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Annual Latino Book Festival a Real Page Turner

The event, produced by actor Edward James Olmos, offers literature, music and a variety of services such as diabetes screening.

October 15, 2006|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

A big booth near the entrance of the 2006 Los Angeles Latino Book and Family Festival gave fabled bookman Rueben Martinez a bully pulpit Saturday from which to promote the value of reading.

"If you read 20 minutes a day, you'll read a million words a year -- and learn as many as 3,000 new words in the process," said Martinez, a recent winner of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation grant and a keen student of the Latino literary scene.

"As I've been saying all my life," he added with a smile, "Read today, lead tomorrow."

His infectious enthusiasm put smiles on the faces of anyone within earshot on opening day of the traveling weekend festival, now in its 10th year of advancing the cause of Latino literacy.

The hodgepodge event, produced by actor Edward James Olmos and backed by corporate sponsors, brings Latino writers, musicians, dancers and a number of practical services to cities with large Latino populations: Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Chicago.

Storytelling, hot churros, book signing, meet-and-greets, folklorico dances, motivational lectures, free cholesterol and blood pressure exams -- all unfolded in one cavernous building at a far corner of Pomona's Fairplex grounds.

Invited authors on Saturday included Mexican immigrant Reyna Grande, whose new book, "Across a Hundred Mountains," is about those who make it across the border, those who don't and those who are left behind.

A few booths down the hall, Laura D. Frisbee sat at a table stacked with copies of her self-published book, "Family Guide to Visiting California State Prisons." The book is crammed with the rules and regulations of the state's 33 prisons, as well as information, telephone numbers and maps for nearby hotels, restaurants, churches, support groups, transportation systems and places of interest.

"There's no other book out there like this one," said Frisbee, who said she was motivated to write it by the frustrations and high costs of visiting her husband, who is serving 14 years in prison for attempted murder.

Then there was Marta Acosta, who in an interview wryly described her new book, "Happy Hour at Casa Dracula," as "a comedy of manners with a paranormal element and a Latina twist."

"My book was influenced by Jane Austen and Mario Vargas Llosa," said Acosta, of Richmond, Calif. "The main character is Milagro de los Santos, and she's resilient and optimistic, just like the literary characters I love most.

"I write in a style accessible to someone without a formal education, but also for those who have a little more," she added.

Throngs lined up at the CVS Pharmacy booth for free diabetes, blood pressure, vision and cholesterol tests.

"Anyone who tests high gets free counseling and a brochure in Spanish and English," said CVS pharmacist Rudy Mireles. "Today, we'll give at least 200 tests. Tomorrow, we'll give about 400 tests because a lot of these people will return with friends and relatives."

It was too early to estimate this year's attendance. But by 2 p.m. Saturday, festival managers were blaming threatening skies and lower-than-usual financial and advertising support from local corporations for a disappointing turnout.

For Pomona High School teacher Adrian Fernandez, his wife and three young children, the day offered a pleasant opportunity to connect with favorite authors, enjoy the music and snag some dual-language books for his classrooms.

Pushing a stroller built for three, Fernandez said, "I'm here to expose my kids to books, and enjoy ourselves as a family. I'm also on the lookout for my students. I'm giving them extra credit for coming here today."

But Alex Laguna and his family, who drove from Moreno Valley hoping to meet Olmos, were disappointed by the small turnout.

Toting a copy of a Spanish-language edition of a book by philosopher Krishnamurti he'd bought a few minutes earlier, Laguna said, "It's a little smaller than I expected, and there weren't very many people."

"Yeah," agreed his wife, Andrea.

"I took the diabetes test, which hurt. But I learned I don't have the disease. So I guess it was worth it coming all the way out here."

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