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FELIUS Used Book Fair: Promoting Literature in Tijuana

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FELIUS | Photo: Courtesy of Misael Diaz.

Once overshadowed by the local music and visual arts scenes, literature has come into its own in Tijuana. Reading, writing and the exchange of books have played a crucial role in the revitalization of old and the foundation of new cultural spaces throughout the city, transforming the written word into a powerful tool with which to imagine new ways of disseminating culture to those with minimal access to it.

The desire to make literature and culture more accessible is precisely what drove René Castillo and a group of students from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC) to create the Feria del Libro Usado (FELIUS), a used book fair that would invite exhibitors and book dealers from the interior of Mexico to bring their stacks of affordable, rare and out-of-print books to Tijuana.

Creating such an influx of books was a response to the shortage and exorbitant prices of books in the city. Tijuana is on the margins of major literary networks in Mexico, its distance from major production and distribution centers in the country, namely those in Mexico City, decreases the number of books entering the city and increases the price of those that do. In short, books become scarce and expensive, precious commodities out of reach of many citizens.

This problem was especially difficult for students in Humanity Departments studying in the city's public universities. In order to overcome the lack of access an entire culture and underground market of photocopying texts developed, but for Castillo and others, this was not an appropriate solution.

Their answer was to organize a book fair that would specifically showcase used books. By inviting book dealers and bookstores from Mexico City, organizers hoped to create an opportunity for university students and the public in general to get their hands on books they needed or wanted to read for as little as $20 pesos [roughly $1.50 USD]. In this way, FELIUS created new cultural and economic pathways to reduce the price of books and increase the type and number of books entering Tijuana.

FELIUS | Photo: Courtesy of Misael Diaz.
FELIUS | Photo: Courtesy of Misael Diaz.

FELIUS also became a way to transport a sliver of bibliophily--of the love and appreciation for reading and collecting books--from a city with a strong literary tradition like Mexico City, to a city like Tijuana, that is imagining new forms literary engagement. FELIUS became a forum "to not only promote reading but also the appreciation and valorization of the book" as the fair's mission statement indicates.

Now in its fifth edition, FELIUS boasts an impressive program that includes academic conferences, as well as readings and book presentations by local and national writers, an Infant and Youth component, with readings and workshops for children and young adults, and a Cultural/Artistic component to showcase visual arts, music and dance from the Baja California region.

I was able to speak with René Castillo, the General Director of the fair, to chat books, the evolution of fair and what he is most excited about in this year's FELIUS.

FELIUS | Photo: Courtesy of Misael Diaz.
FELIUS | Photo: Courtesy of Misael Diaz.
FELIUS | Photo: Courtesy of Misael Diaz.
FELIUS | Photo: Courtesy of Misael Diaz.

MD: René, why books?

RC: I love books. My father would read to me before going to bed, without fail, every night, and if he wasn't there when I fell asleep, I would leave him a note asking to wake me up when he got home, so we could continue with the reading from the night before. These are some of the best childhood memories I have, and I was without a doubt a happy child that found new worlds thanks to the stories flowing from the mysterious bounded sheets with printed scribbles. Not knowing how to read made me view books with other eyes, to pay attention to their form, their materials and colors. What happened when I learned to read was that I was able to see the book in its totality, and was able to enjoy it fully. I remember Alighieri's Divine Comedy that my father had in his office, and the day that he showed me its pages and the woodcut prints by Doré, everything, more than the act of reading, spoke to me about the book and its history. With these childlike eyes, the materials of a book continue to appeal to me, the colors, size, that is, the object in itself, beyond just the content. Now, when you open a book that is in itself a treasure and you find inside [in its content] another treasure, it is truly an unforgettable experience. It is this sensation, which has been a part of me since childhood and continues with me today, that drives me to want to share it with others: the love of not only reading but of printed books.

MD: FELIUS has been instrumental in sharing your passion. How has FELIUS evolved in the last four years?

RC: There have definitely been many changes. It has been a long road full of experiences and growing, of falling and picking oneself up to continue forward. But I think the event speaks for itself, after just one year of having been created, the number of exhibitors and invitees tripled, and it was taken to new spaces. Something that began as a proposal from students, conceived to address the needs of a small sector, became all of a sudden an event directed at the general public...I think that FELIUS has taken roots in the city, for the public that attends and is constantly asking is when the next edition is coming, where and how to participate. All of these comments motivate us to continue our job, to continue experimenting, we are not professionals, we are a small group of people seeking to generate new spaces for readers and opportunities for non-readers, because [the fair] is also about creating new publics...Our best evolution has been to continue finding new challenges, setting new goals and objectives.

MD: What are you looking forward to the most with this year's FELIUS?

RC: Our biggest challenge this year is taking FELIUS to a greater audience. This year we will be in two spaces that we have never used as sites [for the fair] before--the Instituto Tecnlogico de Tijuana Unidad Tomas Aquino, and the Pasaje Rodriguez, in downtown [Tijuana]--and we are working also on organizing a series of traveling modules that will allow us greater mobility and allow us to reach more people...This year we will make it clear that Mexicans read and buy books, that we are interested in this type of cultural activities, in spite of people saying otherwise. What I am looking forward to the most is sharing my work with others, the pleasure my fellow team members and I take in what we do, and finding new challenges. I'd like to see more people involved, and I think we are succeeding. That way when we start working on the 6th edition, we'll be ready.

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FELIUS will be based primarily in the Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana (Unidad Tomas Aquino) and in the Pasaje Rodriguez, in downtown Tijuana from October 1-October 15. For more information on the fair, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/felius

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