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What it means when the last bookstore closes…

Created: 19 March, 2010
Updated: 13 September, 2023
3 min read

Laredo, Texas, with a population of 250,000 now has the distinction of being the largest city in the nation without a bookstore. B. Dalton’s bookstore shut its doors for good on January 16th. Put another tombstone in the predominantly Hispanic south side of San Antonio now that Waldenbooks has left, leaving no bookstore for miles.

We’re not looking for pity here in Texas, but we are waiting for Republican leaders to recognize that this is an economic crisis of our own making.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by the year 2014, 2 million jobs will be created in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

A bookstore would sure come in handy.

But despite the bragging of Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst that Texas is creating jobs, the reality is one out of three students are walking out of our high schools without a diploma. Among Latinos, it’s one out of two.

But dropouts are just a symptom of a broken system — a system that has already failed our children before they’ve even entered the first grade. Parenting Magazine, not your typical political reading I realize, recently spelled out the epidemic that is the early literacy crisis:

“While a child growing up in a middle class neighborhood will own an average of 13 books at any given time, low-income communities average about one book for every 300 children.”

By the way, not only do Hispanics now make up over 50% of public school students from kindergarten through second grade in Texas, but one out of every two Hispanic children lives in poverty.

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So if the Republican leadership doesn’t want to listen to a lifelong labor organizer and the daughter of a cotton sharecropper, they should at least listen to their own advisors. Steve Murdock, the former state demographer and Bush appointee, warned years ago that, “our fates are intertwined and related. How well our non-Anglo citizens do in Texas is how well Texas will do.” (Amen.) Murdock explains that because educational attainment is faltering, average wages in 2040 will be lower in constant dollars than wages in the year 2000.

For those who don’t know my story, I was forced to quit school in the ninth grade to help support my family in the cotton fields of West Texas. It’s ugly work. So when I got a chance to work as a bilingual secretary for the local labor union, I took it. Twenty-eight years later, I was the first woman of color to serve as the Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO. After a lifetime of working to lift wages up for working families, I’m not going to sit idly by as Republican neglect of education — from pre-K to college — drives wages down.

I realize Texans are known for their big talk. But the outside world needs to know there is some truth to the Texas myth. Because when you’re born in the Lone Star State, you just grow up believing the sky is the limit. It’s true for this daughter of a cotton sharecropper. And in today’s economy, it can still hold true for any Texas child with a book in their hand.

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