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EDINBURG - Literacy advocates hope to stack another 300,000 free books on top of the more than 1 million already distributed in South Texas during six years of the Festival of International Books and Arts.
The annual celebration of arts and culture kicks off Sunday. Created in 2006 by the University of Texas-Pan American, the weeklong event includes readings, presentations, competitions and performances all dedicated to raising literacy rates in the Rio Grande Valley.
"Can you imagine how many books we've shared and lives we've changed?" said Dahlia Guerra, UTPA's chief organizer for FESTIBA 2011 and dean of the college of arts and humanities.
"It's truly alarming: something like 50 percent of adults in South Texas are illiterate," Guerra said, citing 2009 U.S. Department of Education statistics. "FESTIBA'S really a college readiness initiative to tackle that number early. If you start with reading at a young age, the rest should follow."
Throughout the week, UTPA will welcome a diverse mix of authors and researchers who will visit local schools and present the latest research on literacy education.
In partnership with literacy groups, U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, will try to surpass the past two years' goal of passing out 300,000 books to Valley school children. Target will join the effort during an event Thursday at Brown Middle School, 2700 S. Ware Road, McAllen.
Most events and gallery exhibits are free and open to the public. A large community festival - complete with plays and mariachis - will cap the celebration April 2.
"Perhaps ignorance is the biggest hurdle in raising literacy rates in our Valley," Guerra said. "Some of these children just don't have what we assume every child in America enjoys.
"Some have never even owned a book," she added. "The hurdles are enormous, and maybe we're just making a dent, but it's a mission we feel passionate about and will continue vigorously."