Visitors to the Brownsville Farmers’ Market on Saturday, might have walked past a bookcase with a painted sign stating ‘956 Radical Library’ surrounded by a few benches and mats under a nearby tent. The free mobile library is the brainchild of friends and collaborators, Nansi Guevara and Xandra Treviño.
Featuring everything from children’s books about gender identity to treatise on Chicano students’ role in the Civil Rights Movement, the library aims to provide access to books that feature diverse authors of color and that are culturally relevant to the area, but in a smaller highly curated selection outside of what you might find at the public library.
“I love the library, but I felt like we had to have a space that narrowed down the book selection to books that represent the people that live here in the valley, that live here in Brownsville. Books written by authors that know about issues that affect people here in the area,” Treviño said.
The duo were inspired to start the library after discussions among themselves and friends about the need that they saw for having a mobile culturally relevant knowledge space for the public, and from the work of LibroMobile in California and the Librotraficante Movement in Texas.
So during the Show Your PRIDE event at Market Square in June, they began the donation funded library and have set up at the Brownsville Farmers’ Market every other week. To create their collection, they received a donation from the Texas Book Festival of books that they felt would help provide their younger readers with stories that they could see themselves in.
Books for older readers draw from books covering race, cultural studies and other books that were circulating in social justice and organizer communities that were donated by friends or from Guevara and Treviño’s own collections. One of the most important aspects for the library’s selection was to include books that addressed critical race theory.
In June, Governor Greg Abbott signed the controversial House Bill 3979 that prescribes how Texas teachers can talk about America’s history of racism and current events in their classrooms which is set to take effect on Sept. 1. Reacting to this legislation, having a place where this knowledge can be accessed became one of the goals of the free library and curating its ever growing collection.
Outside of providing new and varied viewpoints and promoting discussion, making reading accessible and fun is one of the mainstays of the group’s efforts.
“I feel like a lot of the books that are given to students can be helpful if the teacher is able to make something of it, but the fact is that it’s still forced reading. What I am hoping is that a space like this [promotes], and it sounds cheesy probably, that reading can be fun. I want us to be able to build an environment where kids and adults can come and read for pleasure,” Treviño said.
Donations to fund the 956 Radical Library can be done through Cash App at $XandraRGV.