Monday, October 4, 2010

CPP Receives the EPCC COMMUNITY SPIRIT AWARD

On September 18th, the El Paso Community College, as part of its Second Annual EPCC Literary Fiesta, gave Cinco Puntos its Community Spirit Award for 25 years of celebrating literature. All three of us--Johnny Byrd, Lee Byrd and me too, Bobby Byrd--were delighted and honored. And we were in good company. The night before EPCC awarded its Literacy Legacy Award to Pat Mora for her work as a writer and as the principal force behind the annual literacy celebration El Día de los Niños. We were of course very proud. Our good friend Benjamin Alire Sáenz, who couldn’t be there sent out some very nice comments to be read. Novelist Rich Yañez and poet Lawrence Welch likewise honored us with some great thoughts, but most special was that our daughter Susie Byrd, who is the El Paso City Council Representative for District Two, gave a speech honoring us. Susie, of course, is an alumnus of Cinco Puntos. We are always wishing she would come back.


This is what Ben said—

I’m sorry I’m not able to be here, but I just wanted to convey to all of you how absolutely thrilled I am that EPCC is recognizing Cinco Puntos with this award. For the last 25 years, Lee and Bobby Byrd have committed their lives, their energies, their hearts, their passions, their resources and their minds to publishing the highest quality literature that reflects the border culture in which they live. Cinco Puntos Press is not only a local and regional treasure--they are a national treasure. They have published--and continue to publish--books that are contributing to the national debate as to who we are as a people and as a nation. I love and admire Bobby and Lee and I have nothing but respect for what they have done for the writing community of this country. What they have accomplished is no small feat. I am proud and grateful to be one of their authors. I hate to brag, but I believe I may be their biggest fan.

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My Parents Wandered Around for a While

My parents wandered around for awhile. Moving from place to place, looking for an anchor. Then when I was 7, after having lived in 15 different places from Colorado to New Mexico, they landed on the 2700 block Louisville Street in El Paso, Texas and haven’t moved since.

They found their anchor on the border, a place so unlike Plainfield, NJ where my mother grew up and Memphis, TN where my father grew up. They fell in love with the wide open spaces, the barren desert landscape, living at the base of a mountain, living five minutes from another country, living in a neighborhood with a little bit of everyone, where everyone belongs. They fell in love with the confusion of the border, a place American but not quite, a place Mexican but not quite. As writers, the language of the border made sense to them, mixing up Spanish and English to find the words that mean what you want to say, rather than confining yourself to one language or the other. Making up words when neither language quite captures the meaning. Language should always mean something. Right?

Cinco Puntos Press is their homage to a place they love, a place that has welcomed them as neighbor. Because they were not trained in the art of publishing, they were free to make the mistakes that built their reputation as an internationally recognized publishing company.

No one seeped in the children book industry headquartered in New York City would have ever recommended publishing a bilingual book about a woman who drowns her children. But when storyteller Joe Hayes tells the legend of La Llorona, he builds the story from both Spanish and English. Mom and Dad knew that La Llorona, a Mexican story passed from generation to generation, belonged to the Spanish language but could also be told in English. So for them it was a no brainer that both languages would share the same page, the same book. It was one of their first books and one of the first bilingual books in the United States. Now with the changing demographics of our country, no one blinks when you offer up bilingual books. Cultural change comes from places like El Paso, from companies like Cinco Puntos Press who build themselves from the pulse of their community. New York follows.

My dad and mom firmly believe in the publishing process as an act of creative discovery, a way for the actors involved to know themselves better. They picked Gloria Osuna Perez to paint the illustrations for Little Gold Star, another bilingual book by Joe Hayes, even though they knew she was dying. She was the right illustrator for the book. She finished three paintings and then told my mom and dad that she probably couldn’t finish. But she had an idea. Her daughter Lucia Angela Perez was an artist. Gloria had sketched the book. Lucia could finish the book. My mom and dad agreed. So while Lucia cared for her mom as she was dying, Gloria would teach Lucia about the colors, how to blend them, what her vision was for the book, how Lucia could help her finish. When Gloria died, Lucia was able to honor her mom and know her mom by finishing her work. The book is gorgeous and a testament to the open hearts of my parents.

The other thing about Cinco Puntos Press that I want you to know is that it is a family business. My brothers and I have all worked there. My husband worked there. And if you aren’t family to start with, you eventually get there. And the remarkable thing about working there is that even if you are packing books or managing the accounts, you are invited into the process of creating and selling books.

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