Santino J. Rivera is originally from Denver, Colorado but migrated to St. Augustine, Florida at the age of 25. He began writing at the start of his college career and started an independent newspaper at the University of Colorado, Denver. A few of his past occupations include jobs as an independent journalist, paid journalist, as well as a few years as a firefighter and EMT. He came back to writing and publishing and used his experiences as a witness to the horrors he saw in the streets to write his first two books, “Demon in the Mirror” and “AmeriKKKa”. Rivera was inspired by the book banning in Tucson, Arizona to write “¡Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Xican@ Literature” and essentially hoping to stack book shelves with more Chicano/a literature in prominent bookstores such as Barnes & Nobles. Rivera hopes to inspire youth to challenge themselves and to acknowledge the fact that they can be authors, they can writers, they can publishers with the help of positive role models.
Q: Why was it important to publish “¡Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Xican@ Literature”?
A: I think because there’s such a void, as far as that goes. Again, if you go to Barnes & Nobles and you go looking for Chicano authors, depending on what state you’re in from coast to coast, you might not find any. If you do, you’re going to find a little section and of that you’re going to the same people, the same authors. You’ll usually find Gustavo Arrellano, Lalo Alcaraz and among that you’re not going to find any diversity and I know it’s an untruth because there’s a ton of us that are authors and writers and we don’t have any exposure. We do not have the support of the mainstream literary community. This book was inspired by the penguin anthology of poetry, the 25th poetry anthology and there is hardly any Chicanos in there, I think there are two in the whole book. If we’re such a force to be reckoned with, as the politicians and media say, then we also need to be represented in the arts. So I’m trying to help change that.
Q: Would you consider your book as the first wave of Chicano/a action against censorship?
A: I hope, that is definitely what it is meant to do. When I published it and I brought together an all-star group of people, there is very well-known authors and up & coming authors as well, it was to strike back against censorship and basically say, “You can ban those books but we’ll make more. We’re going to come back twice as hard.”
Q: In response to Rodolfo Acuna’s, “Occupied America” being banned, what is the purpose of censorship? Is there a hidden agenda?
A: It depends on where you’re talking about it, but when “Occupied America” was taken away the people who did it, are afraid of the truth, they are afraid of history, they are afraid of successful programs in high school that will graduate brown students and educate brown minds. If you go around everybody’s personal feeling about this and that and you get to the core of what an educator does, the goal is to graduate a student. It’s the entire goal. It doesn’t matter what you think of the student or what your background is. It’s to graduate students. That program that they had which included, “Occupied America” and other books was very successful in graduating students and getting them on to college. I think the powers that did that, are afraid of young educated brown minds going on to vote and voting them out of power. They are afraid of an educated brown mind.
Q: Is Los Angeles the perfect place to promote the book?
A: Yes, I would say so but anywhere is the perfect place to promote the book. It’s one of the things I try to push, is that Chicano literature is American literature. As much as they want to deny it, as much as they fight and kick and scream about it, Chicano history is American history. It’s part of American history and I think this book should be marketed everywhere. It is fantastic to be in LA but I’ll push this book anywhere, because we are juts as part of the core as anybody else.
Q: The censorship in Arizona can be compared to ______?
A: The cliché answer to that is Nazi Germany, but you can find instances of censorship throughout history and it is usually people who are worried about what children are learning. So for fill in the blank, I would say Nazi Germany.
Q: Do you feel Chicano/a youth should feel obligated to preserve our culture?
A: Yes I do, very much so because there has been a lot of struggle, a lot of bloodshed, there has been a lot of sacrifice that has been forgotten. I do not think a lot of the kids are taught and how much of that was sacrifice and how much of that history is there for their benefit. A lot of that gets pushed to the side and there is a whole group of people who want to whitewash over all that struggle and history that isn’t acknowledged anymore. It’s very important and we were talking about Sal Castro recently, who just passed, his sacrifices and his contributions need to acknowledged. They should be important to kids.
Q: Is it ultimately your goal for this book, to start a second wave of Chicano/a movements amongst the youth?
A: Yes, but not necessarily the primary goal. When I was kid and we would go to the library or the bookstore and even today, I’ve never seen a book like this. I was always searching for a book like this, because something like this to a kid can make a big impact and have them think, ”Maybe I can do that”. It’s empowering to have something to look up to and if anything I would like to inspire people to go around the system that is oppressing you if you cannot defeat. I admire the kids in Tucson who I met with, who had these books taken away because they are meeting on their own and learning Chicano/a studies outside of school and are going to receive college credit. If there is a primary goal for anything, it is to take the inspiration to do it yourself and fight back. So many people think they can’t because they are so oppressed and they believe they have no voice. That’s not true, this book proves that, this book came out of the dust. I mean, I’m just a regular guy. This book made it to national T.V, C-SPAN and it made an impact so I think if anything kids should learn to follow their dreams and to not take no for an answer. No matter how many times or who tells you, don’t take no for an answer and to challenge authority because that is what it takes.
Q: Is Chicano/a Studies just a way to preserve our culture or is it the vessel for us to challenge the system?
A: It means different things to different people. For example, the definition of Chicano/a, you’ll never find two with the same definition, same ideology, or even how it should be used. You have people fighting on what should be done with it. I think at the core of it, just as we learn the Constitution or the Bills of Rights, you preserve your core and we have such a rich history in this country, that I think it should be taught and preserved. Whether people agree with it or not, you can’t just wipe the slate clean. It’s a tough question because you have so many people who want to different things with it, but definitely as an empowerment, because learning your history and your past is empowering. We have a lot of accomplishments and a lot to be proud of. It is extremely empowering.
Q: Will censorship ever end, be it Chicano/a Studies, Ethnic Studies, or etc.?
I don’t know if there will ever be an end to it, it goes in cycles. We have different turns of the cycles, like in the 70’s people fought back really hard but also works in a kind of a lull cycle, where people are sleeping, like now. We’ve been working to wake people up to fight back. I don’t think we’ll ever have a period where there is no censorship because someone always wants to control the information. Information is power so, when it comes to, “When is it going to end?”, I don’t think it will but that doesn’t mean we have to take it. That’s what we are trying to, is plant the seed so the next generation of people can take this knowledge and fight back. Right now we are in a lull, there a lot of people sleeping on this and not empowering themselves, and taking no for an answer. Hopefully future generations take this information and fight back.
— by Pedro Martínez