Project Director Virginia Escalante gives us the inside scoop on this year’s event.
This week, we are excited to be in the midst of yet another big event for arts and education in East Village. Culture, academia and creativity converge once again for the San Diego City College International Book Fair. The book fair will showcase literature, arts and music from both sides of the border, serving as a culture nexus and providing a site for cultural exchange and growth in downtown San Diego. We had the opportunity to get the inside scoop from project director and City College Professor of English, Virginia Escalante, and get a behind the scenes look at this year’s book fair.
A long-time facilitator for cultural interaction and expansion, Virginia has constructed her approach to teaching and working from experiences on both sides of the education system. She attended USCD for her master’s and is currently in the process of completing her doctorate degree in Communications. She describes how the challenges she faced as a grad student have helped to make her a better teacher and to more aptly prepare students for transfer to universities: “Now that I’m familiar with the expectations of the UC system, I am better at developing and deploying pedagogy that builds our students’ critical thinking and academic writing skills so that they succeed when they arrive at that level.” The book fair plays an important function in this pedagogy, exposing both students and residents to the work of national and international authors and artists – in their words, to “provide insights into both local and international cultures and experiences.”
Through it’s diverse and exciting lineup, the weeklong event will certainly accomplish its goal. Our very own Pete Garcia discussed his published novel, From Amigos to Friends, on Monday – a presentation that Virginia predicted to be “especially topical given that he was an unaccompanied minor who came here from Cuba and in light of the recent migration of more than 66,000 children from Central America.” She lists a number of other poignant speakers who have presented or will be presenting throughout the week: “Maceo Montoya, a gifted artist, author, and Chicano Studies professor, City College counselor Ray Wong, the author of I’m not Chinese: The Journey from Resentment to Reverence, Reyna Grande, author of The Distance Between Us, back by popular demand because her memoir resonates with many of our students, Zohreh Ghahremani, whose books speak to the Iranian-American diaspora, Lysley Tenorio, and Ella deCastro Baron, Judy Patacsil, and Morivi Soliven, the latter of whom won the Philippines’ equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize.” The culmination is a resonating message of diversity, multiculturalism, and the power of expression through the written word and the arts.
Virginia has also reached critical acclaim in the literary world. A former journalist for The Los Angeles Times, she is a Pulitzer Prize recipient for her contributions to a series on ‘Southern California’s Latino Community,’ which received the award’s gold medal for meritorious public service in 1984. The journey through academia and literary success eventually lead her to take on a role where she could apply her skills and experiences and create a forum for others to do the same: project manager of the SDCC Book Fair. Virginia explains that she was compelled to volunteer for the position because the fair is such an integral part of the school’s curriculum. It provides students with the opportunity to meet and interact with the authors, “which enriches their understanding and appreciation of the literature. The students are highly motivated and engage more enthusiastically with their readings when they know the authors of their texts are coming to campus. The fair also serves as a resource for faculty who strive to enhance their own as well as their students’ intellectual development. Other members of the community also welcome the opportunity to meet and converse with the authors who often answer questions the readers may have about their books, their writing process, or experiences.”
Students and faculty of City College are not the only attendees at the book fair. The event will draw various members of the community including artists; East Village residents; librarians; teachers and students from other schools; members of various organizations; mothers who bring their children; retirees; and other avid readers. The diverse crowd reflects downtown San Diego’s thriving literary culture, owed in part to the Central Library’s role in promoting literacy and literature in the area. Virginia cites a number of other programs that have helped to foster this culture, including So Say We All, (a non-profit based in East Village that conducts writing workshops, publishes books, and hosts other programs), and the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, which sponsored a panel on the freedom to write for the book fair. Virginia says of the many opportunities and relationships, “I look forward to creating or strengthening more of these types of partnerships or collaborative efforts in our area.”
The creative class has been established as the backbone of the culture in East Village, and will continue to be a crucial element throughout the process of identity building. Virginia says that I.D.E.A. District’s potential role in this could also be beneficial to students: “It’s very impressive, and its emphasis on the “creative class” is quite interesting. I hope that our City College students can somehow become involved or be provided with opportunities to learn about the development of a project of such a huge scope as well as its impact.” Collaboration has proven to be a vital piece to the recent explosion growth in terms of culture, technology, education, and more in the downtown neighborhood, and Virginia has seen City College expanding along with the rest of the city: “Our new Arts and Humanities Building now houses the City College Center for the Literary Arts whose program includes the book fair, Spring Literary Series, our City College Press which publishes books, and our City Works Journal, all part of efforts to support and nurture literature and creative writing by students, faculty, local, regional, and national authors.”
The SDCC Book Fair and other similar events and programs have a powerful potential to engage the entire East Village Community in a collaborative, intellectual dialogue. It’s already happening as we speak, but Virginia explains that there is still plenty of room for the book fair to expand and evolve: “If the book fair grows to its full potential, more members of the creative class could be involved in helping to design a multiplicity of spaces where readings and other events could be held in proximity of each other, maintaining the cohesiveness of the fair. One of the book fair’s traditions has been to include other cultural forms such as music, art, photography, and film, so those possibilities could also be increased, further developing a rich, uplifting environment that supports and nurtures a variety of creative endeavors and increases participation in or access to cultural events.” This is the synergy that is playing a major factor in the development of East Village’s personality.
As this personality grows more distinct, one of the commonly shared goals is accessibility. Virginia lists the resources that make up the city’s “vibrant, multicultural community in music, art, literature, film, and other forms,” which include art spaces, eateries, music venues and more, and expresses the need for affordability – which is precisely why the book fair is a free event. In the future, she hopes to see more affordable cultural events that will serve all segments of the community: “The arts should be accessible to all rather than the sole purview of the affluent.” The forums for cultural events are certainly multiplying here in East Village – for example, RADLab’s Quartyard – public spaces that create a community environment and are sustainable and accessible. Now, it’s just a matter of cultivating them as a neighborhood and helping them to thrive.
By: Julie Riggert