Culture

A Latina Author In New Mexico Is Delivering Books To Asylum Seekers On The Border To Brighten Their Spirits

It was a normal day at her New Mexico bookstore when author Denise Chávez was approached by a customer who needed help finding Spanish-English dictionaries. As is common in life, asking questions is what generates the most change, and the customer’s answer to her question of “Why?” sparked an idea. The customer wanted to help out the migrants who were passing through and finding refuge at the Peace Lutheran Church respite center. Understanding language as the vital life source to forming social bonds, communities, and basic navigation in society, Chávez decided to go a step further. In May 2019, Chávez started bringing bilingual storybooks to the Peace Lutheran Church shelter. Soon, word got around and she began to expand the project, initiating a soul-nourishing project called “Libros Para El Viaje” or books for the journey.

Chávez’s book drive has been promoted and supported by various bookstores across the country, including national nonprofit, the American Booksellers Association (ABA). Since then, Chávez has hand-delivered thousands of books to migrants on both sides of the border, offering the gift of exploring unknown worlds from the unacceptable confines of a tent, detention center or hiding.

Meet Denise Chávez.

CREDIT: @BOOKSELLERSOFAMERICA / INSTAGRAM

Chávez grew up in the border community of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the daughter of a teacher and a lawyer. “I was just inculcated from the very beginning with books, books, books,” Chávez shared her story on social media. “Growing up as a Chicana close to the Mexican border, my stories came to me in many languages, including Spanish, Spanglish, border language… I was filled with the beauty of spoken words. And I’ve always loved books,” she shared on Booksellers of America’s featured bookseller post.
“Bookselling means more to me every day,” Chávez shared on her experience of owning Casa Camino Real Bookstore, which serves as a community center and art gallery honoring border culture. “The stories of connecting, the people who come in—booksellers attract all sorts of people. To sell a book or to give a book away is a profound experience,” she added.

Chávez sees proof every week that giving a migrant a book is “a major healing experience.”

CREDIT: @RIVERDOGBOOKCO / INSTAGRAM

Libros Para El Viaje’s success is, in large part, thanks to Chávez’s presentation at an ABA conference that garnered national attention from booksellers. ABA has promoted her project, which has spurred many other community projects to help fund Libros Para El Viaje. For example, Minneapolis booksellers Red Balloon Book and Wild Rumpus created “Books for Border Kids” to host a two-month book drive. Those two independent booksellers alone sent over 3,000 book donations to Chávez in Las Cruces, according to The Salt Lake Tribune

“Every week, I distribute books in Spanish to families and children,” Chávez shared on social media. “So my work has deepened because we’re reaching out to people who arrive with nothing. To get a book means something. It’s a major healing experience. So when I see a tiny, little woman—and I wish people in the United States could see the people that stand in front of me with those ankle bracelets; they’re small people, they wouldn’t hurt anybody—I try to remember her face. She is on a journey. She’s going on a bus. She’s going on a plane. And she’s taking a book for the journey. I mean, wow! Right?”

“Books can heal us,” Chávez believes.

CREDIT: DENISE CHÁVEZ / FACEBOOK

Whether it’s a Guatemalan teenager looking for a Stephen King novel or seeing the beauty in a mother “hugging three Isabel Allende books,” Chávez has found healing in her project. Whether “somebody is picking up a Spanish language version of H.G. Wells’ A WAR OF THE WORLDS. Or to give a dictionary to an older man who’s learning English. It’s exciting. This is truly being connected with what a book does, which is to inform, empower, enlighten,” she testified in a social media post.
“My reason to be a writer is because I have been healed by books, and I do believe that books can heal us. It is a challenge to be a bookstore, but I continue because I know the power of a book,” Chávez attests.

You can support Casa Camino Real Bookstore‘s Libros Para El Viaje by purchasing any of these recommended bilingual books and mailing them to:

Casa Camino Real Bookstore
314 South Tornillo Street
Las Cruces, New Mexico 88001

READ: Lil Libros Finally Adds Musician Ritchie Valens To The List Of Icons Highlighted In Bilingual Children’s Books

25 Things I Want To Say To My 25-Year-Old Self Now That I’m Over 30

Fierce

25 Things I Want To Say To My 25-Year-Old Self Now That I’m Over 30

When I was 25 years old, I went through a terrible quarter-life crisis. It was right in the middle of the recession and I had been job hunting for two years while trying to advance my career. Nothing was working, and I was terribly frustrated, angry, and lost. It was a pretty stereotypical tale, I know, but it felt like my world was crashing down at the time.

Of course, eventually, I learned to keep going, changed some things about my life (like dumping a bad boyfriend and moving from a job I was “meh” on to a job I loved), and my life improved. However, as I continued to age and turned 30 a couple of years ago, I realized that there are so many life lessons that I really wish I had been able to share with my younger self. From making sure I always get good sleep to knowing when to let go of friendships to going to therapy, here are the 25 things that I wish I could have said to my 25-year-old self now that I’m over 30. I may not have it all figured out yet, but at least I figured out a few things.

1. “Yes, you should throw yourself a doble quince when you turn 30.”

Instagram @cristinaisabelrivera

When I was 15 years old, my family didn’t have a lot of money so throwing a quinceañera was not even a consideration. So, instead, I had a small Sweet 16 and left it at that. However, around 25, I started to seriously regret my decision —and wish I had heard of a doble quince sooner. Thankfully, it’s never too late and I had my doble quince at 30 after all. I’ve even heard of someone doing a triple quince (at 45!) which, I have to admit, sounds very enticing.

2. “Mami is never going to stop calling and texting you daily, so stop being annoyed by it.”

Instagram @chicananerd

When I was in college, it was a family rule that I had to call my parents daily to let them know I was okay. They were helping to pay for my pricey university, so I figured it was only fair. Of course, this all continued after I graduated and became an actual independent adult. But the phone calls and daily texts never stopped. Sometimes, I still get annoyed by it but, to be honest, I’ve come to appreciate it too. Mami won’t be around forever, and I know this is just her showing me how much she cares.

3. “It’s not true what they say: You really CAN come home again.”

Instagram @robbinmangano

This is something that I heard a lot in my youth, but I am happy to tell you that it’s just not true. When I was 25 years old, I couldn’t imagine going back to my hometown. Then, a month after I turned 30, I happily returned home to take a breather from life in the big city and overhaul my career to be a full-time freelancer. It was scary, but also the best decision I ever made. Coming home was difficult, sure, but I wish I had known sooner that it was still an option.

4. “Please, please, please stop conveniently forgetting to bring your sunscreen to the beach.”

Instagram @sunsaferx

Okay, I admit that this is still a bit of an issue for me. After all, who doesn’t want that legendary JLo glow?! But the truth is that Jennifer Lopez doesn’t get that glow from the sun, but rather from beauty products. The woman just doesn’t risk skin cancer and, seriously, why are we doing that to ourselves by heading to the beach without sunscreen in our chic bags? This HAS to stop.

5. “Don’t forget to dream big… but don’t forget to relax and enjoy life, too.”

Instagram @fivefortheroadblog

When I was 25 years old, I was working hard to grow my career. At the time, I was switching from one job to another and ended up spending the next few years jumping from job to job in order to advance my skills. Although I don’t necessarily regret all of that, what I do regret is not taking a break. I needed to work fewer weekends, and spend more time with those I love. If only I could have that time back now, I would do things a bit differently for sure.

6. “The quarter-life crisis is real, but there’s no perfect age to have it all figured out.”

Instagram @paolavherrero

At 25 years old, many of us had the so-called quarter-life crisis when we freaked out about not having it all figured out. I definitely felt like I was a failure (not true), that my career was stalled (not true either), and that I had no clue what I was doing (kinda true). What I’ve learned since, though, is that there is no age at which we think we have everything figured out. We’re always growing and changing, and the sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be.

7. “Get good sleep, get good sleep, GET GOOD SLEEP.”

Instagram @luxpillowsplus

Having recently read and loved the book Why We Sleep, I cannot even begin to tell you all of the important things that sleep does for us humans but just assume that it’s basically everything. A lesson that I wish I knew in my early 20s (and all through high school, to be honest) is that prioritizing sleep will give me more energy, make me more creative, a better employee, a calmer and happier person, and keep me healthy. If you’re not getting 7-9 hours every single night, then you’re doing life wrong.

8. “Learn how to budget. You’ll thank me later.”

Instagram @thebudgetmom

Look, nobody likes budgeting but we all have to learn it eventually. I spent much of my 20s not really understanding how budgeting works and, thus, living beyond my means. I had credit cards and abused them more than I care to admit. Thankfully, I eventually got my financial life in order but I definitely wish I had done it much sooner since the bad credit (from months when I couldn’t pay even my minimum on some cards) is still hurting me.

9. “It’s better to start that crazy, intense project than to keep dreaming for the next 5 years.”

Instagram @adrienneyoungbooks

Shortly before I turned 25 years old, I got an idea for a book. Now, seven years later, I am still working on that book. Granted, I didn’t actually start it until a couple years ago and I didn’t fully take it seriously until last year. It is a big undertaking but I let my dream just sit there for years because I was too afraid to even try. Now I realize what a disservice that was since if I had started it back when I first got this idea, I would have definitely finished it by now and moved on to the next one.

10. “Nurture your important friendships, but don’t be afraid to let others go.”

Instagram @hereisgina

I love my friends and I do my best to keep in touch with them, especially now that most of us live in different cities. From texting to monthly FaceTime dates to simply liking each other’s stuff on Instagram, there are a plethora of options for connecting these days. But I’ve also realized that there are some friends who don’t put in the effort to keep in touch with you, so I have learned to let go of those friendships. Sure, it’s heartbreaking, but friendship only works if you are both into it.

11. “Go to therapy. NOW. Please! Do not wait.”

Instagram @patriciabarbertherapy

I’ve been in therapy for about two years now and boy oh boy do I wish I had done this sooner. Although I’ve made some serious progress, I also know that there are still plenty of things that I am figuring out, both on my own and with my therapist. We as Latinos rarely take care of our mental health because it’s just so shameful to talk about it in our communities, which is why I didn’t do this sooner. I wish I had.

12. “While we’re on this, also start getting regular check-ups and not just OB-GYN.”

Instagram @sofiavergara

After I started going to therapy, someone wisely told me that we should all be going to a mental health professional at least once a year for a check-up, just as with other doctors. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t had a regular check-up in almost four years, other than my annual visit to the gynecologist. This is actually common for women, so I finally made a commitment to get everything checked out. I was 31 at the time and, although I was in mostly good health, there were definitely a few things that I should have gotten taken care of years ago.

13. “Start contributing to your 401k, even if you haven’t quite figured out what that is exactly.”

Instagram @one_percenters_

Putting money into savings has always been a problem for me, and it’s no easier now that I have started to seriously think about retirement. Retirement planning is not a simple conversation to have and, if I were really honest with you, I would tell you that I am doing the bare minimum. However, putting into a 401k (if your company offers it) is basically free money. If they don’t, then start researching other options. You don’t have to know everything to get started, but the sooner you start, the more money you’ll have when you retire.

14. “Stop dating the bad boys, and start giving the nice guys a chance.”

Instagram @msirinagonzalez

This was a lesson that I truly wish I had learned when I was 25 years old, when I dated the worst of the bad boys I went through. Although that relationship ended a few months later, it was still many years before I finally figured out that nice guys do NOT finish last (and I have the awesome husband to prove it now). In fact, nice guys (and gals) make excellent, loving, amazing, caring, supportive partners — and as an independent woman, I want someone who could be as great as I knew myself to be.

15. “Don’t let the fear of disappointing papi keep you from doing what you really love.”

Instagram @superhero.dad

Like many Latinos, and immigrants like myself in particular, I felt great pressure form my family to be successful. I did well in school, attended a good college, and started a career that my papi doesn’t really approve of and doesn’t really understand. He wants to see me be a success, but more on his own terms as a lawyer or a doctor. That’s not for me, but I had many doubts in my 20s about whether I was doing the right thing by chasing doing what I love instead of going with the more secure thing. I’d like to tell my younger self that doing what you love is really, truly worth it.

16. “Happiness is a choice. Work on it, and own it.”

Instagram @mutlulukpozu

Anyone who tells you that they’re deeply unhappy is either clinically depressed (and should likely see a medical professional) or hasn’t yet realized that happiness IS actually something that you can work on. There have been many studies done about this and, in particular, how the happiest people are those that have a lot of gratitude. It may sound hokey, but keeping a gratitude journal has been a really positive change in my life, and I really wish I would have done it during my rough 20s.

17. “Create something that matters: A podcast, a book, anything!”

Instagram @storyworldofem

This is something that I know a lot of us millennials feel: A desire to create something that matters. I don’t mean a legacy in the traditional sense, but so many of us have a need to do something creative or important to us. If I could speak to my 25-year-old self, I would tell her to take a chance and write that book she wants to write or start the podcast she’s been thinking about. The sooner you take chances, the more you will learn.

18. “Speak up for what you believe in, ALWAYS.”

Instagram @emmawise18

Although I was generally a pretty outspoken kid and young adult, I really wish I had done more in my 20s to conquer my fears and speak out for the things that I believe in. Considering what is happening in today’s political climate, I also wish that I had taken more time to volunteer for worthy causes when I could have instead of just spending my 20s stressing about my own damn self and my career. These days, I try to do what I can for immigrant rights, women’s right, LGBTQ+ rights, and more. If only I learned this lesson sooner.

19. “Meet people of other cultures. Travel. Make friends. Move somewhere else.”

Instagram @latinaslovetravel

There’s something truly special about going to a new country and making friends with someone completely unexpected. Unfortunately, I squandered most of the money I made in my 20s on necessities like food and rent (which are worth it) and things I now regret (like going out too much and buying clothes I can’t afford). Instead, I would tell my younger self to travel more, make friends everywhere in the world and, maybe, even consider moving somewhere else in the world for a while.

20. “Stop complaining about that bad boss and update your resume ASAP.”

Instagram @juicyblue_

My first job was a great experience but, ultimately, I didn’t love my boss. It’s not that he wasn’t a good person, but that we just didn’t work well together as a team. I wish that I had known what I know now about what it takes to be happy at work. I would have instead put all of my energy into finding a better working environment. These days, if someone tells me that they hate their job, I say: So have you updated your resume yet?

21. “Figure out your talents, and invest in yourself. Never stop growing.”

Instagram @girlboss

Often, we graduate from college and think that’s it. We’ve put in the work to learn and that’s all there is to it. Now we can go out into the world to work and live successful lives… but if you think you have stopped growing and learning after college, then you are seriously mistaken. Learning and growing as a person should be a lifelong process. These days I pride myself on investing some of the money I make from working into developing other talents and interests I have, like learning a new language or a new skill like video editing. It’s never too late to learn, and it’s always a good idea to keep doing it.

22. “The most successful people aren’t afraid of failure. They’re afraid to never try.”

Instagram @imginte

This piece of advice comes directly from a friend of mine who graduated with her MBA from a top university. During her graduation party, she imparted this little piece of advice: Almost none of the businesspeople and entrepreneurs she learned about were a success because their ideas were great, but rather because they kept trying and didn’t take failure personally. Almost nobody makes it on their first try but, with perseverance, you will eventually get there.

23. “Your thighs aren’t going anywhere, so you might as well start loving them now.”

Instagram @katwomanfit

I still struggle with this one a little bit because I simply do not love the way my thighs look. Growing up, I was a chubby kid that eventually grew into an overweight and ultimately morbidly obese adult. Although I am happy with where I am now, loving my body is still a lesson that I learn and relearn every day. I really wish I had known this at 25 though when I was way too harsh on myself and never appreciated the things that ARE actually positive about my body.

24. “Be kind, even when you’re having a bad day.”

Instagram @vicki_alford

You know how they say that a smile is contagious? Well, being a grumpy SOB is pretty contagious too. I experienced this personally when a coworker’s attitude spread from them to me to my boyfriend later that day. This cycle is a negative one, and it’s one that I have since tried to stay away from. Instead, I smile and attempt to be kind everywhere I go. Sure, it’s difficult to be kind to people I sincerely disagree with (like Trump supporters), but I still try — if not for their sake, then at least for my own.

25. “Life never ever stops changing so embrace that NOW and stop stressing.”

Instagram @kristimasonact

When I was 25, I really, really wanted to have life figured out. After all, that’s what the quarter-life crisis is all about, right? You’re a few years out of school and desperately wanting to be “on the right track.” Well, here’s some bad and good news: There IS no right track. It simply doesn’t exist. We can decide to do something today, and change our minds tomorrow. You can try something and fail, and do something else and succeed. There are no guarantees in life, but that’s what makes it pretty amazing too. It never stops changing, so embrace the change and go into it with your head held high.

The ‘American Dirt’ Book Tour Has Been Canceled Out Of Fear Of Violence Against The Author

Entertainment

The ‘American Dirt’ Book Tour Has Been Canceled Out Of Fear Of Violence Against The Author

jeaninecummins / Instagram

The controversy surrounding the most recent novel on Oprah’s Book Club “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins continues to grow. The book follows protagonist Lydia Quixano Pérez, a middle-class Mexican bookseller who escapes Acapulco with her 8-year-old son, Luca, after a drug cartel massacres their family at a quinceañera. The backlash over the novel has led to the cancelation of a book tour promoting the novel due to ‘threats of physical violence’. Here’s what’s going on.

Cummins received a big advance and a lot of promotional push for “American Dirt,” which follows a Mexican mother and son fleeing drug violence. 

Oprah Winfrey picked it for her book club, and a growing number of celebrities and authors showered it with praise, some without reading the book. Critics have called the book inaccurate and full of harmful stereotypes and questioned whether Cummins was the right person to tell that story. (Despite the controversy —or maybe thanks to it— the book is selling well; it’s currently No. 1 on Amazon’s charts.)

The publisher is proud to have taken on “American Dirt.”

In a statement, Bob Miller, the president of Flatiron Books, said the publisher is proud to have published “American Dirt,” and was “therefore surprised by the anger that has emerged from members of the Latinx and publishing communities.”

Yet, he was able to understand the privilege in his surprise to the backlash.

“The fact that we were surprised is indicative of a problem, which is that in positioning this novel, we failed to acknowledge our own limits,” Miller said. “The discussion around this book has exposed deep inadequacies in how we at Flatiron Books address issues of representation, both in the books we publish and in the teams that work on them.”

The public has been blasting the author, who is white and had a Puerto Rican grandmother, for being out of her league writing about undocumented Mexican immigrants. 

The backlash led to the concerns which canceled the book tour, Flatiron Books wrote in a tweeted statement on Wednesday. “While there are are valid criticisms around our promotion of this book that is no excuse for the fact that in some cases there have been threats of physical violence,” Miller explains. He added that it was sad that Cummins had become “the recipient of hatred from within the very communities she sought to honor,” and that her “work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor.” 

He also apologized for giving the impression the author’s husband might have been Mexican, and addressed other specific issues around the promotion of the book.

“We made serious mistakes in the way we rolled out this book. We should never have claimed that it was a novel that defined the migrant experience,” Miller stated. “We should not have said that Jeanine’s husband was an undocumented immigrant while not specifying that he was from Ireland; we should not have had a centerpiece at our bookseller dinner last May that replicated the book jacket so tastelessly. We can now see how insensitive those and other decisions were, and we regret them.”

Several Mexican authors have expressed their discomfort with the harmful depictions in “American Dirt.”

Julissa Arce Raya, the author of “My (Underground) American Dream,” argued that “American Dirt” was not representative of her experience as an undocumented immigrant in America. Author Celeste Ng shared a review calling Cummins’ depictions of Mexico “laughably inaccurate.” 

Roxane Gay deplored Oprah’s decision to elevate the novel.

The New York Times bestselling author of “Bad Feminist,” argued that “to see a book like this elevated by Oprah…legitimizes and normalizes flawed and patronizing wrong-minded thinking about the border and those who cross it.” “I hope this makes people realize how conservative publishing really is,” Myriam Gurba, a Mexican American writer, told the Guardian.

About the seven-figure advance she reportedly earned, Cummins said:

“I was never going to turn down money that someone offered me for something that took me seven years to write. I acknowledge that there is tremendous inequity in the industry, about who gets attention for writing what books.”

Cummins spoke about the doubts she had about writing the book at a Jan. 22 event in Baltimore

“I lived in fear of this moment, of being called to account for myself: ‘Who do you think you are,’” she told bookshop manager Javier Ramirez, according to The Guardian. “And, in the end, the people who I met along the way, the migrants who I spoke to, the people who have put themselves in harm’s way to protect vulnerable people, they showed me what real courage looks like. They made me recognize my own cowardice. When people are really putting their lives on the line, to be afraid of writing a book felt like cowardice.”

The author had made a handful of promotional appearances since the book was released.

Over the past few days however, the St Louis-based Left Bank Books called off an event and Flatiron canceled interviews in a pair of California stores. The tour for her heavily promoted book had been scheduled to last at least through mid-February, with planned stops everywhere from Seattle to Oxford, Mississippi. 

Oprah announced she’ll meet with Cummins and their conversation will be broadcast in an upcoming Apple TV special.

Flatiron now plans to send Cummins to town-hall-style events, where the author will be joined by “some of the groups who have raised objections to the book.”

READ: Latinos Are Taking To Twitter To Call Out The Stereotypes And Tropes In The Criticized Novel ‘American Dirt’