Monday, August 6, 2012


--by Bobby Byrd

Note: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is that classic book with text by James Agee and photographs by Walker Evans that documents farmers, immigrants and families during the great Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Cinco Puntos, from time to time, would like to celebrate librarians, teachers and others in the struggle for literacy and reading of good books in our nation's schools. This is the first installment. 

Francisco Vargas seated next to Xavier Garza
At this year’s ALA Convention in Anaheim, CA the Pura Belpre Committee celebrated its annual literary awards, given to writers and illustrators of Hispanic origin. The awards are sponsored jointly by ALA organizations REFORMA  promoting library services for Latinos and the Association for Library Services for Children. Xavier Garza’s Maximillian and the GuardianAngel received an Honor Book for 2012. Lee and I were there at ALA to celebrate with Xavier, his wife Irma and son Vincent. It was a wonderful occasion for all of us. The Pura Belpre Organizing Committee had put together a great event to celebrate its winners. But Xavier’s honor soon received added significance.

Francisco Vargas, the Youth Services Librarian at Long BeachPublic, made the presentation. He delighted the audience by proudly strutting like a luchador to the podium in his most prized lucha libre mask, the one he wears at his library when he does story-time for the kids. He smiled down at the audience through the mask, his eyes flashing with joy.  He was honored, he said, to be presenting this award to Xavier. As a kid, he loved books but he never found that one perfect book that spoke directly to him about his Mexican-American roots.

When he became a librarian, he wanted to find books that spoke to the children in front of him. Especially the Mexican-American kids. The kids like him. But he could never find that perfect book, that is, not until he read them Xavier’s first Cinco Puntos picture book, Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask. Oh, he said, the boys loved that book. And now here was this new bilingual chapter book about Max and the Guardian Angel. The Chicano kids love that book just as much. They want him to read both books over and over.

That’s the speech Francisco wanted to give to celebrate Xavier and his books. But something happened. As he began talking, he choked up. He was so moved by what he wanted to express to all of us he began to weep. He’d stutter and stop and start again. Finally, he ripped off his mask to reveal his true self. At first, we all thought that this was part of his presentation, the famous luchador rips off his mask to reveal the true man beneath. We thought he was making theatre. But we were wrong.  The emotion of the moment actually grabbed Francisco and swept him up. It was beautiful. At that moment Francisco Vargas was the embodiment of what power and purpose a man like him can bring to the library and to the kids he serves. 

What a performance!  

Thanks to Francisco and to all the members of the Pura Belpre committee: Chair Jamie Naidoo, Rebecca Alcalá, Carling Febry, Daisy Gutierrez, Amanda Sharpe, Henrietta Smith, and consultant Oralia Garza de Cortes. 

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