The Big Read Comes to Las Cruces

Luis Alberto Urrea, author of “Into the Beautiful North”


The Big Read Project, a collaborative project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Associated Students of NMSU, and the NMSU Office of the Provost, will be launched in Las Cruces in February 2018. This project seeks to promote community-wide activities surrounding the book Into the Beautiful North by Luis Urrea.

There will be a host of events in February and March sponsored the Big Read Project, including a kick-off event at the Las Cruces downtown plaza with music, dancers, and book distributions, and the Big Read will culminate with the visit of the author on March 13. In between there will be book clubs discussing the book, film screenings, panel discussions, and more.

All of the events are intended to be consistent with the themes of Urrea’s book, all of which have local significance. The story is set in both a small village in Mexico and in the borderlands. A group of teenagers, whose fathers are all working in the US, have nothing to do but go to the movies in their small Mexican town. After seeing the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven, they are inspired to cross the US/MX border to come recruit seven good men to save their village from the bad guys (in this case drug cartels). The story is of their adventures as they pursued the seven good men. Along the way they encounter both good and bad actors on both sides of the border, they interact with Border Patrol agents and ICE agents in the US, and their misadventures are all guided by the plucky protagonist Nayeli who leads her band of friends. There are parts of the book that are hilarious, others very poignant, and ultimately it is a story of hope and vindication.

The following is a list of Big Read events in Las Cruces, with additional activities to be added within the coming weeks.


● Multiple book clubs are reading the book (with copies provided for free from the Big Read) and discussing them in the community. Some of these clubs hold their meetings at the Branigan Library or at our gem of a local used bookstore, Coas.

● Urrea will be interviewed by Emily Guerra from the Las Cruces affiliate of the National Public Radio system for broadcast on KRWG FM. Guerra is the originator of “Puentes” a regular program that covers the people and issues important to our growing Hispanic communities and is part of the KRWG series Fronteras. She also hosts a daily bilingual radio program featuring Spanish-language music of the Hispanic Diaspora.

● Student reading groups will read and discuss Urrea’s book in conjunction with a wide variety of courses being taught spring 2018.

● Students who live in one of the campus Living Learning Communities designed for first year college students have access to free copies of the book in order to form reading and discussion groups.

● Dr. Judith Flores Carmona is using the book as a foundation for her course on “Testimonios of the Borderlands”, and all students enrolled in the course will be reading the book.

● Dr. Maria Gurrola of the School of Social Work collaborates with and trains promotoras, local lay professionals who are often the first line treatment for residents of the colonias within our county. Doña Ana county is home to the largest numbers of colonias in New Mexico, and these are defined as communities underserved by infrastructure and services. Many lack running water and sewers, and have unpaved streets. The colonia communities are often tight-knit and resilient in the face of chronic poverty, and the health promotoras promote healthful behavior

and interventions in their communities. These communities — while on the US side of the border, share many of the challenges faced by their counterparts in Mexico. The promotoras will all receive Spanish-language versions of the book.

● Faculty in the Theater Department and in Creative Media Institute will be using the book as a topic for students to develop scripts for classes in script and screenplay writing.

● Publicity – there will be ongoing publicity efforts throughout the period, reaching both the campus and community. The Manager of the Rio Grande Theater, Chris Faivre has a weekly newspaper column and a radio show and he will be discussing Big Read events. Our local public library (Branigan Library), and the campus libraries at Dona Ana Community College and New Mexico State University will have exhibits about the Big Read and Urrea’s book. The campus communication system will advertise events (listserves that reach all faculty and staff, student listserves, and the daily news bulletin Hotline as well as press releases issued from our Communications Office). We may present testimony at the regular meeting of the Las Cruces City Council and the Dona Ana County Commission during the public comment period at the opening of their meetings.

View The Big Read online guide HERE



● Kickoff Event at the Las Cruces Plaza – On Saturday, February 24 the Las Cruces Plaza will be the site of our kickoff event. This coincides with our well-attended Farmers’ Market and will draw large crowds. The week before the kickoff, we will be “tabling” at the Farmer’s Market to help publicize the events that are part of the Big Read Project, and to encourage guests to return the following week for the kickoff event. At 11:00 a.m. the stage will be taken over by ballet folklorico companies who will dance, and mariachi bands who will perform, in celebration of Mexican cultural traditions. The performers are mostly young people who attend the Academia Dolores Huerta Charter School, or the Las Cruces High School. We will distribute at least 100 copies of Into the Beautiful North and publicize the upcoming Big Read events.

● Screening of Magnificent Seven – On Saturday, February 24 the historic Rio Grande Theater in downtown Las Cruces will have a free screening of the classic 1960 film The Magnificent Seven. This iconic film gave rise to some of the plot twists in the Urrea novel, especially the importance of the actor Yul Brynner, and the theater will show the film at 7pm. Many people have seen the film on television, but few have experienced it on the big screen as it was intended, and we anticipate a full house for this event.

● Screening of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai – The American western classic Magnificent Seven was actually a remake of the famous Japanese director’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. We will screen the Kurosawa film at the Rio Grande Theater at 7pm on March 9 and prior to the film a film historian will give a brief talk about the importance of the film in cinematic history. Attendance at the film will likely be boosted as this screening date coincides with the Las Cruces International Film Festival, which draws people from around the nation. The film (and its place in the Big Read events) will be advertised to the attendees of the Film Festival, and all attendees will be permitted to attend the for free.

● Panel Discussion on Borders, Walls, Detention, and the relationships between the US and Mexico. – Professor Nancy Oretskin from NMSU will organize and moderate a panel discussion about the political and legal issues surrounding border security. She is an attorney and has represented pro bono many individuals detained for crossing the border without documentation, and/or asylum seekers, and has extensive experience with the legal system, the immigration courts, and the federal agencies charged with border security. She will use her contacts as members of the panel, and there will be a question and answer period following the presentations by the panelists. March 1, 4:00 PM, Branigan Cultural Center, Downtown Las Cruces

● Luis Urrea Visit. – Mr. Urrea will visit Las Cruces on March 13. We hope to have an informal afternoon session of discussion in the television studios at our local public television station KRWG-TV in the afternoon (this is being negotiated with his representation), for a taping of a discussion about the book.

● University Speaker – Luis Urrea – for nearly three decades, NMSU has hosted a spring keynote speaker which has become one of our signature events. This year Urrea will be our spring speaker, giving an address in our magnificent ASNMSU Center For the Arts, the largest theatrical venue in our city. The talk will be at 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public without charge. Following the public lecture, there will be book sales and book signing in the lobby of the Center for the Arts.

● 14th J Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium – On March 15 NMSU will hold its 14th Annual J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium at the Mark and Stephanie Medoff Theatre at ASNMSU Center for the Arts. This annual event, named for a living legend and social justice activist, Paul Taylor, will be organized around the theme Indivisible Justice- Beyond Walls & Borders. This will continue discussions started in earlier events, especially the panel discussion.