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


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.

Lo Mejor de 2010

Here are the most chévere things I discovered in 2010.


Bubu Lubus
• Valentina (salsa)
• Chipotle Mayonnaise (via Maura)


• My go-to drink used to be the Shirley Temple, but after drinking about a dozen virgin Mojitos in Miami, I have a new favorite.

• As for “real” drinks, Tecate & Corona are still numero uno for me.

• My cipote-friendly choice is still horchata (Salvadoran, not Mexican.)


• Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse
• My Name is Pablo by Aimee Sommerfelt

(Non-Latino Fiction picks):

• Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya
• The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins
• The Help by Kathryn Stockett


• Quinceñera
The Other Side of Immigration (documentary)
• The Karate Kid (Jackie Chan)


• World Cup in South Africa (U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!)
• Mexico’s Bicentennial (¡Viva México!)
• Chilean Miners (¡Chi-chi-chi! ¡Le-le-le!)


(Really too many to mention, but these are the first three that came to mind)…

Espinoza Paz
Natalia Lafourcade
Crooked Stilo

(I like this video of Espinoza performing on Mun2, because it looks like the host, Yarel, has a crush on him as much as I do.)

I considered listing favorite blogs, but you can already check those out on the Link Love page, (and there’s no güey I’m choosing only three!) …That being said, I want to thank all of you who visit me here at

The very best thing about 2010 is the community I’m blessed to be a part of and all the people around the world that I consider amigos para siempre. Gracias por tu amistad – it has more value to me than an entire box of Bubu Lubus.

How about you? What do you consider lo mejor de 2010?

Salvadoran Folktales

On a recent trip to El Salvador, a friend brought me back a souvenir. Thankfully it wasn’t another painting of The Last Supper, but a book called “Mitología Cuzcatleca: Los Cuentos de mi Infancia y Otros” by Efrain Melara Méndez. (Thank you, Ángel!)

The book contains all of the Salvadoran stories I’m not able to tell the niños since I wasn’t raised on them and don’t know them well enough. My husband Carlos has also been fairly useless in the story-telling department. Most Salvadorans are good storytellers, but somehow this skill escaped my husband. He also only remembers these stories in the vaguest of ways… And Suegra, well, the only reason I know of La Sihuanaba, is because Suegra called me that as an insult during a particularly heated argument a few years ago. (And after I Googled it, my feelings were so incredibly hurt on multiple levels. Needless to say, I don’t ask her about any of these Salvadoran Folktales because I don’t want to dredge up that day.)

So, this book is much needed. It has all the traditional stories from El Salvador, (some of which are known in other parts of Central America as well.) Some of those characters include, El Cipitio, El Duende, El Padre Sin Cabeza, El Griton de Medianoche and some others I had never even heard of before.

by Flickr user jayokossa
My favorite folktale is about Los Cadejos. The Cadejos are dog-like spirit animals. One is white and one is black. The white one follows people to protect them and the black one follows people to kill them.

Which Latin American folktale is your favorite?

(Image source)

El Perro y El Gato (books!)

I mentioned before how much I love the children’s bilingual show “El Perro y El Gato” on HBO Latino. Well, the show has now been made into something else I love – books!

There are four so far in the series: La Granja (farm), La Nieve (snow), El Cumpleaños (birthday), and El doctor (doctor). I read all four books with my younger son last night and he was smiling the whole time. At one point he even asked to read them to me and I was so pleased to hear him pronounce most of the Spanish correctly without help.

The books are true to the show in that they are fully bilingual and easy to understand. The characters maintain the personalities we already know and love, and the images are brightly colored and funny.

I like that there isn’t a lot of text. With bilingual books, paragraphs of text can become tedious and boring. These books are short and simple, and in the back of each book is a pronunciation guide for those who are new to either English or Spanish.

When we finished reading the books, my son asked, “Do we get to keep these or are they from the library?” – When I told him we get to keep them, he was super feliz.

I have a feeling I know what we’re reading at bedtime again tonight.

Disclosure: The “El Perro y El Gato” series of books were provided for review and are available at HBO shop. All opinions are totally my own.

Race & Reality

I just finished reading Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity by Guy P. Harrison.

This was definitely not light, relaxing reading but I’m happy that I pushed through and read it.

Book Description:

“Drawing on a wide variety of evidence – the hard data from fossils and DNA, interviews with the victims of racism, and personal experiences – Harrison dismantles the ‘race’ concept, bolt by bolt. Exposing race as a social illusion and political tool – rather than a biological reality – Harrison forces the reader to consider how they think about ‘other folk.’ Anthropologists have no use for the race concept, and neither should educated citizens.” -Cameron M. Smith, PhD, Department of Anthropology, Portland State University

Even if you already consider yourself educated and enlightened, reading this book will open your eyes in new ways. You won’t be able to look at people, race or society the same ever again. (Remember, we’re talking about race here – not culture. Very different. The craziness I observe in my own household on a daily basis is proof enough to me that cultural differences exist!)

The author argues that we all came out of Africa and we are one human race – that any categories based on hair type, skin color, facial features, etc – are simply man-made… By the time I finished reading this book I felt simultaneously freed…and trapped. I see myself as raceless, but this just isn’t practical in the society we live in.

Imagine renewing my driver’s license at the DMV. I fill out the form, I come to the race boxes – decide to leave them blank because they seem silly and irrelevant. I turn in my form.

“Ma’am, you didn’t check a box for race.”
“I know. I don’t want to. I don’t believe in races.”
“Yes ma’am, that’s real cute, but you have to choose one. I can’t process an incomplete form…”
I sigh, take my pen in hand, and check off a race.
“Hmm… I suppose this one is most accurate…”
I hand the form back to the DMV clerk who looks it over. Her satisfied smile at my compliance soon turns to a frown.

So, I don’t think race will be disappearing any time soon – and maybe it would be irresponsible of me to pretend our world doesn’t see these man-made boxes, regardless of what I personally feel. I have two sons who are struggling with their identity, and answering their questions with a cheerful, “Race doesn’t exist”, is not going to help them sort things out.

Just yesterday a classmate approached my older son and said, “Are you Mexican?” … My son, (having picked up on his father’s annoyance at constantly being incorrectly labeled Mexican instead of Latino or Salvadoran), replied with a simple, curt, “No.”

I told him that he should have used the opportunity to educate his classmate, but I wonder if that was fair of me. As a “white” girl amongst other “white” kids, I never had to explain myself. It must get annoying having to patiently tell people “what you are”. It must make one feel very “other”… and that’s never a good feeling, no matter how old you are – but especially in middle school.

The book, Race and Reality, re-printed a “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage” which I think is empowering, not just for people who are traditionally considered “multi-racial” by today’s society – but for all of us. In the end, there is no pure race. We are all mixed and we are all human.


Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage:

Not to justify my existence in this world.
Not to keep the races separate within me.
Not to justify my ethnic legitimacy.
Not to be responsible for people’s discomfort with my physical or ethnic ambiguity.

To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify.
To identify myself differently than how my parents identify me.
To identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters.
To identify myself differently in different situations.

To create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial or multi-ethnic.
To change my identity over my lifetime -and more than once.
To have loyalties and identification with more than one group of people.
To freely choose whom I befriend and love.

© Maria P. P. Root, PhD