Lamar University is joining Lamar State College – Orange Ron E. Lewis Library in The Big Read. Put together by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the program is aimed at promoting reading for the pleasure of reading. LSC-O received an $11,200 grant from the NEA to sponsor The Big Read in Orange and Jefferson County communities, focusing on the 1972 book “Bless Me Ultima,” by Rudolfo Anaya.
Catalina Castillon, associate professor of Spanish in the Department of English and Modern Languages at Lamar University, will lead a discussion about the book in Room 702 in the Mary and John Gray Library at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11. The discussion will focus on themes of Hispanic culture, identity and literary heritage in the United States.
Hispanic literature in the U.S. can be broken down into three parts, Castillon said. There is the literature of the exile by those who come to the U.S. for political reasons. There is the literature of the immigrant who comes for economic reasons. And there is the literature of the native born in the U.S. who might have had family here for generations.
“That’s really what this book is all about,” she said. “For the native, there are many different ways to address identity. They are very much American, but they still identify with their family’s culture.”
According to “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America,” a 2004 study by the NEA, people are engaging different forms of media, but reading books less. The NEA began The Big Read as a way to promote reading by giving members of the community an opportunity to read a preselected title and discuss it with their neighbors.
Castillon said “Bless Me Ultima” is a good pick for the program because it touches on relevant topics that can get people engaged in discussion. The book tells the coming-of-age story of Antonio Marez, a 6-year-old boy in New Mexico during World War II. Ultima, a traditional medicine woman, comes to stay with his family, and her practices challenge Marez’s Catholic beliefs.
“The boy is dealing with issues of community, family, religion and tradition,” Castillon said. “There is a lot of Catholic imagery in the book, but Ultima is a traditional healer, or curandera. So it raises the question is Ultima a healer, or is she a witch?”
Marez is torn between the two worlds of his mother’s family, who are farmers, and his father’s family who are cowboys, Castillon said.
“He has older brothers who went to war are come back disturbed by the experience. There is a lot going on in the world this little boy grows up in, and we see it all through his eyes.”
Partners with the LSC-O Ron E. Lewis Library in the SETX Big Read include the Lamar University Department of English and Modern Languages and Mary and John Gray Library, Orange Public Library, Port Arthur Public Library, Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD, West Orange-Cove CISD, Bridge City ISD, American Association of University Women Bookends book club and the Stark Museum of Art.
Castillon said she is happy to be collaborating with LSC-O. “I am honored they thought of us,” she said. “I think collaboration between institutions is a good thing. This is a good book, and I am excited to be involved in a project that gets people learning.