The Search For Salvadoran Characters

jreading

In response to the New York Times article regarding the lack of Latino authors and books for children, Latina bloggers have launched the “Latinas for Latino Literature” campaign which works to identify the problems in today’s publishing world that contribute to this lack of diversity so that we can provide ideas for changing the situation to the benefit of not only Latino readers and writers, but to the benefit of the industry itself as they tap into this growing demographic. Look out for forthcoming Google hangouts, Twitter parties, and follow-up posts as this coordinated effort to bring quality books to an emerging group of readers continues.

I kneeled on the coarse, crimson carpet at the library, the third library I had visited that week, trying to find something, anything, on the shelves about El Salvador – the native country of my new husband. I often left libraries and bookstores defeated, with a stack of novels about Mexico, Mexicans, migrant workers – stories that I ended up loving, and still love – but what I really wanted was a book with Salvadoran characters, and I couldn’t find any. Any book I did manage to find about El Salvador would be non-fiction, and usually about the civil war.

When I became a mother of two boys, two Salvadoran-American boys, I wanted desperately to buy them books and read them stories with characters they could relate to. Again, visits to the library and bookstore turned up books featuring Mexican and Mexican-American characters, when we were lucky.

These days, the library selection has gotten better, and the online selection is a dream come true compared to what I faced when my boys were younger. I’ve read books about Cubans and Puerto Ricans, Argentinians, Venezuelans, Guatemalans and Paraguayans, and thanks to Sandra Benitez, an amazing book called “Bitter Grounds” with a diverse Salvadoran cast. I stayed up late turning the pages, almost not believing that after so many years, I was finally reading a book with Salvadoran characters.

Why am I writing this? – Because I want the publishing industry to know that I am here – an avid reader, hungry for these books for myself, for my husband, for our boys, and for the children out there whose parents won’t go to the trouble I’ve gone to – the children who are at the mercy of whatever their school librarian decides to put on the shelves.

I want it to be known that I hunger for even more diversity, for Latin American characters and characters of Latin American descent from all walks of life. Don’t stop telling the story of the migrant worker, the immigrant, of Mexicans – but let us hear other voices too. We want to hear from characters who are rich, who are poor, and everything in between. We want characters who are white collar workers, and blue collar workers. We want characters who are beautiful, ugly, inspirational, relatable, flawed, ordinary, outrageous, wise, hilarious, serious, complex – in other words, we want all the diversity of voices that are available in the general market. Please, keep seeking out fresh authors and publishing their stories – We are here waiting for them, (and in some cases, some of us are here writing them, too.)

A few of my favorite books for children. Click the image for more.

A few of my favorite books for children. Click the image for more.

These are some of my favorite Middle Grade and YA books. Click the image for more.

These are some of my favorite Middle Grade and YA books. Click the image for more.

These are some of my favorite books for adults. Click the image to check out more.

These are some of my favorite books for adults. Click the image to check out more.

Do you feel there’s enough diversity in the books commonly available in bookstores and libraries? Which Latino/a author or book most influenced you and why?

Chécalo: Other “Latinas for Latino Literature

Pupusas en la Escuela

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. English translation below!

Mi hijo mayor está tomando clases de español. A veces su libro de texto de esta clase me recuerda el libro de texto que yo utilize cuándo tomé clases de español, pero en unas maneras es mucho mejor. Por ejemplo, no recuerdo aprender nada de El Salvador en mi libro de texto, pero el libro de texto de mi hijo es más diverso – La semana pasada me enseño esta página que habla sobre El Salvador y las pupusas!

My son's Spanish class textbook

Mi hijo estaba super orgulloso cuándo sus compañeros tuvieron que aprender sobre su cultura.

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

My older son is taking Spanish classes. Sometimes his textbook fro the class reminds me of the textbook I used when I took Spanish classes, but in many ways, his is better. For example, I don’t remember learning anything about El Salvador in my textbook, but my son’s textbook is more diverse – This past week my son showed me a page that talks about El Salvador and pupusas! My son was super proud when his classmates had to learn about his culture.

Image source/Copyright: ¡Avancemos! Level 1 – McDougall Littell

Kusikiy: A Child From Taquile, Peru

Book description: KUSIKIY A CHILD FROM TAQUILE, PERU, by author and illustrator Mercedes Cecilia is a unique story that draws us into the kaleidoscopic and mysterious world of a Peruvian child. KUSIKIY lives in The Andes Mountains of Peru in a small island in Lake Titikaka. In this wise and peaceful community Kusikiy’s father cultivates potatoes and Quinoa; his mother, like her mother and grandmother, weaves intricate traditional designs into her textiles keeping a record of important events. Children will identify with Kusikiy’s love for family and his concerns for the effects of climate changes on Mother Earth, as well as with his desire to be of help to his town. This is a book that gives parents and educators a visual and appealing way to engage children in a dialogue about traditional cultures, the meaning of community, sustainability and caring for our environment.

“Taquile is a peaceful island. It is so quiet that you can hear the potatoes growing under the eath and the voices of mothers whispering Quechua songs to the babies on their backs.” – Kusikiy by Mercedes Cecilia

That is just a taste of the beautiful language found in this book, and here is a sample of the equally beautiful art, also created by the author.

by Mercedes Cecilia

If you’re interested in purchasing your own copy, the author is offering something special to readers of Latinaish.com. From now until December 20th, 2011, you can E-mail the author directly and let her know you’re a reader of Latiniash.com for free shipping and environmentally friendly gift wrapping.

For more information on the book and author, visit Kusikiy.com.

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to Latinaish.com for review. All opinions are my own.

The Immigrant Advantage

The Immigrant Advantage by Claudia Kolker

My husband came to the United States from El Salvador, so you really don’t have to sell me on the idea of immigrants being admirable people that we can learn a lot from. That being said, The Immigrant Advantage by Claudia Kolker, is an excellent read – whether you need convincing or not.

You see, you may not realize it, but it’s something of an American tradition to pick and choose the best of all cultures and make it our own. This is a phenomenon the author talks about, and encourages, in The Immigrant Advantage. My favorite example that the author sited was this:

“In the mid-nineteenth century, an American cowboy in Colorado so admired the Mexican vaqueros’ wide-brimmed hats that he paid Stetson to craft one for him. The Mexicans deemed his knockoff tan galan, “so gallant,” a label that evolved into the “ten gallon” hat.” – The Immigrant Advantage / Claudia Kolker

The subtitle of the book is, “What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness, and Hope” and within the pages, Kolker gives us solid examples we can apply to our own lives. From Vietnamese money saving clubs, (also known as “tandas” in some Latin American countries), to Mexican “cuarentenas” – (a 40 day rest for new mothers), Kolker explores the most beneficial customs of immigrants from around the world that are still practiced in communities right here in the United States.

As Kolker explains, studies have shown that immigrants, “even those from poor, violent lands, who live hard lives in the United States, tend to be physically and mentally healthier than the rest of us.” What are they doing differently? — This book attempts to find the answer and succeeds in providing real, useful examples to take with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

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Got a question for the author? Feel free to ask it in comments as she’ll be by to answer you!

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About the author: Claudia Kolker has reported extensively from Mexico and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, Japan, India and Pakistan. A former Los Angeles Times bureau chief and member of the Houston Chronicle editorial board, she has also written for The Economist, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, O: The Oprah Magazine, Slate, and Salon. She lives in Houston with her family. For The Immigrant Advantage, Kolker visited Korean and Chinese afterschools, West Indian multigenerational households in New Jersey, and Chicago’s “Little Village,” among others.

About the book: The Immigrant Advantage is a fascinating look into the lives of immigrant enclaves in the United States that we so seldom gain access to, and an inspiring exploration about how these customs can enrich our own lives. You may purchase a copy of this book at Amazon.com.

Follow The Immigrant Advantage book tour at these other blogs!

October 24, 2011: Juan of Words
October 25, 2011: Voto Latino
October 26, 2011: Spanglish Baby
October 27, 2011: Latinaish
October 28, 2011: TikiTiki Blog
November 1, 2011: Chicano Soul
November 2, 2011: Motherhood in Mexico
November 3, 2011: Atzlan Reads
November 4, 2011: Multicultural Familia

Disclosure: This book was received for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

Biblioburro (library donkey)

I saw a news story years ago about the use of donkeys in some Latin American countries to bring books to remote mountain villages which are difficult to reach by vehicle. The stories of the “Biblioburros” (library donkeys) has always been one of my favorites.

Now the story of the original “Biblioburro” is coming to PBS on July 19th.

From PBS:


“Biblioburro” is the story of a librarian — and a library — like no other. A decade ago, Colombian teacher Luis Soriano was inspired to spend his weekends bringing a modest collection of precious books, via two hard-working donkeys, to the children of a poor and violence-ridden province. As Soriano braves armed bands, drug traffickers, snakes and heat, his library on hooves carries an inspirational message about education and a better future for Colombia. His efforts have attracted worldwide attention — and imitators — but his story has never been better told than in this heartwarming yet unsentimental film.

It’s people like this that make the world an amazing place.


Put in on your calendar so you don’t forget to tune in: Tuesday, July 19, 2011, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET

Courtship, Latin American style

Reading a book called “The Hacienda: My Venezuelan Years,” and though I don’t think it’s intended to be a comedic book at all, this part made me laugh, perhaps because it’s vaguely familiar.

“He said he would die if I didn’t marry him. He said it was my destiny. I was sixteen and I didn’t know then that it was an old cliché, as though, somewhere, there is a little latino lexicon of courtship which is learnt by heart in adolescence and then regurgitated to girl after girl.”

– Lisa St. Aubin de Teran

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What have you been reading? Which literary quote made you stop to think or laugh lately?

House Divided (book review)

House Divided is the second book in a trilogy by Raul Ramos y Sanchez. If you didn’t read the first book, America Libre, start there.

The story takes place in a fictional future where civil war has broken out between American Latinos and the U.S. government. Manolo Suarez, a third generation Mexican American who barely speaks Spanish, is just one of many Latinos who has been forced into ghettos across the country.

When this series first came out, the plot seemed realistic and yet far-fetched at the same time. In today’s anti-immigrant atmosphere, these books will definitely give you chills.

America Libre, (the first book), I really loved – so I was eager to read this second book. Honestly, for the first half of House Divided, I felt lost at times with the military talk. As the story line became more about the logistics of the war than about the relationships between the characters, I became a little anxious for something to pull at my heart strings. I know these chapters would play out awesomely on the big screen as a film, but war novels aren’t really my thing.

Thankfully, in the second half of the book, a compelling page turning plot twist is introduced involving Manolo’s teenage son and a gringa, which grabbed my attention and really appealed to me on an emotional level.

Over all, I ended up liking the book enough that I look forward to the third book, Pancho Land.

Disclosure: This book was provided to me for review purposes. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received for this review.