Chillicothe Library highlights Mexican culture in first Big Read event

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

Paty Montoy, Maria Galindo and Carmela Vargas (left to right) pose at a Tianguis Mexican market they helped organize at the Chillicothe Public Library last month as part of the library’s celebration of the book “Into the Beautiful North” through the NEA Big Read program. (Photo courtesy of the Chillicothe Public Library)

With its first National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant, the Chillicothe Public Library has scheduled a variety of events in March highlighting Mexican culture and culminating with an author’s visit.

The library is showcasing “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea, a novel that CPL program coordinator Catherine Barnett calls “quirky and compassionate.”

In the book, an idealistic 19-year-old woman is inspired by the film “The Magnificent Seven” to travel from her home in Mexico to the United States to enlist seven men who’ve left her town to return with her to help protect it from drug-dealing bandidos.

“It deals with some pretty current topics and, as the library is kind of a center for discussion and exploration, we thought it would provide a good starting point for conversation at the same time as engaging readers with its quirky humor at heart,” Barnett said.

While the topics of borders and immigration are potentially divisive, Barnett said, “The author has a way of addressing these with a kind of compassionate irony that is quite charming. So we thought we could use that to harness the power of reading to erode walls between people and promote awareness and appreciation of different perspectives.”

That fits into the goal of the NEA Big Read program, which aims to inspire conversation and discovery through the joy of sharing a good book. The Chillicothe library is one of 78 organizations in 31 states to receive NEA Big Read grants this year.

Urrea will speak at the Chillicothe Public Library at 6:30 p.m. March 31. He will read from and discuss the book, answer questions and sign copies. Refreshments will be served and a sign language interpreter will be provided. Anyone wishing to attend is asked to pre-register at the library or by calling 309- 274-2719.

“None of the other events require pre-registration. We’re asking for pre-registration for the author’s visit because we may need to switch to a bigger venue if we have a huge turnout,” Barnett said.

The library is giving away free copies of “Into the Beautiful North” in both English and Spanish as long as the supply lasts. “We ordered 200 in English and 25 in Spanish, and we added several copies to our library collection. So if we do run out of free copies, people can check them out from the library,” Barnett said. “All those books that we’re giving away can be brought back to be signed by the author.”

The program is open to anyone. “You do not have to be a Chillicothe resident or have a Chillicothe library card to participate or receive one of the free books, though you do need a library card to check out a book,” she added. “The book is appropriate for older teens through adults.”

Some of the upcoming programming is geared specifically for children, while others are for all ages. “A couple of the talks would probably be over the heads of some young children, but anyone’s welcome,” Barnett said.

The program kicked off on Feb. 20 at the Illinois Valley Community High School auditorium with performances by Peoria Folklore Ballet and Mariachi Viva Tecalitlan. A few days later, about 125 people attended a traditional Mexican street market featuring art and handicraft vendors, food and music at the library.

Dancers with the Peoria Folklore Ballet perform Feb. 20 at Illinois Valley Community High School as part of the kickoff for the Chillicothe Public Library’s NEA Big Read program. The library has a variety of programming scheduled throughout March around the book “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea. (Photo courtesy of the Chillicothe Public Library.)

Upcoming events for children are Spanish story times led by Everley Davis of Spanish Circle, a local group that teaches Spanish through song, movement, stories and games. Spanish story times will be at 6:30 p.m. on March 22 and March 30.

All ages and levels are welcome to practice vocabulary and conversational skills in a casual setting at “Spanish Language Conversation Table” events at 5 p.m. March 9 and April 16.

Several opportunities to discuss “Into the Beautiful North” are planned at various locations in Chillicothe and Peoria County. While it’s not necessary to have finished reading the book to attend the discussions, Barnett said there might be spoilers. No purchase is necessary at the restaurant-hosted chats, but some venues will have a book-themed special patrons might want to try.

Book discussions will take place at Happy Thought Coffee in Chillicothe at 10 a.m. March 4, at Casa de Arte in Peoria at 6 p.m. March 5, at El Molcajete in Chillicothe at 2 p.m. March 11 and at the Chillicothe Public Library at 1 p.m. March 18.

Other upcoming events that will take place at the library include:

  • A discussion on transcending borders with youth literature at 11 a.m. March 6.
  • A screening and discussion of the documentary “25 Texans in the Land of Lincoln” at 6 p.m. March 9.
  • A discussion of the history of current immigration law and a chance to ask questions of an ICE community relations officer at 6 p.m. March 12.
  • A screening of “La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon)” at 1 p.m. March 13.
  • A talk by Chillicothe resident Yolanda Higgens on her family’s story of coming to Chillicothe from Mexico during the railroad days at 6 p.m. March 16.
  • Karate workshops with Academy of Okinawan Karate on March 24 at 3:45 p.m. for ages 4-12 and at 4:30 p.m. for ages 13 and up.
  • A screening of “Boxcar People” at 6 p.m. March 26.

Catherine Barnett, program director for the Chillicothe Public Library, promotes the NEA Big Read program, which the library received its first grant for this year. The library has scheduled a variety of programming around the book “Into the Beautiful North” and is giving away free copies of the book. (Photo courtesy of the Chillicothe Public Library)

Through the book and the programs, Barnett said, “I hope we can continue nurturing bridges of understanding in our community. And I hope we can explore complex current events and hold civil conversations.”

She added, “One thing I took from the book is that people aren’t always what you think they’re going to be and you can’t always make judgments on what you’ve heard or what you’ve expected. People surprise you with their humanities and it’s good to stay open and hear people’s stories.”

For more information, call the Chillicothe Public Library at 309-274-2719 or visit its web page at