Rubio: Booze, Weed and Sneakers — But Where Are All the Books in Santa Ana?

After almost two decades of relative peace, the nightly sounds of helicopters and sirens have returned, and the walls and asphalt of our neighborhood bike trail are saturated with gang graffiti. For people who grew up or lived in Santa Ana in the nineties, this is a familiar story. Even the xenophobic mood of Prop. 187 has been resurrected by the president and his white-supremacist administration. The message in our neighborhood and in the nation is: You Are Not Safe, You Don’t Belong Here.

I was born and raised in Santa Ana. There are many factors that kept my sister and I safe and grounded during that rough decade—primarily our family and neighbors. My sister and I grew up going to the Santa Ana Public Library, and I believe our resiliency came from the ability to imagine another world through books. We skipped college after high school and worked at art school libraries, learning by reading widely and making friends with unusual people. Higher education doesn’t look the same to everyone, but books give people the ability to reason, analyze and imagine for themselves.

Reading activates empathy. When you read novels and short stories, you are in the body and skin of another person. When you read poetry, you excavate your memories and discover your own power. History books, social commentary, and daily newspapers all teach us the patterns of human behavior. We learn how to question authority and demand accountability for ourselves and our leaders.

Unfortunately, Santa Ana has only one full-service public library to serve over 330,000 residents. There are no general interest bookstores in the city. Yet there are over 50 bars and liquor stores, 20 marijuana dispensaries, and at least 4 fancy sneaker shops. What does this say about our city’s priorities? The 2016 OC Community Indicators Report states that only 18% of 3rd graders in Santa Ana meet the state standards for literacy and language arts. Only 28% of 8th graders meet the same standard. How does this lack of literacy and communication skills impact the future of our city’s youth? Consider how few opportunities are available to someone who can barely read or write.

Books can’t stop a bullet or instantly change our leadership, but I do believe they offer a promise of another world. Books give us the courage and skills to build that world. The Santa Ana Public Library has tens of thousands of books and educational materials for Santa Ana residents of all ages and backgrounds to explore their history and potential. I encourage every resident to get a free SAPL card and visit the library at least once a month. If you or someone you know has trouble getting to the library, my nonprofit organization, Makara Center for the Arts, will find a way to get a Little Free Library in your neighborhood. Just contact us at

Fifty bars and liquor stores, twenty weed shops, one full-service library. We reap what we sow. When we become a city of readers, can you imagine our harvest?

Marytza K. Rubio is a writer from Santa Ana and the founder & executive director of Makara Center for the Arts.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at

  • Paul Lucas

    You would do well to consider Micro-Libraries. Neighborhood based store front centers in the ubiquitous strip malls where kids can have access to tutoring, internet use, books, and story reading times for small children on weekends. Low cost and can be implimenetd in neighborthoods all over the city. Not as good as regiopnal libraries but caqn delver vital services into neighborhoods directly.

  • David Zenger

    Booze, weed and sneakers?

    What’s that got to do with kiddie academic failure?

    Santa Ana’s problem is parents who don’t value education and a political environment that was toxic even before the police union began its latest putsch.

    • LFOldTimer

      Caution! You’re speaking taboo stuff now, David. You’re taking a huge risk of being called a ‘racist’ or a ‘bigot. Be careful. Hopefully they won’t bring the Berkeley crowd down here to shame you. They all love free speech until it works against them. Then the leftists trample all over free speech to shut you up.

      • David Zenger

        I don’t think so. From the failure statistics I deduce parents who aren’t engaged. From the news I deduce a political structure that is run by the public employee unions – teachers and police.

        • LFOldTimer

          The standardized scholastic aptitude test scores for certain school districts are worse than others. Have you researched the SAUSD rankings lately, as compared with the others in OC? In general, the parents are more involved in their children’s school performance in districts that perform the best. I’ve spoken to many teachers about this. They all tell me the same thing. But I know humans are often resistant to the truth.

  • MajorTom

    Thank you to Ms. Rubio for her thoughtful advocacy of books, literacy and education. We need to create as many opportunities as possible to get our city–and our nation–reading more. Who would disagree with that?

    It’s mind-blowing that a neighboring city like Anaheim, with nearly the same population, has ten library branches to serve their community, while Santa Ana only has one full-service branch. Let’s get our priorities straight.

    Especially now, with all the fear surrounding immigration, people need to learn about how other folks live in different cultures and communities. Books are one of the best ways to create the empathy, understanding, and critical thinking skills that give people the agency to build better lives for themselves.

    Libraries are also spaces for communities to meet and create together. This keeps kids off the street, expands their imaginations, and thereby offers an ongoing, viable method of crime prevention.

    MAKE AMERICA READ AGAIN! Support the SAPL & Makara Center for the Arts!

  • LFOldTimer

    “Even the xenophobic mood of Prop. 187 has been resurrected by the president and his white-supremacist administration.”

    All nations (every single one) protect their borders from unwanted intruders. Why can’t you folks be genuine and simply admit it? Are all nations and their leaders ‘xenophobic’? Until you answer those questions your credibility is suspect.

    Do you ever take the time to question whether Santa Ana’s policy to protect illegal aliens perhaps contributes to crime within your city? It’s well known that those who willfully break the laws are more prone to continue breaking the laws. Ask any criminologist. You can’t have one without the other. So if you accept one – just accept the other and stop complaining.

    Although I am a fan of libraries and have frequented more than a few in my lifetime – it seems to me that internet provide kids with a ton of reading material in 2017. I believe we still need libraries – but not to the extent that we needed them 40 years ago.

    Most education happens inside the home. Certainly a child’s DESIRE and OPPORTUNITY to learn happens inside the home. I would suggest that you teach the parents how to instill the passion to learn in their children. If you did that I suspect that you would be in awe and astonished at the improvement in scholastic aptitude in the City of Santa Ana.

    Just my $0.02.

    • marie

      Or, perhaps, you could not refer to us as “you people” and TRY to put US in YOUR shoes. I have been a victim of crime and yet I do not blame them. The system failed them, the schools, everyone. Ever heard of role theory? How about encouraging others instead of expecting them to fail? Stop generalizing and sterotyping.

      • LFOldTimer

        Where did you get that I wrote “you people”? I wrote “you folks”. Please review what I actually wrote.

        I was referring to those folks who actually believe that all nations (regardless of the majority ethnicity) that wish to protect their sovereign resources and their borders from foreign invasions are practicing xenophobics. According to them I guess the entire world is xenophobic since I’m not aware of any country that opens it borders to all who wish to enter. Are you? If you are, please inform me. I’m always willing to learn.

        And what evidence do you have to show that Trump’s administration are “white supremacists”? That’s quite an allegation. Just because Trump wants to enforce the immigration laws that have been part of the United State’s Constitution and our statutory legal system for umpteen years – that makes him and his appointees “white supremacists”? Please step back and reconsider your claim. It’s beyond bizarre. So would an olive colored leader in an olive colored nation be an “olive supremacist” if he vigorously enforced his nation’s immigration laws to keep out illegal intruders? Please answer. I want to know.

        Oh, and I’m not putting anyone in my shoes. I’m simply explaining to you how the greater world works. Is the United States supposed to have a completely different set of rules than all else? Are we supposed to let anybody come into our country who has a desire to live here without any order or control? Is that what you’re inferring? Please explain.

        So you don’t blame individuals for the crimes they commit against other people and/or property? Do you think we should have jails – or should we just let all criminals run loose throughout society? Should we punish bad parents who sired the criminal instead of the actual criminal? If someone murders another human on the street – you don’t blame him? huh? If you were President how would you run the nation?

        If you don’t blame criminals then why would you blame Donald Trump for his actions that you disapprove of?

        Role theory? I do encourage people to succeed in life. All the time. Failing is part of life. All of us have failed at one thing or another. But when we did we picked ourselves up by the bootstraps, wiped the dirt off our bottoms and moved forward with or without encouragement. But I agree, encouragement is preferable. But when it’s not there we have to move forward anyway. Don’t we?

        I’m generalizing and stereotyping??? ha. Aren’t you the one who claimed those who supported Prop 187 are ‘xenophobic’ and that Trump’s administration are all “white supremacists”?

        Has anybody ever told you the story about the pot and the kettle?