It's been a literary joy reading Anisa's posts the last few months and it's greater pleasure talking to her about her work with Aztlan Libre, Gemini Ink, and her greater goals in carving out a permanent space for emerging and veteran Latin@ poets.
Oscar Bermeo: What was the impetus for starting a new press?
Anisa Onofre: My compañero, Juan Tejeda, and I began talking about starting a press when we met a few years ago. I was doing a lot of writing, and he kept encouraging me to publish it. The original idea was to create a press, publish my book, and then offer an annual Premio prize for new Chicano writers. I hesitated because I didn’t want to create a press just to initially publish myself.
OB: Your first title is by prestigious Xicano poet alurista. How did you come to choose alurista as Aztlan Libre's inaugural author?
AO: So, the idea to start the press was always there. Then in 2009 Juan and I came across alurista’s MySpace page. Alurista was Juan’s poetry professor at UT-Austin years ago and Juan decided to contact him to see how he was doing. He sent a message through alurista’s MySpace, and alurista’s son Zamná responded with a telephone number. Juan called alurista who was living in Tijuana at the time. It was somewhere in that conversation alurista mentioned he had a new manuscript and was going to send it to us. We took this as a sign to start moving on the press (please see introduction to Tunaluna as a reference to this question).
OB: How does the work you are doing with Aztlan Libre connect with your work with Gemini Ink's Writers in Communities (WIC) program?
AO: On a technical level, my work with WIC also came in at the perfect time. When I started at Gemini Ink last July, one of the first things Executive | Artistic Director Rosemary Catacalos did was hire someone to train me in InDesign because part of the WIC job is to create the books that come out of the writing workshops. So having this knowledge really helped us to create Tunaluna.
On another level, I think Aztlan Libre Press’ philosophy is a lot like Gemini Ink’s philosophy, which is that we encourage people to write their stories, and for Aztlan Libre Press—particularly raza. We want our people to see their stories as important, valuable, and necessary, as well as to see them documented and reflected positively through these publications.
OB: What future titles/authors can we expect from Aztlan Libre in the future?
AO: Tunaluna is the first book in our Veteran@s Series. We’re also making plans for a Nuevas Voces Series, and an Aztlan Libre Press Premio en la Literatura Xicana, as well as a children’s coloring book. At the moment, we’re gathering the submissions we’ve received for a chapbook, Nahualliandoing Dos—a collection of poetry written in English, Spanish, and Nahuatl.
OB: In the era of SB 1070, the state of Texas' attempt to rewrite classroom texts, and the myth of a "post-racial" United States, what do you hope will be the impact of a multilingual press?
AO: The goal of our small press is to contribute to the development, promotion, publication, and free expression of Xican@ literature and art as part of the larger diaspora of American and World Literature and art, and to be part of the communication and dialogue that contributes to a better understanding among people of different cultures. This provides a positive impact on our children by providing reflections of the Chicano experience—an area that most media depicts in a negative light.
We hope to bring about awareness that literature in the schools generally does not reflect our history, language, culture, and literature, and that independent presses such as ours are important sources for this information. Multilingual presses offer an alternative to the school system, but we do not want to absolve the schools from providing a culturally relevant curriculum to its students, especially in a state like Texas where over half of the public school age children are Chicano/Latino.