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Literary Arts Festival spotlights local and visiting artists of color

Sarah Rafael Garcia, founder and curator of LibroMobile.
Sarah Rafael Garcia, founder and curator of LibroMobile, a literary project in Santa Ana featuring bookmobile exhibits, creative workshops and live readings.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

When author Sarah Rafael García’s LibroMobile began taking up space in a Santa Ana back alley off 4th and Spurgeon streets, the purpose was to cultivate diversity through books. The past year has been about how to take up space online to survive.

LibroMobile’s Literary Arts Festival is going virtual on Jan. 23 from noon to 8 p.m. The free one-day event will present a mix of live readings, workshops and music.

When curating the festival lineup García and Marilynn Montaño, the bookstore’s social media and event coordinator, focused on local and visiting artists who have supported the bookstore, Santa Ana or who have elevated the voices of Black and indigenous people of color.

Viewers can expect book, art vendor and business recommendations, drag queen story-time, a Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Assn. collaboration and a performance from the band Apollo Bebop.

Some of the featured poets and writers include Tamara Hattis, Donato Martinez, Sheila J. Sadr, Gabriel San Román (who is also a TimesOC contributor), Luis Humberto Navejas and Ernesto Cisneros.

David Lopez, a queer Latino writer and librarian for O.C. Public Library, will be awarded the Modesta Avila Award.

Santa Ana’s LibroMobile will host its third Literary Arts Festival on Jan. 23.
Santa Ana’s LibroMobile will host its third Literary Arts Festival on Jan. 23 through Instagram.
(Courtesy of LibroMobile)

The original iteration of LibroMobile, which still exists, started as a repurposed garden cart travelling through the area — in the same vein as a street-food-vending cart. A year later, García moved into a 200-square-foot bookstore and launched a festival.

“Until 2018 I had not presented even in my local library as a writer or an author, even though my first book came out in 2008,” García said. “Experiencing that brings on a lot of trauma because you are so proud to come from this community. We go back to what inspired us to be who we are, and it’s usually our childhood hometowns, our culture, relevant role models we had growing up that encouraged us to be the artists or writers that we are — yet the city doesn’t take pride in this.”

Organizers said the motivation behind the festival was to not only build a platform creating visibility for local writers and artists but to also invest in Santa Ana monetarily. García made it a point to pay festival performers as much as LibroMobile could in a modest stipend. Staff members such as book advisors and web content managers, who are either artists or local youth, are paid from book sales and grant funding.

The bookstore didn’t open to the public throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, all efforts went toward going virtual.

“That was really hard for me because I’m 46 years old and I went to undergrad before the internet existed. I’m not someone who is savvy on Instagram, I didn’t even use [IG] stories before the pandemic,” García said.

She held weekly Instagram TV sessions and is holding the festival through the same platform this year.

In mid-2020, García hired Xochitl Vallez as a web content manager to help the bookstore transition to online selling.

Sherman Library & Gardens in Newport Beach set up its annual Wishing Tree, which will be available to the public until Feb. 26.

Vallez first met García in 2009 when she was 13 years old through Barrio Writers, a free creative college-level writing program for teens. Vallez’s single mother wanted her and her sister Anatalia Vallez (who published a book last year) to have a place to go during the summer, and she found the program advertised in a flyer through Libreria Martinez, a Santa Ana bookstore that closed in 2012.

Vallez was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a year prior to participating in Barrio Writers. She said her diagnosis changed the trajectory of her life. She had trouble getting to class and having the energy to participate. She ended up finishing high school completely online. Now that she’s taking a variety of courses through community colleges, she wonders how her studies could translate to a job in the near future.

“A lot of disabled folks have been asking for years to be able to do remote work,” Vallez said. “For me personally, my body doesn’t just go whenever I ask it to. It doesn’t work that way. A lot of places denied that this [remote way of working] was productive. Apparently it’s doable when abled people have to go online.”

The current work that she does through LibroMobile allows her to work remotely with flexible hours. Vallez has been key in managing the online catalog of books for sale and website production. She’s also brainstorming how to incorporate more tech for accessibility.

Among the bookstore’s newest online programs are book reviews from contributing writers and a podcast set to launch next month, which will be available with audio transcripts.

“We didn’t realize we were ignoring a whole other population of readers and book lovers when we weren’t virtual,” García said. “That has been a huge lesson learned and it’s something that we said no matter what we’re going to continue.”

If you go

What: LibroMobile’s 3rd Literary Arts Festival

When: Jan. 23 from noon to 8 p.m.

Where: Instagram

Cost: Free

Info: libromobile.com/literary-arts-festival

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