A musical trio and dancing duo performing the tango greeted guests to The University of Texas-Pan American's press conference Friday, Feb. 22 announcing its lineup and partners for its second annual Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA).
FESTIBA 2008, which runs March 24-29, celebrates the arts and humanities at UTPA and promotes literacy and broadens cultural awareness through books, theatre, music, arts, dance and much more. The festival, which originally started as a three-day event, has expanded to a week offering a variety of events including concerts, workshops, a Congressional Roundtable on Literacy, a Distinguished Speaker Series featuring author Denise Chavez, and a Community Day on March 29.
"FESTIBA 2008 will be an exciting event and a unique cultural opportunity for our University and South Texas," Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities and FESTIBA coordinator, said.
The goal of FESTIBA, titled "Reading Other Worlds: Storytelling Through the Arts," is not only to entertain, but to educate and encourage reading and writing among South Texas youth said UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas to a crowd of elementary students from three Edinburg CISD schools who attended the event.
"Get into the habit of reading, and reading a lot, not just reading a little," Cárdenas told the students. "It is going to prepare you for college because when you come to college you will read a lot."
Cárdenas said she was grateful to the new and continued partnerships FESTIBA has established with numerous organizations including the Texas Book Festival, Reading is Fundamental (RIF), Region One Education Service Center, The Monitor, and Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15).
Hinojosa, who attended the press conference, announced the first ever Congressional Roundtable on Literacy to be held during FESTIBA on March 28, a day scheduled for South Texas librarians. Hinojosa said numerous congressional leaders will join him to discuss and find solutions for the illiteracy rates in the nation.
"One of the goals of the Congressional Roundtable is to draw more attention to this alarming rate of illiteracy that we have in America. Literacy statistics in Texas alone are a cause for serious concern. More than three million Texans are considered to be functionally illiterate, while one in four Texans lack reading and writing skills, and our state of Texas has the unimaginable distinction of ranking 47th lowest among the 50 states in reading and writing literacy. We have got to do something and that is why your congressmen have made it one of the highest priorities in congress," Hinojosa said.
In addition, Cárdenas and Hinojosa announced the RIF partnership that will distribute more than 30,000 books to local schools to encourage reading among students in grades pre-k-sixth. RIF is one of the nation's oldest and largest nonprofit children's literacy organizations.
"We expect it to be a long-term partnership that is not only about FESTIBA, but is really more about empowering our families with reading as a fundamental part of their lives," Cárdenas said.
According to Stephen Leach, director of government relations and community outreach for RIF, the organization assists 4.6 million children throughout the country and 100,000 are served in South Texas. Leach said the main goal of RIF is to provide books and other literacy resources to parents, teachers, and other professionals who work in the literacy environment.
"We are involved in this South Texas initiative to help with erasing the student dropout rate because we understand that it is at an alarming rate right now ... We are hoping to do a lot of work here in South Texas to help raise that graduation rate and we are excited about the opportunity. Through this partnership we will be successful," Leach said.
Also donating books to local schools as well as author visits will be one of the nation's premier literary festivals in the country, the Texas Book Festival. This is the second year the Texas Book Festival has partnered with FESTIBA to bring the joy of reading to classrooms. Through the Texas Book Festival's Reading Rock Stars Program, students will have a chance to hear from some of the country's leading children's authors. During their visits, the authors will make presentations and deliver 4,000 autographed books to schools announced Clay Smith, literary director for the Texas Book Festival.
Among the authors scheduled to appear are Carmen Tafolla, Xavier Garza, Rene Saldaña, Lee Merrill Byrd, Rene Lainez, Amada Irma Perez, Diane Gonzales Bertrand and Illustrator Antonio Castro.
"Reading Rock Stars is wonderful because it goes one step further. The program is for lower-income elementary schools whose students may not read books on their own. We choose authors for the Reading Rock Stars program who are brilliant presenters and can bring the books to life. We are looking forward to FESTIBA," Smith said.
Other FESTIBA 2008 partners include Region One and UTPA GEAR UP, Scholastic Books, The Monitor's Newspapers In Education, H-E-B, National Endowment of the Arts, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, IBC Bank, and the International Women's Board.
For a complete schedule of FESTIBA events visit http://coah.utpa.edu/ or call 956/381-2175.