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The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Latino Book & Family Festival celebrates childhood literacy, advocacy and tradition

Crowds gather at City College for the Latino Book & Family festival Saturday, Nov. 4 2023. Photo credit: Manuel Figueroa /
Crowds gather at City College for the Latino Book & Family festival Saturday, Nov. 4 2023. Photo credit: Manuel Figueroa / [email protected]

A crowd of families flooded into City College’s Performing Arts Center. Children climbed on top of seats, and those who didn’t have access caught a glimpse sitting on top of parents’ shoulders.

A mother lifted up her daughter, clad in a NASA uniform, as she listened wide-eyed, seemingly pulled in by the voice at the front of the space.

Everyone packed into the center leaning in, hanging onto every word spoken by José Hernández, engineer and former NASA astronaut.

Later on, the crowd remained and not a single breath was made as labor activist and leader of the Chicano Movement Dolores Huerta rose to the podium. A 93-year-old mother of 11, Huerta spoke to the audience like a mother to entire generations and families, some who have grown up on her message.

Both icons in their own spaces of work, but were united as they spoke at the 72nd annual Latino Book & Family Festival, hosted by City College for the first time on Nov. 4. The event, according to organizer Rene Aguilar, was created to advocate for early childhood literacy, as well as providing a space for underrepresented authors to sell published work. The event hosted a total of 33 Latino authors. 

At the event families — predominantly Latino, but many of other backgrounds — mingled around the quad where food trucks lined up alongside booths promoting bilingual and community organizations, all while the scent of fresh coffee lingered in the air. In the City Cafe rows of booths were packed with free children’s books and authors promoting and signing novels in Spanish and English.

Guests explore the various vendors and booths during the Latino Book & Family festival at City College Saturday, Nov. 4 2023. Photo credit: Manuel Figueroa / [email protected]

“It was definitely an organizer’s dream to have something at Sacramento City College,” said Aguilar on organizing the event for its first time being held in California’s capital. As a Hispanic-Serving Institution, he felt the campus’ diversity would draw in families from all communities. 

A standout aspect for families who came for the free books or a bite to eat were the speeches from Hernández and Huerta.

In his speech, Hernández told his life story, and the story that went on to become a biopic titled, “A Million Miles Away.” Being born in French Camp to immigrant farm workers, Hernández’s childhood consisted of hard work and traveling across California to follow the seasonal harvest.

Hernández decided he wanted to become an astronaut the moment he first saw a glimpse of space on his families’ black and white television. Through the fuzz and static on screen, Hernández saw a clear future for himself. Hernández’ father ended up giving him the key advice that helped to keep his dream alive, telling him, “‘Always give more than what people expect of you.’”

Former NASA astronaut and UC Regent José Hernández gives a speech in the Performing Arts Center during the Latino Book & Family festival at City College Saturday, Nov. 4 2023. Photo credit: Manuel Figueroa / [email protected]

Another big focus of the Latino Book & Family Festival, according to Aguilar, was allowing a space for Latino authors to promote and sell their work. One author cited one of the surprising aspects of the event, besides the stellar coffee stand, was the amount of creative inspiration he felt interacting with other Latino authors.

When the second keynote speaker Dolores Huerta, who has worked in the social justice sector for more than 50 years, spoke, she didn’t begin with what she’s accomplished, but rather what her children have. Leading the discussion on this note, Huerta brought attention to the massive importance of childhood literacy, especially in the face of labor rights and many other social justice issues that continue to plague the country.

Huerta has advocated for and secured numerous basic rights to United States farm workers throughout her career as an activist and leader of the Chicano Movement, which began in the 1960s, along with fellow organizer César Chávez. Beyond her work in co-founding the United Farm Workers of America, Huerta has served as an advocate for educators’ rights just as vigorously.

Dolores Huerta accepts an award during the Latino Book & Family festival at City College Saturday, Nov. 4 2023. Photo credit: Manuel Figueroa / [email protected]

Television news anchor, children’s book author and publisher Leticia Ordaz joined Huerta onstage for a panel discussion on childhood literacy and advocacy. Calling the event “greatness and quality in publishing, by and for Latinos,” Ordaz interviewed Huerta on her activism in the educational sphere, and shared a personal connection with her, being her go-to source on anything activism-related. 

By the end of the panel, Huerta got the crowd of families and supporters chanting her signature phrase, “Si se puede,” or “Yes, it is possible,” joyfully spreading her message of courage and faith in community.

Valeria Cortez, Sacramento State alumni and longtime fan of Huerta, jumped in a long line with her friend Alana Tran for Huerta to sign their portraits of her. Cortez is from San Jose, and ever since attending an elementary school that happened to be neighbors with the Mexican Heritage Plaza, a public park and cultural center focused on the local Chicano community, she was involved with community marches and watched videos of Huerta in her free time.

“Being able to organize and move people, and have people power, that in itself is a privilege.” said Cortez, and added that because there are so many who are overworked and underpaid in the community, having to provide for their families as top priority, those who have the ability must advocate for their sake.

“[Huerta] helps us inspire the entire community to go out and organize,” Cortez said, emphasizing the impact the digital age has had on activism, and said something just as simple as sharing a powerful message on social media can inspire broad scale social change.

Jose Hernández, the former NASA astronaut, author and subject of a viral biopic, was actually turned down by the space organization 11 times before ultimately being accepted. And in the publishing world, authors of color predominantly face hardships in getting published, according to organizer Aguilar, which was a main issue he wished to combat with the Latino Book & Family Festival, and one he felt the event succeeded in.

“It’s almost as hard to be an author as it is to be a NASA astronaut,” says Aguilar, as Hernández signs copies of his own novel, and mingles with other Latino authors at the City Cafe.

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Emma Richman
Emma Richman, Editor in Chief
Emma is passionate about writing in multiple disciplines, such as professional and creative. Emma is primarily interested in writing about news that directly affects Sacramento and its citizens during her time on the Express.
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