Late last week the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) honored Matt de la Peña for taking a stance on intellectual freedom. Some of you may not remember the event in question but back in 2012, the Mexican American Studies programs was terminated in Tucson, Arizona. For some areas, this might be underwhelming but Tucson has a large Mexican American population. When this decision was made, de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy was removed from circulation, effectively banning them. When this happened, De la Peña was scheduled to speak at a Tucson school. De la Peña donated his speaking fee to pay for copies of his book, he gave these books to the students.
Admittedly, this story caught my eye because it is Matt de la Peña. What can I say? There are authors who impress the hell out of me and when I see their names go past, I take note.
Part of the reason that de la Peña impresses me is because he is 100% genuine. I’ve heard him speak and I never had the feeling that I was viewing his stage persona. I’m sure he has what my grandmother called “company manners,” but he is unapologetically himself. And I think that’s a large part of what appeals to his readers. He’s from a working class, ethnic background and he hasn’t forgotten that. He’s from where they are now. He knows their struggles.
When they lost access to his books, he did something about it. He donated books himself.
To my fellow authors — be that guy. Don’t just point the need out to your publisher. Yes, it is dandy when they can and do get involved. After all, they have much deeper pockets than we have. But don’t let awareness of that fact rob you of your ability to act. Be the author who sees the need and does something.
And on that note, I will climb down off my soap box . . . another of my grandmother’s sayings.