Viva Tucson!

For nearly a year, librarian Helen Gutierrez has been hatching a plan.

Last April, Gutierrez attended Denise Chavez's ninth annual Border Book Festival in New Mexico. A first-time attendee, she found much more than just books at the event.

"I was just so inspired," said Gutierrez. "I saw film; I heard music. It was much more than just a book festival. It made me really proud to be a Chicana. I learned a lot of things about our culture, and I wanted to bring that to Tucson."

Upon her return to the Old Pueblo, Gutierrez began to spread the word. She approached colleagues, businesses, authors and friends, trying to gauge the interest level and local enthusiasm for a similar celebration of Mexican-American literature. The community's response was more than she had expected.

"We just started telling everyone, 'Doesn't this sound like fun? Don't you want to do something like this here?' Tucson was really ready for this, because people just started calling up."

Before long, Gutierrez had a small army of authors, artists and organizations offering to contribute or assist her: Friends of the Tucson-Pima Public Library, Tucson-Pima Arts Council, Tucson Arts District Partnership, El Centro Cultural, Pan Left and the local Tucson REFORMA chapter, to name just a few. With such support, the idea was well on its way.

Now, in just a few days, Gutierrez's dream will become reality.

Nuestras Raices: Tucson's Celebration of Mexican-American Literary Arts and Film hits the Main/Joel D. Valdez branch of the Tucson-Pima Public Library Friday through Sunday. A broad range of events spotlighting numerous forms of art and literature will be available for the public to enjoy, during two full days and one evening.

Friday evening, local playwright Silviana Wood performs her one-woman play, And Where Was Pancho Villa When You REALLY Needed Him? After enjoying the live theater performance, head home to rest up for the weekend's nonstop festivities.

All day Saturday, a mercado (market) will offer Mexican-American foods, art, crafts and book sales and signings. Meanwhile, a literary arts festival features bilingual storytime for kids, as well as storytelling and readings for everyone. A living history performance features Elena Díaz Björkquist's living history performance as exiled Mexican healer Teresita Urrea, also known as the Saint of Cabora.

During lunch, Patricia Preciado Martin reads from her new book, Beloved Land: An Oral History of Mexican-Americans in Southern Arizona. In the afternoon, published poets Mayra Guillen and Alfonso Reyes, the Owl and Panther Readers, read from their works.

Rita Maria Magdaleno follows with a discussion of oral history projects, and their benefit for individuals and communities alike. Rubén Martinez speaks about migrants and their unique culture within a global context. His new book, The New Americans, complements the PBS series of the same subject. Last but not least, author Luis Urrea discusses his upcoming book, The Devil's Highway, which describes a deadly 2001 border crossing into Arizona.

Sunday's activities are no less of a whirlwind. The Screening Room hosts the Nuestras Raíces Film Festival, featuring two sessions. Session One consists of the films Border Crossings/Cruzando Fronteras, a discussion of the national border's increased militarization, and The Heart and the Monster: A Journey to Cananea, chronicling the director's personal journey home to the birthplace of the Mexican Revolution.

Session Two features several short films including Paletero Walking, symbolizing Tucson's blending of cultures via paletas, frozen fruit bars. Pat's Drive-In depicts Barrio Hollywood's favorite hot dog stand. Canoa is the story of an old cowboy's memories of life at Canoa Ranch. Shutting Down The Stacks: San Manuel tackles issues in the old mining town. Poisoned: The Workers of Brush Wellman explores the factory's long-standing environmental contamination.

The final session, Session Three, features Luminarias. The romantic comedy by José Luis Valenzuela follows four friends, Andrea, Irene, Sofia and Lilly, on their quests to find love in modern-day Los Angeles. With this film, Nuestras Raíces comes to a close.

Librarian Gutierrez expects that the event will be enjoyed by many people, of all cultures and ages. "Everybody likes a good story," she said. "I think the book element of it is something that hasn't been done before."

In addition to being a celebration of Mexican-American culture, Nuestras Raíces is also symbolic of Tucson's ability to unite as a community.

"I think the best thing about this is the collaboration," said Gutierrez. "The community wants it so much that they're coming to us. It's everybody's festival."

Nuestras Raices: Tucson's Celebration of Mexican-American Literary Arts and Film takes place March 5 to 7. Friday's play is performed at 7:30 p.m. in the LL1 meeting room at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. Saturday's mercado is on the Jácome Plaza in front of the library, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Literary Arts festival takes place in various locations around the library from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; call the library at 791-4393 for details, or download a schedule (PDF) of times and locations.

Sunday's film festival is at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 622-2262 for more information. All events are free to the public.