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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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