Letter from our founder
Americas for Conservation + the Arts (AFC+A) and its two central initiatives: The Americas Latino Eco-Festival (ALEF) and Mandel Vilar Press (MVPress) were established in Colorado out of a frustration and a hope. I had been publishing literature in translation for various academic presses in the United States and representing works by Latin American
and Latino authors when it became clear that mounting publishing corporate insistence on higher profits appealed to the lowest common denominator of taste. Letters of rejection for my authors began to take on a new tone, a “market ideology” signature: "Great writing but I can’t explain to marketing how I’m going to sell 10,000 copies" would be a common response from editors. Conglomerates and marketing teams had come to dominate American publishing dumbing down books and robbing them of much of its standing as vehicles for the expression of significant ideas.
As an editor I had been working under the mentorship of legendary publisher of Jewish Studies, Dr. Robert A. Mandel (now Co-Founder of MVPress) in vibrant non-profit university presses that advanced diversity in publishing. Dr. Mandel, just as publisher of Pantheon Books Andre Schiffrin, was making extraordinary contributions to the culture of the Americas by taking risk after risk with each of his valiant acquisitions of great works of art authored by international and minority authors. Yet, the conglomerates that dominate publishing have enormous power — with booksellers, especially — and there is a difference between a major publisher publishing a book, and an independent/non-profit/ university press publishing the same work. It is the same old predicament of access, dissemination, and who/what owns the channels of what is said and what is heard.
It was sad. I had come to this country as a Spanish speaking nine years old afraid of being monolingual. I had in part overcome my shame through reading and tapping maple trees. The Spanish language books in the small one classroom school library of Boynton School were stories in the native language I understood. This simple validation opened up the door for English. In a New England kibbutz type of boarding school, living off the land and bent down by isolation, the natural landscapes that cushioned my longing for my dead mother and my faraway island of Puerto Rico slowly straightened up my spine. Nature and books became my portable homeland. I related to a book and a forest as if to the family. Actually, it was more than that; as if the most loyal of friends. I wrote my first book at 19 in the midst of toxic relationships. I know I am alive today thanks to the wilderness of New Hampshire’s maple forests and great books. Ironically, the Caribbean landscape of my childhood had been ravaged by unregulated corporations, ignorance, the lack of an environmental vision. At the age of nine, this country of the North gave me Theroux, John Muir, Rachel Carson, and the kind ecological heart of Mr. Arthur Boynton, founder of Boynton School.
Books and Democracy
I grew to become a writer because I was a reader. I evolved into an editor because the books I most loved were going out of print, sacrificed to market forces. Concentrating on numbers and profit margins at the expense of quality do incalculable damage to the health index of cultures, democracy, and individuals. This reality only gets worse by the shameful fact that less than 1% of what US readers read is in translation. In contrast, in some European countries such as France and Germany, the figure is closer to 30%. There is much to ponder about the health of a nation when its peoples don’t read across cultures. This ignorance breeds bigotry and prejudice. It is clear that publishing translations is one urgent mandate for the making of an empathic, global citizen. This is why MVPress is such an urgent call2action and a central initiative of AFC+A.
In 2006 I had my second child and became the Puerto Rican mother of two Latina little girls from Colorado. As I nursed all the Spanish possible into their tiny selves I became a Puerto Rican American woman concerned for the cultural and ecological fate of my offspring. I came to motherhood at the same time the reality of climate change and the threatened biodiversity of the planet was finally making it to mainstream media. I wanted to change, now. There was not much time. This is when Americas for Conservation & the Arts was born; with the hope of better working at shaping a more compassionate and ecologically sound world for my children’s generation.
But social change through publishing—mainly through academic adoptions— is slow and it takes a long while to penetrate culture and make an impact. ALEF - now in its 4th edition - addresses this organic slow pace of cultural literacy making. An annual seed gathering uniting diverse communities for a sustainable future and highlighting how Latinos are not only the fastest growing consumer group but also the greenest, is our "publicity" platform for igniting a change in the overall narrative of Latino Americans (and communities of color in general) and the environment. The national press is telling the great story of ALEF and with the 4th edition over and more than 25 million media impressions, I think we are on the right path.
AFC+A, ALEF, and as of 2018 MVPress (our publishing arm dedicated to diversity in publishing) exist today because of the dedication of hundreds of visionary leaders who have infused our programming with the legacy and momentum mainstream media has denied peoples of color for way too long, and of course, because of the generous spirit of our many volunteers who at different moments have taken their watch at the helm and proven the insurmountable value of social capital. All our volunteers share in the belief of the power of civic action and the arts to engage the traditionally disenfranchised to be advocates for themselves and their families and to build alliances to increase our collective understanding of our capacity to address the environmental justice issues our children will be facing.
The history of Americas for Conservation + the Arts is young, somewhat emotional, and filled with longing but its story is very old, almost ancient: the need to reconcile peoples and places for a sustainable and resilient future.
Author, Advocate & Guggenheim Fellow