Over the past five years, Harriett and I have been donating books to Uvalde’s El Progreso Memorial Library. Both of us have been educators for over fifty years, and we donated a minimum of a box of books for every year of teaching service. Although most of our books focused on history, sociology, and art, our fields of research and interest, we also had children’s books saved from past reading to our two children. In our visits to the Progreso Library, we noticed that the children’s section was the most active part of the library. Yet, the holdings in children’s books did not always meet the needs of the children interested in reading about subjects such as science, art, space and oceanic exploration, and Latino/a Heroes heroes.
As I prepared my commentary this morning, I opened the New York Times to its Editorial page. There I found the words of poet and author Amanda Gorman that gave me inspiration and additional insight to continue my quest to find ways to help the Uvalde community in the wake of the
horrific events of this past week. Gorman wrote: “Everything hurts,/ Our hearts shadowed and strange,/ Minds made muddled and mute,/ We carry tragedy, terrifying and true/. ..May we not grieve, but give;/ May we not just ache, but act;…But only when everything hurts/ May everything change.”
Uvalde, a small community of approximately 16,000 residents, is located 85 miles south of San Antonio. [Uvalde County recorded 24,729 residents in 2021] It is surrounded by small ranches and farms. Among its best-known residents of the 20th century were Jack Nance Garner, former Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, and former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe, the single largest ranch landholder in Texas. Uvalde is also the hometown of the University of Texas at Austin history professor Dr. Monica Muñoz Martinez, a 2019 recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, often referred to as the “genius grant.” The award recognized her work to recover untold histories of racial violence along the U.S.-Mexico border. She is the author of the prize-winning book, The Injustice Never Leave You.
In 2019 Uvalde was identified as the “11th most dynamic micropolitan statistical area in the United States,” according to a Walton Family Foundation study. Their report stated that “quality of place attributes, such as arts, cultural, recreational and lifestyle amenities impart an
advantage for communities that possess them and focus on expanding them.”
Founded in 1903, Uvalde’s El Progreso Memorial Library is one of the more important public institutions in the city. The library is free to the public and had 22,658 cardholders in 2021. In addition, the Progreso Library’s public space of 36,00 square feet serves as a cultural and civic center for Uvalde and surrounding communities. The library offers a gathering place for research, meetings, networking, self-improvement, and communication. Over the past year, the Uvalde library had a 13% increase in children holding library cards.
El Progreso Library has been a favorite among local readers and book lovers for over a century. The library has an interesting history. While most public libraries in South Texas have their origins under the auspices of local government, such was not the case for the founding of El Progreso Library in Uvalde, Texas.
This library traces its origins to 1903 when a group of civic-minded women formed El Progreso Civic Club. One of their goals was the founding of a public library. The original location of the library was in one of the founder’s homes. The women named the library after their club and their efforts contributed to the education of the young and old. After a robust and successful campaign that raised over five million dollars in the late 1990s, El Progreso Library moved from its many previous locations into a new spacious building on Uvalde’s West Main Street in 2003.
Mendell Morgan, the library’s Director, noted that its popular reading programs for children include a weekly Children’s Story Hour. The library has been recognized for hosting educational programs and school visits/tours and helping homeschooled children and their tutors with ample resources. Harriett and I attended one program that featured Latino artists from South Texas. We have been invited to many of their cultural and arts programs. Morgan added that the library also offers a cooling place in summer and a warming place in winter for those in need.
The El Progreso Library is at the center of many community activities that benefit children. For example, the San Antonio Food Bank meets at its facility to register food-insecure families in Uvalde County for monthly food support. Professional counselors–some coming from San Antonio–meet clients there for mental health counseling sessions in private meeting rooms. Texas-based AVANCE holds parenting classes for Uvalde County low-income families to assist them “in overcoming isolation and lack of opportunities.” The Early Head Start [infant and toddlers] and Head Start [pre-K3 and Pre-K4] classes meet there as well. The library is undoubtedly the “community hub” for the town and region.
The Uvalde Library’s newest goal for this year is the Dual Language [Spanish/English] Program for Children. Mr. Morgan and his staff started this bilingual program to complement the Uvalde School District academic Dual Language Program by providing bilingual books, computer
software, and puzzles/games for toddlers to 12trh grade students.
Because the library does not charge cardholders, it looks for ways to raise funds. For example, it operates a bookstore that is managed by Friends of the Library so that 100% of proceeds for all items sold [in-house and online] go to the general operating fund of the Library. The fundraising project that I am proud to have launched this past week “Uvalde Strong: El Progreso Memorial Library Call for Monetary and Children’s Book Donation” directs all funds raised to go to the children’s section of the library. Our goal of raising $25,000 for the summer project has been more than half met, with $15,000 raised this week. The response to this call has been exceptional. Children’s bilingual activity book donations from Smithsonian offices in Washington, D.C., collaborated with a medical group from Los Angeles California were among the first commitments.
El Progreso Memorial Library is a valuable treasure for the community’s young people. Support will enable the library to remain a viable resource with adequate assets to continue serving present and future generations of children and youth in Uvalde.