The “Lord of Books” is making sure children have access to books.
José Alberto Gutiérrez has been collecting books for 20 years as a garbage collector in Bogotá, Colombia. Gutiérrez might only have a second-grade education but that hasn’t stopped him from recognizing the importance of literacy for the future of Bogota’s disadvantaged youths. According to AP, Bogotá, a city of more than 8 million people has 19 public libraries but they are all located far away from the poorer neighborhoods in the city. The lack of access for children’s books in Gutiérrez’s own neighborhood in south Bogotá convinced him to open his own library from the rescued books he has collected. Gutiérrez credits his love and interest in books to his mother reading to him even though she was not able to afford to keep him in school.
“The first book that I found was ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy,” Gutiérrez told AJ+. “And that little book set the flame and this snowball that has never stopped rolling.”
This man is legit the Robin Hood of books in Bogotá.
Since finding that first book, Gutiérrez has collected more than 20,000 books.
CREDIT: AJ+ / Facebook
These books were turned into a library filling every room in his house, according to AJ+. The name of the library, The Strength Of Words, of course.
The children in Gutiérrez’s neighborhood are allowed in every weekend to browse, read, and open their minds to new worlds.
CREDIT: AJ+ / Facebook
“This should be in all neighborhoods, on each corner of every neighborhood, in all the towns, in all departments, and all the rural areas,” Gutierrez told AP. “Books are our salvation and that is what Colombia needs.”
Gutiérrez doesn’t see himself as a savior. Instead, he sees himself as a bridge for children in poor neighborhoods in Colombia.
This is a story of a surprising find in a tranquil Australian suburb. What unfolds is a tale of hidden illegal activity and a surprise discovery. This all happened back in 2017, but legal proceedings are putting the spotlight on this case again. Cases like this bring to mind how many Latin American communities are stigmatized due to the incidence of drug-related crimes in the region, and how global cartels expand internationally. These processes of stigmatization not only affect everyday interactions but also wider policymaking, as the recent discussions around the proposed border wall in the US-Mexico border have highlighted.
First things first: Australia is hard to reach for drug cartels.
Oceania is the last bastion for international drug cartels. Australia, in particular, is heavily guarded but also has miles and miles of coast that is practically impossible to fully surveil. Cartels, however, have found ways to enter this market. In recent years, journalistic accounts of the role that international criminal networks have in the distribution of drugs in Australia has sparked public concern and debate. According to recent research published in The Age, “Australians consumed illegal drugs worth $9.3 billion in 2018”. The presence of organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel in Australian cities and its role in the ice epidemic has sparked concerns among journalists and policymakers. The Australian media is up in arms every time the cartels are identified in the country. As reported by Daily Telegraph on January 28, 2019: “The Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, described as the most ruthless and deadly in the world, has joined forces with the increasingly dangerous Nigerian crime network in Sydney to carry out large-scale drug importation.” This story, for example, plays with fears of foreigners in a society that sometimes tends to be insular and afraid of immigration. Are reports like this generating stereotypes?
This is where this story begins:
Sylvania is like any upscale suburb in the ultra-expensive beachside city of Sydney, Australia.
Houses in Sylvania often reach the $1 million AUD mark. It is a pretty relaxed place with a mostly white population, but with pockets of Asian and Greek migrants. It is the synonym of a relaxed Aussie beach suburb. Nothing much happens and everything is usually closed by 7 p.m.
There is some old money around, and plenty of new money.
When we said homes can easily reach a million, we were talking about the lower end of the spectrum. A four-bedroom apartment goes for more than two million Australian dollars. But look at those views!
From the outside, a suburban home in Sylvania was just another ordinary, sleepy household.
Nothing to suspect. Just a comfy couch and a bookshelf lined with Lonely Planet travel guidebooks.
The cops suspected something was going on so they searched the property.
The Australian Federal Police was investigating a Sydney-based Colombian gang that was involved in the distribution of border-controlled drugs. The police were also following the trails of a money-laundering operation believed to be operated by Colombians. This all happened in 2017, but the details of the case are just being released as part of a court proceeding. As Australian Government News reported on July 12, 2019: “On 10 July 2019, the Supreme Court of NSW made orders which restrained a residential property in Sylvania, NSW, under section 19 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cth) based on the allegation the property was used in, or in connection with, various drug offences under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).”
This is what they found behind the now-famous bookshelf: and now the police is trying to seize the property.
The authorities believed that the house was actually a custom made to fit in the illegal drug operation. For this reason, the authorities are looking to confiscate the house. In addition, the authorities charged a 45-year-old man (the police hasn’t disclosed his name for legal reasons) with multiple drug-related offenses: supplying cocaine, being in the possession of cannabis and, as reported by The Sun UK, ” dealing in proceeds of crime with a value that reached around $100,000.” This man pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years and six months in federal prison.
Drugs, high tech transmitters, they really had everything they needed to run a drug business.
According to The Sun UK, police found that the property “was full of cash, replica weapons, tasers, and wireless transmitters, police confirmed”. This was a big hit on organized crime in Australia, a country that is hard to penetrate for drug cartels due to its tight borders and geographical isolation. There are also very few cases of police corruption. Officer Penelope Kelton, Coordinator of Criminal Assets Litigation, said (as per The Sun UK): “The ability to confiscate items used in the commission of crimes sends a clear message to the criminal underworld – if you commit the crime, we are prepared to target your assets. Drug-related crime puts a great strain on the community through increased health care costs, associated property crime and other forms of violence. It is only reasonable that police can fight back on behalf of the community by targeting those who seek to profit from inflicting this misery.”
Drug trafficking is a significant issue in Australia for multiple reasons.
The illegal distribution and consumption of narcotics through global networks of criminal complicity is a significant social problem worldwide and public health concern in most Western countries, including Australia. Alongside the distribution of drugs, negative stereotypes about Global South populations run rampant. In particular, Latin American citizens from countries like Colombia and Mexico are stigmatized due to the negative image their home countries have in relation to the drug wars.
Representation matters: not all Latinos are drug dealers!
Alongside extremism and terrorism, since the 1990s international criminal networks have been framed as one of the main challenges to Western democracies, a place formerly held by the Soviet Union and left-leaning countries. This understanding of recent world history has the potential to generate stereotypes that could influence national and international discussions regarding border security, as seen in the recent debate in the United States concerning the construction of a Southern border wall.
How stories like these are told in the media influences the way in which Latinos living in English-speaking and Global North countries are perceived. Australian newspapers emphasized the fact that those arrested were Colombian, which further adds to the bad rep that the country has in the Southern Hemisphere. To this, we have to add that most references that Australians and non-Latino Americans have of the region are through TV shows and movies. As a recent editorial by Hector Tobar published in The New York Times pointed out: “By the next network upfronts, or summer movie blockbuster season, Latino drug operatives may outpace their chief rivals — jihadist terrorists and Russians mobsters — and become the country’s leading screen bad guys”.
There’s growing up Latino and then there’s growing up as a gay Latino. While our culture is known for their supernatural skills at throwing a pinche good party, gay culture might just rival it. Both cultures’ party superpowers mixed together? ¡Imagínate!
Whether you own your identity as a queer Latino and want to feel affirmed from all corners, or are just looking for the best way to celebrate your Gay Pride, Latin America has you covered. Here are the most celebrated Pride events in Latin America along with some of its own local pride history. Be there or be square.
Mexico City, Mexico | June 27-29
Going on its 41st year of gay occupation of Mexico City streets. Each year, the celebrations get bigger and bigger. The Mexican Student Movement of 1968 was as influential as Stonewall in sparking the first rebellion.
Of course, locals come out in their best outfits to celebrate the queerness of the Mexican capital.
La Marcha de la Diversidad is the main event, which begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 28th. Despite the hate crimes persisting around the country toward the LGBTQ+ community, many say this parade is a day they feel less alone. Show up.
São Paulo, Brazil | Sunday, June 23rd
This year will mark the 23rd annual gay pride parade in São Paulo. It’s 2006 pride went down in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest pride parade in the world, rivaling that of NYC.
The Bolsonaro administration might be doing everything they can to push the LGBTQ+ community back in the closet, but that’s not what’s going to happen.
Ironically, the government has invested millions of dollars into the parade. Meanwhile, the first openly gay politician in Brazil had to flee the country earlier this year because of the death threats he was receiving from the public. It’s still not safe to be openly gay in Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | September
While São Paulo wins the largest pride in the world, Rio’s comes close behind, with 1.2 million people in attendance every year. While this year would be the 24th LGBT Pride of Rio, strangely a date has not been set just yet.
See. Brazil is so queer, they boast some of the greatest pride celebrations in the world.
The parade typically marches down Copacabana Beach, as the gayest version of Carnaval sambas down the beach. Folks usually end up at Papa G’s club, which swells with proud members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Buenos Aires, Argentina | November 2
Carlos Jauregui organized the first Pride, which, like most, was a protest march in 1992. Most of the roughly 300 people in attendance were wearing masks for their own safety.
Now, there are no masks hiding the identities of the participants because being part of the LGBTQ+ community is nothing to be ashamed of.
Today La Marcha del Orgullo a Pride ends with a public concert in Plaza Congreso. The parade is conveniently scheduled the same weekend as the Queer Tango Festival.
Bogotá, Colombia | June 30
Bogotá’s first pride was made of just 32 people and almost 100 police officers In 1982. Today, the entire country celebrates, with Bogotá’s Orgullo Gay march attracting up to 50,000 folks.
Colombia has seen a rise in LGBTQ+ activism and this parade might be one celebration to watch.
In fact, Latin America’ largest gay club, Theatron, is in Bogotá. It’s essentially a complex with 13 different dance floors, holding up to 5,000 people! There are rooms that are men-only, women-only, salsa music-only, Motown-only. The only question is, why aren’t you there?
Cartagena, Colombia | August 7-11
This year, Cartagena Pride is selling itself as the “biggest gay event in the Caribbean.” You can expect a colorful parade, a drag race and a variety of boat parties.
With such a colorful and beautiful array of cultures throughout Latin America, there is no reason to think that Pride won’t be a major force in the region this year.