By Adam Critchley
The Potential: ‘To Limit Culture’
The efforts in renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the US government’s plans regarding library and bilingual education funding, could have a negative impact on bilingual publishing, access to books, and attitudes to other cultures, according to panelists at Guadalajara International Book Fair in Mexico.
The importance of access to Spanish-language books and bilingual education is more vital than ever as the Hispanic population in the United States grows. That population currently numbers 58 million, with some 37 million speaking Spanish at home, said Adán Griego, curator of the Ibero-American collection at the libraries of Stanford University.
Griego highlighted public libraries in the States as great promoters of reading that are facing threats of budget cuts. “The US government’s preliminary budget for the 2017 fiscal year,” he said, “attempted to eliminate the Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS), which funds those libraries.”
IMLS director Kathryn Matthew said earlier this year, according to panelists, that $214 million of the $230 million budget the institute receives is channeled directly to grants to state and local libraries. And other agencies, such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS), could also see their budgets reduced.
Lizárraga: ‘To Close Doors and Eyes’
Jenny Lizárraga is public relations director at Florida-based Cinco Books, which imports and sells Spanish-language and bilingual titles. Lizárraga also emphasized during the panel discussion the importance of public libraries in providing access to bilingual books.
“A public library is an important nucleus for the community,” she said, “a neutral, multicultural space, that allows us to nourish an appreciation of literature in our children. Those 58 million Hispanics in the US need access to those libraries, which serve to complement public education.”
She also highlighted what she sees as the importance of a robust retail sector. “Independent bookstores have resurged since the 2008-2009 crisis,” she said, “when many closed their doors. And 10 years later, they’re back and present at book fairs, and they play an important role in society by attending to the need to provide bilingual books for the Latino population in their homes.”
“There are no taxes on book imports, but if this changes, it would elevate the cost of imported books, and US publishers would have to buy more rights and publish at home, rather than importing books from Latin America or from other countries.”Jenny Lizárraga
Regarding the renegotiation of NAFTA, she said that either a new deal or the trade agreement’s elimination would have serious implications for publishers and booksellers. “Thanks to the agreement,” Lizárraga said, “we have been able to buy books from the three signatory countries [Mexico, Canada, the USA] at more accessible prices. And if the treaty is scrapped, it’s likely that many products will be subjected to new tariffs.
“The policy of the Trump administration is to boost GDP and local manufacturing, as NAFTA led to much outsourcing. But it’s controversial because in the case of publishing, this would be to limit culture, to close doors and eyes.
“There are no taxes on book imports,” she said, “but if this changes, it would elevate the cost of imported books, and US publishers would have to buy more rights and publish at home, rather than importing books from Latin America or from other countries.”
Lizárraga also asserted the importance of maintaining and increasing bilingual education programs. “Children are often taught bilingually at primary levels,” she said, “but then the second language is dropped at high school. And if children aren’t taught at all levels there will be a reduction in bilingualism, and we’ll just have people who know a little bit of Spanish. For bilingual education to be effective, school curricula need to give equal weight to both languages.”
Alonso-Regalado: ‘Huge Users of Libraries’
Jesús Alonso-Regalado, subject librarian in history, Latin American studies, and Romance languages at the University at Albany, said that 37 percent of universities’ funding comes from federal and state governments. And he said that taxing tuition fee waivers for graduate students would hit the country’s biggest readers.
“Taxing graduate students would also affect university libraries,” Alonso-Regalado said, “given that that [graduate] grade of student borrows the most books, as students preparing MA and doctorate theses are huge users of libraries.”
Such measures would also affect bilingual study for American students, he said, while fewer visas for foreign students would lead to a loss of diversity in the academic sector, the panelists agreed.
Alonso-Regalado said there are currently 690,000 students enrolled in Spanish courses at all levels in the United States, while there are 8,000 graduates in Spanish-language literature courses at the MA and PhD levels.
Payton: ‘The Opportunity To Rethink’
Thomas Payton, director of Trinity University Press in San Antonio, Texas, however, said that while the changes ushered in by the Trump administration and a new-look NAFTA may cause short-term damage, there also are opportunities to be seized.
“We’re facing some serious considerations,” Payton said. “To a publisher, this is of great concern. If any of the threats that are coming out of the White House are enacted, they’re going to push up the prices of books, and for many publishers, especially commercial ones, it will reduce or eliminate the economic viability of books, especially literature—which is already economically challenging.”
Payton said that Trinity University Press is trying to work with printers and manufacturers in Mexico as part of its social policy, but a border tax would bring serious implications. “There are key programs that are fundamental to scholarship, writers’ programs, the endowment for the arts, and so forth,” he said, “and we just don’t know where we stand, and I don’t think that’s going to get any clearer any time soon.”
He said that the potential elimination of select departments and programs could have direct impact on publishers, especially nonprofit and educational houses. “But moments of crisis have the potential to produce moments of clarity,” Payton said, “and we can see it as a time to mobilize and be creative. It has given us the opportunity to rethink who we are and what we do.”
Still, there is a potential for much damage to be done in a short time, he warned. “We know the projected, significant growth rate of the Hispanic demographic in the US over the coming decades, and what that means, not just for language, but also for reading, and broader media discussions.”
“We have a social responsibility to make sure our US audience sees that we’re trying to shine a light on the importance of the history and culture of Mexico and contemporary ideas, strategies, and solutions that Mexico offers. And we’re doing that through our publishing.”Thomas Payton
Payton went on to describe what he sees as similarities between the United States and Mexico. “Trump and other politicians,” he said, “like to point out how different we are, but when we compare reading statistics in the US and Mexico, for example—how many books a person reads on average per year—we see that the US and Mexico are both in the bottom one-third worldwide. And our numbers are similar: 5 to 4 and 5 to 3 books per year, respectively.”
“We’re at the same fundamental level, and it shows we have work to do,” he said. “We continue to waste a lot of time fighting over the same size pie as if it will never get larger, and what we don’t do as publishers is look more deeply.” We need to “look at reading rates and address the issue of who we’re publishing for.
“The pie could get bigger if we could do our jobs better.”
Payton said that his Trinity Press’ aim is to work with Mexico to develop partnerships and associations—publishing more books by Mexican writers, translating books published in Mexico into English, and producing bilingual educational books.
“We have a social responsibility,” he said, “to make sure our US audience and other readers see that we’re trying to shine a light on the importance of the history and culture of Mexico and contemporary ideas, strategies, and solutions that Mexico offers us. And we’re doing that through our publishing.”
“Some good will come out of this,” he said, particularly in regard to levels of understanding between Mexican and US-based publishers and “how they can become more mission-driven as a result of this distressing disruption.”