On October 28th, we were fortunate to receive the visit of Dr. Sonia Rivera Valdés from Cuba, and Dr. Francisca Suárez Coalla from Spain, both professors at the City University of New York. Sonia and Paquita, as all her friends call her, told us about their cultural life and activism. As professors, they are highly intellectual, but they have always strived to not just study the culture, but live it and share it with others. Apart from their fruitful academic life, they want to engage their students outside the classroom in an enriching and meaningful way.
Their efforts paid off and in 2000, LART came to light: Latino Artists Round Table. LART organizes events, lectures, performances and full blown conferences. Their mission is to spread and share Latino Culture from all over the world. The organization is inclusive and participatory which is the key to its success. Their conferences embrace academic presentations, short film contests, theatre performances, original music and fine arts. Their purpose is to do something different from what is usually offered at academic conferences. And of course, they include peoples from the whole Spanish speaking world: US, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Spain. They include established authors and new ones, old tendencies and unknown ones. Their diversity extends to the attendees; at a LART meeting I witnessed mothers with young children, academics, college and high school students, film makers and teachers. The different backgrounds of the presenters and general public, yet united by LART, made everybody feel the vibrancy of the endeavor.
The same spirit of inclusion and live culture was behind the creation of their own publishing house, Editorial Campana. Their objectives are: “First, to promote Latin@ writers whose work reflects the thematic needs of groups whose vision of the world and literary concept differs from the vision and aesthetics imposed by the most privileged sectors of society. Second, to publish works that contribute to the recovery of our personal and historic memory as well as those that will develop the pleasure of reading literature written by Latin@s.”
The company has been a success, culturally and commercially. Their books are published in English and in Spanish to reflect the reality of Latinos in the US, who are well read in both languages. And above all, they have selected high quality works by living authors that readers can get to know and follow their personal and professional trajectory. Barnes and Noble and other powerhouses of the book industry have opened their doors to their books.
The question is how two established professors decided to emphasize the cultural into their intellectual life. Dra. Coalla explained that it all came out of their own life experience. Born and raised in a rural community in northern Spain, she dreamed of becoming a writer. However, in a 150 inhabitant town, there were no female writers. There were no examples in the literature that reflected her rural environment without ridiculing it. In all her years of schooling, BA and Ph.D. studies, there were hardly any titles written by women in her program of studies. Additionally, nobody with a Ph.D. was publishing in her rural, vernacular language, Asturianu. Once in New York she met Dr. Rivera and a group of Latina writers. Suddenly, there was a group of women writers who encouraged each other’s work; it was o.k. to write in Castilian, Puerto Rican, English, Spanglish, etc. All together decided to produce platforms to promote Latino cultural life at all levels beyond the intellectual and academic frames. That is the way LART and Editorial Campana came to light. Dra. Coalla now is a successful published author with several titles published in Spanish, English and Asturianu.
It was truly an enjoyable and inspiring evening. SSC undergrads, MAT students, professors and teachers in the area enjoyed Sonia and Paquita’s conversation and readings. It gave me the impression that everything is possible. Perhaps one day we could host a LART event at SSC, where all Latinos in surrounding communities, academics, intellectuals and artists share and celebrate their Heritage.
Photos of the event can be seen at www.lrc.salemstate.edu/pictures/latinawriters2008 where you can also find links to some of the titles they published that will make very good holiday reads.¦