American libraries whether they are public, academic, or specialized collect and organize data and information on a broad range of topics and interests. With respect to literature, especially writings that focus on America and its people, their holdings reinforce the interests and priorities set by the library’s policy makers. However, it has been a bitter experience over the years that the writings by and about people of color were not systematically purchased, cataloged and preserved by many types of libraries.
The Civil Rights movement in the 1950s triggered an important transformation. Scholars, informed laymen, and other readers began to ask librarians to identify literature about the unique experience of people of color, focusing mainly on blacks, and gradually other minority groups in America and soon black writers, poets and essayists were “discovered and re-discovered,” and became popular. But there were challenges to black literature, as books like Soul on Ice (1968) by Eldridge Cleaver, The Autobiography of Malcom X (Grove Press: 1968), and even the classic work The Fire Next Time (Dial Press: 1963) by James Baldwin were considered subversive and un-American by conservatives until the American public decided they wanted to read them.
Soon, literature by and about blacks was prepared for distribution by traditional publishers and book sellers to promote a new awareness of stories and studies about black experiences and contributions to American literature. American libraries added new writings to complement those already in their collections. However, Latino literature in the US posed different challenges for librarians. (Latino will encompass Chicano, Hispanic, Hispano, Raza, and other terms that define Latinos in the US.)
Literary accounts of Latinos in America were not as easy to capture as black writings. Numerous factors complicated the identification of literature about the Latino experience in this country. Latinos are a heterogeneous group in our population that includes Hispanos in New Mexico settling there before Northern Europeans established permanent settlements along the Atlantic Seaboard. Other Latino groups, particularly people of Mexican origin, lived in the territory in the Southwest conquered by the US after the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).