EAST HARLEM — Growing up in South Texas before civil-rights reform, Jose Garza wasn't allowed in his town's library because he is Mexican-American.
But Garza, now 70, didn't let laws segregating both blacks and Tejanos from their white counterparts prevent him from developing a lifelong love of reading — which he is now using to launch El Barrio's first Latino book fair next week.
Garza — who as a child frequented barbershops for their magazines, until a kindly librarian allowed him to browse the shelves in secret after she locked up — said he and other community leaders created El Festival Del Libro for much-needed literary outreach.
"The idea that got this going? We really want to impact the children and give them an interest in books and learning from a young age," said Garza, executive director of the East Harlem Business Capital Corporation, an event organizer. "There's no book fair in this community, so how do we get them to pay attention to the written word?"
The fair will feature more than 20 writers selling their books, many of whom will give readings of their work, said Alberto Cappas, president of nonprofit The Educational Pledge, which is organizing the event along with the Corporation and the Harlem Book Fair.
Panel discussions and workshops — on topics ranging from the book-writing process to a contemporary history of Puerto Rican authors — are also on the schedule of events, said Cappas, who himself is the author of "Lessons for a New Generation."
Latino authors present will hail from El Barrio and other parts of the U.S., and include Maria Aponte, who wrote "Transitions of a Nuyorican Cinderella," and George Colon, who penned "To Kill a President."
Garza also hopes the book fair will spread news about literature authored by Latinos — by helping them learn about the publishing world and further publicizing their work.
"There are many Latino writers," Garza said. "We just need to get the word out."
El Festival Del Libro will take place on Saturday, Oct. 12 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the East Harlem Center (130 E. 101st St.)