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Latino Book & Family Festival

Clink Glasses With Your Literary Idol

This event builds bridges between authors and the readers, artists and communities they serve.

The festival has not only hit its full stride but has also stretched beyond the weekend of the festival. Grande has taken the lead to grow the festival, launching innovative year-long satellite programs for the festival's parent organization, Latino Literacy Now, including a weekend storytelling event held at the Pan American Bank in East Los Angeles. Why a bank? Partly because the bank is a sponsor of the festival, and partly because East Los Angeles, like so many Latino communities, is mournfully lacking in bookstores — but plentiful in children whose parents want them to read more and kids who love to read.

Pan American Bank President and CEO Jesse Torres says he became involved with the Latino Book & Family Festival because he saw a direct link between literacy in the Latino community, its financial prosperity and the future of his own business. "As the only bank headquartered in economically disadvantaged East Los Angeles," he says, "it is our responsibility to help this community bootstrap itself out of economic duress."

Statistics from the National Institute for Literacy bear out Torres's assumption, showing a direct relationship between literacy and financial success. Helping Latinos succeed is, at heart, what motivates many volunteers of the festival (speaking of which, the festival counts on volunteers and needs you, if you have the time).

Even beyond the bank's storytelling program, there's much more going on behind the scenes than just a yearly event — especially for Latino writers of all stripes. Grande explains: "The festival is providing a year-round home and community for our Latino writers to come together and get the support we don't necessarily always get from the publishing world at large." Eso.

Happily, the publishing industry, which has for far too long assumed all Latino writers lived in Macondo with a parrot, is taking notice. Many New York publishing heavyweights, including Johanna Castillo, vice president and senior editor for Atria Books, will attend the festival this year, seeking new homegrown talent and trends. "The Latino Book & Family Festival brings Latino authors together and helps them feel that they're part of a community," says Castillo. "It also provides them with an opportunity to make themselves aware to publishing houses and literary agents."

Aspiring writers, take note.

But back to Edward James Olmos. "I'm very proud that over the past 13 years, over 765,000 people have come and enjoyed the 46 Latino Book & Family Festivals that our hardworking team has put on," he says. "It's been very gratifying."

Says Amada Irma Perez, an author of children's books who has already attended five festivals and plans to be on hand again this year, "The festival is a true celebration of literacy. I read my books there every year and see the joy in children and gratitude in their parents. I am honored to be invited every year."

Me too, sistagirl, me too.

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