More than 300 Rio Grande Valley librarians sat and listened attentively to Latina writer Sandra Cisneros, best known for her novel "The House on Mango Street," as she read an excerpt from one of her literary works in progress during The University of Texas-Pan American's Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA) Friday, March 27.
Cisneros highlighted Librarians Day, a day set aside for school and public librarians from the area during the weeklong FESTIBA, which concludes Saturday, March 28 with Community Day.
Cisneros, who is on a 17-city tour promoting the 25th anniversary of "The House on Mango Street," which was first published in 1984, made a three-day stop at the Edinburg campus to participate in FESTIBA. While at UTPA Cisneros met with GEAR UP students and librarians, and on Saturday at 4 p.m. she will discuss her novel and current literary pieces with the public at the Student Union Theater at Community Day.
While meeting with the librarians, Cisneros talked about growing up in Chicago in a Hispanic family and being the daughter of a father who did not want her to go far from home. She discussed how while growing up reading books was and continues to be an important part of her life.
"My mother always made sure that we had a library card in our hands before we knew how to hold a pencil," she said. "I was the one person who always felt most at home at the library because it was the one room that was quiet. I preferred the company of a book than I did of people. I loved nothing better than to be left alone with a book."
She briefly talked about the road she took to follow her dream, which required her to leave home and her family.
"I did not have a role model for how to become a writer so I saw movies, read books, and since I had never been anywhere without my family I wanted to learn how to travel alone. So I bought a one-way ticket from New York City to Athens and no return ticket because I did not know when I was coming back. I just traveled and lived in many different places and finished 'The House on Mango Street' in Greece," Cisneros said.
She admitted too that as soon as she ran out of funds she went back home to Chicago.
As far as her advice to budding writers, Cisneros gave the audience of librarians and a few middle and high school teachers 10 pieces of advice including to "read for pleasure," participate in workshops and be open to criticism, and more importantly, become a "human human being."
"To be a great writer you have to work on being a 'human human being' and that you have to work on daily. One of the things I tell writers to do is volunteer because by volunteering we are asking to be filled with the light."
For Nicole Cruz, a librarian at B.L. Gray Junior High in Sharyland, the opportunity to hear from the famed author was extraordinary as she was able to share it with five eighth grade English language arts teachers she brought with her to the event, who have been using Cisneros' book as required reading in their classrooms for the past 12 years.
"This was a way for me to share the enthusiasm for what they have in their heart all year long. They love to start out with her book and for them they have been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks now. This was exciting for us and something we can take back to students and share with them," Cruz said.
During the day, the librarians heard from a panel of leaders in education and the arts during the Congressional Roundtable titled "Stimulating Engagement in Literacy through Cultural Expressions in the Arts and Media" at UTPA's third annual FESTIBA.
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15), who co-sponsored the day with UTPA, The South Texas Literacy Coalition, Region One Education Service Center and Springboards to Education, welcomed the librarians to FESTIBA and shared his thoughts about the importance of early education, particularly through literacy.
"We have to find a way to engage children and families in reading from an early age and help them sustain a love of books throughout their lifetime. Reading must become a part of family life - a way to share our culture and our heritage," Hinojosa said. "This is why it is so important that our children see themselves in literature, media and in the arts. This is what FESTIBA is all about."
Roundtable panelists included Hinojosa; Carol Rasco, president and chief executive officer of Reading is Fundamental, Inc.; Mike McCoy, program officer for the Meadows Foundation; Clay Smith, literary director of the Texas Book Festival; Dr. Steven Schneider, English professor at UTPA and director of New Programs and Special Projects in the UTPA College of Arts and Humanities; Peggy Rudd, director and librarian of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission; Juan Carlos Frey, film director; David Carren, associate professor of communication at UTPA and TV/film director; and Mia Buentello, program administrator at the Texas Commission on the Arts.
Rasco said many parents lack the self confidence to introduce reading to their children, but through the South Texas Literacy Coalition they were working to change that.
Over the next three years, Rasco said the coalition will be training parents across the Valley to use their voice to share stories and songs with their children, and ultimately build family involvement in literacy-related activities.
FESTIBA Community Day continues on Saturday, March 28 with a public presentation by Cisneros. Visitors will also be able to visit the UTPA planetarium, the CAS gallery display of Becky and Che Guerra's art collection and a number of pavilions featuring theatre demonstrations, storytelling and storybook characters, and work by UTPA artists. On the UTPA Quad stage, the community will be entertained and enthralled with concerts by the world famous Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, dance artist Angeles Luna, rock group Elefante and local mariachi competition winners. All activities are free and open to the public.
"FESTIBA is a new event in South Texas and we aspire to become what HESTEC is," Schneider said. "Literacy is about reading, writing and creative problem solving. The arts and humanities have a tremendous role to play in our culture equal to that of the sciences and both are so vital. We invite the community to come out and experience the arts and the talent we have here at UTPA."
For a complete list of FESTIBA events, go to http://coah.utpa.edu/festiba/ or call 956/381-2175.