Class project aims to open a Mexican-American library, support free speech

Adriana McCleer, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee doctoral student, is leading an effort to establish Libros Milwaukee, a free underground library of Mexican-American literature.

To launch the effort, Libros Milwaukee will hold a book collecting/fundraising cultural event on Friday, Sept. 21, from 6-9 p.m. at the Dr. Filiberto & Carmen Murguia Campus, 1645 S. 36th St. The event is free and open to the public.

McCleer says her interest in setting up the library grew out of her work as a former Tucson librarian and her commitment to intellectual freedom as a student in UWM’s School of Information Studies. Her family is Mexican-American, and she’s long had an interest in multicultural libraries, she adds.

The Milwaukee effort, “50 for Freedom of Speech Milwaukee,” started as a class project for her Latino Nonprofit Leadership certificate program. Two other students from the program are working with McCleer on the library project.

Libros Milwaukee is also part of Librotraficante, a national call to action in support of ethnic studies programs. That group, whose name means “book smugglers,” was formed to protest a controversial decision to eliminate a Mexican-American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District by “smuggling” banned classroom books into Tucson.

The Tucson Mexican-American Studies program was launched as an effort to overcome a Latino achievement gap in the city, which is 35 percent Hispanic.

Although independent auditors found the Mexican-American Studies program was successful in helping students graduate, the program became involved in a political controversy. Opponents passed a law targeted at the program, banning programs that were exclusive to one ethnic group and that advocated “overthrowing the government.”

And, even though the Tucson program was open to all students, and the books were used in classrooms nationwide, according to McCleer, the state declared the program was in violation of the new law. The books used in the program were removed from classrooms and put into storage.

Although many of the banned books and others by Mexican-American authors are in Milwaukee public libraries, says McCleer, the idea of the free, underground library is to support a broader look at culture and literature.

“We wanted to create a place where the books were not just available, but where people could come together to discuss these particular books.”

Visitors would also have the opportunity to learn about Mexican-American history and take part in art events. The library and cultural programs would be open to all who are interested, she adds.

The Friday event will include readings from the books banned from the Tucson schools  as well as live theater presentations from local writers and performance artists. Money raised in an art show/silent auction will support the creation of Libros Milwaukee and contribute to the Tucson Raza Defense Fund.

For more information, email librotraficantemilwaukee@gmail.com or go to librotraficantemilwaukee.blogspot.com. Those interested can also “like”the group on  Facebook.com/LibrotraficanteMKE or follow the group on Twitter: @LibrosMilwaukee.