a recent interview with MediaBistro's BlogTalkRadio [8], she said the store was “an intellectual place where people can have those conversations.”

At the same time, Shanks doesn't plan to back down from her position on the law, even though much of the Tempe business community has avoided the debate. “I think that's one difference with booksellers,” she said. “We are usually the ones who are willing to stand up and talk about the issues.”

Shanks is not worried that taking a position will drive away customers, but she is concerned about the possibility that SB 1070 opponents – including authors – will avoid Arizona. “We're worried about the boycott,” she said, but “we're just hoping that people see the bigger picture.”

And in the meantime, Shanks said, “everyone is holding their breath.”