Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica Native Awarded for Rare Book Collection
By Jason Islas
August 28, 2013 -- Elias Serna was only a sophomore in high school when his brother came home from Santa Monica College with an illustrated book of Chicano history.
It's that moment that Serna, a native of Santa Monica's Pico Neighborhood, points to as the beginning of the decades-long obsession with books that would lead to him amassing an award-winning collection of rare Chicano literature.
“That book had a profound effect on me,” he said. “That's the first time I saw a book that told my story.”
The book, published in 1976, was called 450 Years of Chicano History in Pictures. Later editions of the book were titled 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, making the original a bit of a collectors' item, Serna said.
It's only one of a number of rare and out-of-print books, art magazines and political manifestos Serna has stowed away on his shelf in his Pico Neighborhood home, just a few blocks from where he grew up.
His collection recently got the attention of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, which awarded Serna first place in its National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, an honor that comes with $2,500.
UC Riverside, where Serna is currently a PhD candidate, will receive $1,000 for its libraries from the organization.
Serna's collection itself, full literature and ideology from the Chicano rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, tells the history of a different era.
One of his prize positions is an original copy Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales' 1967 epic poem I am Jaoquin, given to Serna by the author himself.
Serna was performing with his comedy troupe "Chicano Secret Service" in Denver when he met Corky.
After one of the shows, “(Corky) invited us over for menudo,” Serna said.
It was for breakfast, he said, since that's when menudo (Mexican tripe soup) is traditionally eaten.
“He pulled out these first, really rare editions of his poems,” said Serna. “For us, it was like seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
Serna also boasts an original copy of El plan de Santa Barbara, a student manifesto from 1969 which he said laid the groundwork for Chicano studies programs in the United States.
On his shelf, Rebozos of Love, We Have Woven, Sudor de Pueblos on Our Back -- a 1974 book by California poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera -- shares space with Revolt of the Cockroach People, penned by Oscar Zeta Acosta.
Acosta, who was famously the basis for Dr. Gonzo in Hunter S. Thompson's novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, disappeared in 1974 on a trip to Mexico.
Serna said that he thinks the political atmosphere in America helped his project get special attention.
“I think the context of banning of Chicano studies in Arizona kind of electrified the subject,” he said, referring to a law that shut down ethnic studies classes in Tuscon early last year.
“I've been very active in the movement to defend those courses,” he said.
Serna has also used his connections at the Pico Youth and Family Center to advocate for and help develop an ethnic studies curriculum for Santa Monica High School.
Still, for Serna, his collection of books is as much personal as it is political.
“We didn't really grow up with a lot of books,” said Serna, a professor at Cal State Domiguez Hills. “I tell my students we were working-class, but we were really part of the under-class.”
Serna said that growing up in a single-parent home -- Serna's father died when he was still young -- made him aspire to build his own library, as a symbol of education.
|copyrightCopyright 1999-2013 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.|