National Endowment for the Arts Big Read event to be held — part 2
By Christina Stock
In the first part of Let’s read, Roswell, Jan. 19., details about the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read, grants were covered, as well as the organizations and persons working toward the event.
In this section, committee members Rollah Aston, Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell (ENMU-R) Learning Resource Center director and Nancy Fleming, Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art (AMoCA), will share information about the planned events, activities and details about the chosen book — “Into the Beautiful North,” by Luis Alberto Urrea — and how the public can participate.
“Technically everyone can participate,” Fleming said. “The book is geared to late high school to adult, but we are going to have recommended books for middle school and elementary, so that they are not left out. We’re going to have our kick-off event, and that’s going to have music and food, entertainment and book giveaways possible in September. That’s when most of the people will be reading the book; that’s when we’ll have book clubs discussing it; that’s when we are going to have speakers coming to talk about the book or other things that surround the book, like storytelling or another author who has a similar story.
“There’s going to be an art contest and writing contests,” Fleming said. “The art contest that the Anderson Museum is sponsoring is the Loteria, the Mexican bingo game. Artists are going to make cards, similar to the Susan Wink piece. The card, it can be something that is already made like a tree, El árbol in Spanish. Or they can make an imaginary card and we’ll have an exhibition — choose 52, make a deck, and have a bingo day. Very simple.
“We’ll start earlier than September (card project) because we’ll need to get people making their art over the summer. My other favorite thing that we’re doing is called break room books. We’re going to have little cardboard displays that list all of the events and activities, plus having copies of the books in English and Spanish and put them in break rooms. So when people take their break they can read the book. If a business has 10 employees, all they need to do is contact us and we’ll get them some books.”
Aston said that he has been in contact with an author in Las Cruces who is hoping to join the event with a book talk. “We have to have a minimum of five book talks among our activities and of course the different venues, including the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico, here at the Anderson, ENMU-R, Roswell Museum and Art Center, the Roswell Literacy Council and the Hispano Chamber, all of those can be venues if needed for book talks,” he said.
“We currently have two Sunday Fundays set up at the Historical Society with two authors coming, including one who was born in Roswell and now lives in Riverside. One way or the other, we’re committed to doing this (even if the grant money is denied.) Previously, there were some Roswell Reads done, separate from the NEA. If things don’t work out as we hope with the NEA, there is no reason why we can’t continue on like they did in the past and still have a Roswell Read.
“We’re getting Artesia peripherally involved,” Aston said. “I made some attempts to talk with the librarian down there. One of my country bands in October will be at the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center, and what we’re doing is performing border songs. Like Marty Robbins has two El Paso songs that are terrific. There is the old group, Texas Tornados; Freddy Fender and then Tanya Tucker — she put out her first album in a dozen years and it has a gorgeous border song, called “The Wheels of Laredo.” It takes place between Nuevo Laredo and Laredo — United States and Mexico, but features a festival called Jamboozie, which I’ve never heard of. We’re thinking of having maybe two concerts featuring those.”
“It’s bridging two cultures,” Fleming said. “Things we might already know, but looking at them in a different way through the eyes of the character in the book. Just the idea of discussing the same story is very cool.”
The committee had 32 books to choose from. It came down to five finalists, but Urrea’s book was an easy choice.
“The author was born in Tijuana to an American mother with English ancestry and a Mexican father with basque/Spanish ancestry, and had experiences as a young man on both sides of the border, and has a strong love in his heart for both countries,” Aston said.
Aston especially appreciates the characters in the book and how the author treats them, which includes the immigrants mentioned and the U.S. Border Patrol. “They are all treated in a good light,” he said.
Not to give too much away, the book has a connection to the movie, “The Magnificent Seven,” and the original Japanese version, “The Seven Samurai.” It starts out in a fictional village called Tres Camarones — the three shrimp. “It’s loosely based on Sinaloa, Mexico,” Aston said. “Most young men had left a couple of years ago to go north (into the U.S.) to find work. The main character of the women, Nayeli, is 19 years old and is a waitress in this little bar/restaurant with a young male friend, Tacho. Nayeli has an aunt, Irma, who was a Mexican bowling champion. In real life, Mr. Urrea had an aunt who was also — I believe an American — bowling champion, so a lot of what he writes is autobiographical. There is an old feeder in the little village with a tin roof, and when he was a boy, he remembers one like that.”
Aston said that the female lead characters and the male friend watch a dubbed version of “The Magnificent Seven,” which gives Nayeli an idea.
“Nayeli and her three friends will head north and see if they can, not only bring back some of the men who had left for work, but also some men who would help against the approaching narcos (drug traffickers) and bandidos (bandits), so that’s one of the big premises of the book,” Aston said.
One of the locations of the book is a garbage dump in Tijuana, Mexico. “I wasn’t aware of this, but there is a place like this, the Tijuana garbage dump,” Aston said. “Mr. Urrea, when he was younger, spent some time working and helping some of the residents down there. He was really into the social work.”
According to Aston there are several subplots in the book, including a long-lost love of the aunt, and Nayeli’s character wanting to head to Illinois. “Kankakee, Illinois, has a thriving — in real life — Hispanic community and Mr. Urrea is currently a professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago,” he said. “He had a good experience with a kind librarian in Kankakee. In the book, Nayeli is met by a kind librarian, the end of the book is a surprise related to it.
“In a nutshell, we think it’s good because we have a lot of folks in our community that speak Spanish and travel back and forth. We think it’s the ideal book,” Aston said.
Asked how any artists or the public can help the program, besides donating space or funds, Fleming said, “If they have an idea or are in a book club or they want to participate, they can just let Rollah now. They can email him and say, ‘I want to participate in this particular way.’”
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 575-626-2373.