The 58 percent literacy rate in South Texas is an alarming statistic.
"That means 42 percent of our population are at some level of illiteracy. People don't believe that," said Dr. Ida Acuña-Garza, executive director of the South Texas Literacy Coalition.
"Research says that if a child is not reading at a third grade level by the time they get to the third grade they are four times more likely not to graduate on time. A minority, who is faced with poverty and language barriers, is 13 times more likely not to graduate on time," Acuña-Garza said.
On March 8, Acuña-Garza joined administrators and faculty of The University of Texas-Pan American, along with its partners from government, pre K-12 education, business and the community at a press conference to announce the schedule for the 2012 Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA) - an annual University celebration of the arts and humanities that focuses on increasing the interest in reading and improving student success in secondary and postsecondary education.
This year's festival, which has a theme of "Literacy and Justice for All," will be held March 24-April 1.
Referring to the festival's theme this year, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen told guests gathered at the Dustin Sekula Library in Edinburg that reading and writing are the foundations for justice and ,without those skills, students will never make it to Pan American.
"One of the most important tasks this University does is to reach out into the community and be engaged. If we don't reach out into the community, we will never succeed," he said. "It is because of authors, because of teachers, because of librarians, because of places like this (library) that we can transform the Valley. FESTIBA, to me, is one of the most important things we do at the University."
Highlights of the week include a Congressional Roundtable on Hispanic Literacy hosted by Hinojosa and a luncheon for librarians and educators featuring presentations by actor Tony Plana, who played the father in the recent "Ugly Betty" TV series and is co-founder and artistic director of the East LA Classic Theatre, and noted children's author Edward Irving Wortis, better known as Avi, who is a winner of the Newbery Medal and two Newbery Honors. The Texas Book Festival Rock Stars will again visit a number of Rio Grande Valley schools to read from their work and distribute a free, autographed book to each student. Reading is Fundamental will also collaborate with other FESTIBA sponsors to distribute free books to Valley children. Hundreds of thousands of books have been distributed in the past six years.
"Book distributions are powerful events," Acuña-Garza said. "The Congressmen's dream is that every child that we can reach out to be given a brand new book free to begin or expand their home library. Without print materials in the home it is very difficult for children to develop the academic skills necessary for them to be successful."
This year South Texas College and the Bank of America joined the long list of FESTIBA partners. As part of its support, Bank of America will bring nationally renowned author and professor at Santa Clara University Dr. Francisco Jimenez to read and distribute his book "La Mariposa," at the Melissa D. Betts Elementary School in Edinburg.
UT Pan American faculty and students from the College of Arts and Humanities, as well as other disciplines across the campus, will present the Literacy and Justice for All Academic Conference featuring lectures, workshops and panel discussions focused on the role of education, reading, oral histories and the printed word have toward achieving social justice in the Valley and nationally.
During the week, festival visitors can also enjoy exhibitions, musical and dance performances, plays, poetry readings movie screenings and other activities that celebrate culture and the arts. On Thursday and Friday, March 29 and 30, 1,000 GEAR UP students from Region I and Texas A&M International University will come to the UTPA campus to hear inspiring presentations from Plana; poet and author Lorne Dee Cervantes; author Dr. Francisco Jimenez; and members of UTPA's arts and humanities faculty.
On March 30, the public is invited to enjoy the FESTIBA Community Festival at "Jardin del Arte" held from 5-10 p.m. at the Edinburg City Hall. The event will include free musical performances, a children's activity tent, book displays and distributions, storytellers, and a UTPA production of the children's play "James and the Giant Peach." Food and drinks will be available from vendors. FESTIBA ends with a mariachi competition and an evening concert by the world-famous Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez on March 31 and the Southern Plains Chapter of Ethnomusicologists Annual Meeting and Conference March 31-April 1.
See the daily FESTIBA schedule for a complete day by day listing of FESTIBA activities.