Community-wide reading event to begin at the end of February

The Big Read Project is launching this month in Las Cruces. Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the City of Las Cruces, the Associated Students of New Mexico State University and the NMSU Office of the Provost, The Big Read Project seeks to promote community-wide activities surrounding a chosen book.

The NMSU Big Read committee chose “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Urrea. The book is about a young woman and her friends in a small town in Mexico who watch “The Magnificent Seven” and are inspired to recruit seven good men to save their community from the drug cartels. Led by the plucky protagonist Nayeli, they travel to the U.S. and along the way encounter both good and bad actors on both sides of the border.

“NEA has about 25 books or so to choose from for the Big Read Program, and about a year and a half ago a panel of faculty and staff looked at all those titles. We did quick reads of several of the books and tried to figure out which one would be the best fit for us, and since this book deals with the borderland region and the issue of immigration and cross-border relationships it seemed like an appropriate fit for our area,” Miriam Chaiken, dean of NMSU’s Honors College said. “I read the book myself and thought it was charming. It painted a really human picture of people – I mean nobody was all bad and nobody was all good. They were very complex, real characters.”

The kickoff event will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Las Cruces Plaza and will include performances by ballet folklorico companies and mariachi bands. Copies of the “Into the Beautiful North” will also be distributed. The events will continue that night with a screening of the American western classic “Magnificent Seven” at 7 p.m. at the Rio Grande Theatre in downtown Las Cruces. The iconic film gave rise to some of the plot twists in Urrea’s novel.

On March 1, NMSU professor and attorney Nancy Oretskin will moderate a panel discussion about the political and legal issues surrounding immigration. Oretskin has represented 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. The panel discussion will be held at Branigan Cultural Center in downtown Las Cruces at 4 p.m.

Following that on March 9, “Seven Samurai” will be screened at the Rio Grande Theatre at 7 p.m. “Magnificent Seven” is a remake of the famous Japanese movie. Prior to the showing a film historian will give a talk about the importance of the film in cinematic history.

Urrea will visit Las Cruces on March 13, where he will be NMSU’s spring keynote speaker. The talk will be at 7:30 p.m. in the ASNMSU Center for the Arts. Following the lecture, there will be book sales and a book signing in the lobby. All of the Big Read events are free and open to the public.

Concluding the events will be the 14th annual J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium at the Mark and Stephanie Medoff Theatre in the ASNMSU Center for the Arts on March 15. The annual event will be organized around the theme “Indivisible Justice – Beyond Walls & Borders.” The event will continue the discussion from previous events including the panel discussion.

For more information on any of the events contact Chaiken at 575-646-2005 or visit

Also follow Big Read events at Honor’s College Facebook

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