According to 2009 U.S. Department of Education Statistics, 50 percent of the adults in Hidalgo County will not be able to read this story - they are illiterate, unable to read material arranged in sentences and paragraphs.
Administrators from The University of Texas-Pan American, along with its partners in government, pre K-12 education, business, and the community, came together Feb. 24 to announce this year's schedule for FESTIBA (Festival of International Books and Arts), an annual University celebration of arts and humanities that seeks to improve the Valley's literacy rate by increasing the interest in reading and improving student success in secondary and postsecondary education.
"For children to succeed, to succeed in life, to succeed in anything they need to read and the younger they are when they begin reading, the more successful they are going to be later on in their lives. Reading at an early age will make certain that they will get through high school, graduate and go on to college," he said. "We need a reading public in the Valley."
Now in its sixth year, FESTIBA is a weeklong event focused on engaging the community through books, poetry, drama, lectures, artistic exhibits, presentations in dance, theatre, film, musical concerts, a mariachi competition and many more activities to foster cultural awareness and intellectual inquiry. Offering a theme this year of "Reading Along the Rio Grande," FESTIBA 2011 will be held March 27-April 2.
Highlights of the week include a day for librarians featuring children's author Matthew Gollub and a Congressional Roundtable on Hispanic Literacy hosted by U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15), founder of the South Texas Literacy Coalition (STLC) and recently named co-chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Adult Literacy Caucus. Hinojosa, STLC, the Texas Book Festival and Region One Education Center will again partner with Reading is Fundamental to attempt to surpass the 300,000 free books distributed during FESTIBA in 2009 and again in 2010 to Rio Grande Valley school children. This year's book is the bilingual "¡Gracias! Thanks!" by Pat Mora. The Texas Book Festival Reading Rock Stars' authors will also present their work and books in selected Valley schools.
"For some this is the first book they ever had in their life," said Nelsen, describing the reaction of kids receiving their RIF-selected book. "They get to keep that book when they leave. Their eyes light up and they are so excited."
New this year at FESTIBA 2011 will be a five-day "Border Heroes" Academic Conference with local and national presenters highlighting men and women who have advanced cultural understanding and tolerance here and nationwide. Festival goers can also enjoy a Korean Film Festival, a Ten-Minute Play Festival, a "Collage" Concert featuring student and faculty musicians and dancers and other cultural activities during the week. On Thursday, March 31 and Friday, April 1, 1,000 UTPA and Region One GEAR UP students will have the opportunity to hear from writer, producer and director John Valadez, Jennifer Cervantes, author of "Tortilla Sun," and Freedom Writers Maria Reyes and Tony Becerra.
The community festival day will end with a musical concert by mariachi competition winners, UTPA's award-winning Mariachi Atzlan and Walt Disney World's acclaimed Mariachi Cobre. A complete schedule of the week's activities is available at the FESTIBA Website.
Hinojosa said in his travels abroad to countries such as China and Korea where they are producing, unlike the U.S., increasing numbers of college graduates, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), he has learned that early childhood reading and writing by children in those countries is the reason for their climbs in the number of college graduates and global competitiveness.
"We need to raise the level of awareness about what is happening in terms of the alarming rate of illiteracy," Hinojosa said. "Texas is number 44 out of 50 states in the number of people who cannot read or write."
Dr. Ida Acuña, STLC executive director and a FESTIBA partner, also shared some dire statistics regarding illiteracy and its negative impact on staying in school, health outcomes and other economic and social issues.
"Adult low literacy is connected to every social and economic issue in the United States including health literacy, financial literacy and employability," Acuña said. "But the good news is that as the education level of adults improves so does the children's success in school."
She said FESTIBA brings to light many strategies and activities parents can use to encourage and enhance reading in both English and Spanish by family members.
"People need to realize how much literacy is interwoven in everything we do," Acuña said.
FESTIBA is making a difference said the event's head University organizer Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of UTPA's College of Arts and Humanities.
"I can't imagine that it hasn't. We have distributed over one million books throughout the Valley and the message that families should work together to read to their children. We have to catch them at a very young age in order for them to be successful later in life. It's connected to college readiness and our future students at the University as well," she said.
For more information, go to the FESTIBA website or call (956)665-2175 or(956)665-3361.