Malena Fuentes Alzu, Spanish Language Coordinator
Judy Goldman, RA Mexico
Romy Natalia Goldberg, RA Brazos Valley
Cynthia De La Torre, Illustrator Coordinator SoCal
The idea of honoring Hispanic Americans for their contributions to the culture of the United States was established in 1968. Hispanic Heritage Month starts on September 15, marking the independence wars of many Latin American countries. According to the US census, Hispanics constitute 18.5% of the nation’s population, tracking their roots to Spain, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Spanish-speaking nations of the Caribbean. Immigrants from Latin America are the largest migrant group in the USA. Among them are included indigenous groups with languages other than Spanish. You can read more about this history online. But how do we, Hispanics/Latinx*, feel about this legacy? For a wider perspective, four RTs will briefly reflect on their Hispanic heritage.
Malena Fuentes: As a Spaniard, my culture and identity swims in the waves of different Mediterranean, African, and European people who mixed and remixed in a kind of twisted way for hundreds of years. But I was reborn to my Hispanic heritage during my teens, when I discovered the beauty of the Latin American literary boom. The fact of sharing the same language with so many luminous writers who lived on the other side of the world filled me with pride and awe…and an urge to write! A few years ago, my European ethnocentric point of view was very much shaken when I arrived in the USA… I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to experience the vibrant and poliedric Latinx-Hispanic culture here! As a teacher and artist, I have become a humble explorer of the power of language as a political and cultural tool.
Judy Goldman: I’m proud to be Mexican. I was born in Mexico City (where I live) and was brought up bilingual and multicultural. I find Mexico endlessly captivating and I’d like everyone to get to know my country, its people, and traditions while doing away with negative stereotypes that do all of us such a disservice. Besides, all of amazing Latin America is just waiting to be discovered by diverse readers of all ages and what better way to do it than through authentic books. It’s a big world and those stories can bring us closer to others and make us more empathic, curious, and respectful.
Romy Natalia Goldberg: I am Paraguayan-United States of American and grew up all over the Americas. Each move to a new country, each friendship forged, and each trip “home” to Paraguay, was a chance to discover the vast variety of values and experiences that make up the Latinx community. There is no one universal Latinx experience (except, maybe, Sábado Gigante). We are not one indistinguishable lump of piñatas, soccer, and tacos just as the United States is not all about frisbees, American football, and pizza. In particular, I enjoy writing books in which multiple Latinx characters grapple with their differences. My friends are all used to receiving Whatsapps with questions like “what do you call ‘popcorn’ in your country?” From a young age I learned how to be a bridge between cultures. My hope is to create a body of work that helps young readers, Latinx or not, learn how recognizing, respecting, and celebrating our differences can bring us together rather than drive us apart.
Cynthia De La Torre: My parents were born near Guadalajara, Mexico, and came to the US as children. They raised us to speak Spanish, to value our culture and our traditions. We grew up hearing Mexican ghost stories, listening to boleros, and watching El Chavo del 8. Unfortunately, we experienced prejudice for not fully assimilating to US culture. We were shamed for our accent, our traditions, and for speaking Spanish. It wasn’t easy, but I eventually found my place and am now grateful for my Mexican heritage. In large part, I felt like an outsider in the US, because I did not see people like myself represented in books or media in a positive way…if at all. I don’t want other kids to feel that way. My goal is to show the world, particularly young children, that Latinx have stories of value to share. There is nothing more powerful than children seeing themselves reflected in the books they love and admire. I hope to empower them through my books.
This is our community too. And, in 2020, the celebration of the Hispanic Heritage Month will take place between the deadliest attack on Latinx people in US history and the disproportionate impact of the COVID19 on Latinx and Black communities. Now, more than ever, embracing and thanking our Latinx community and its contributions should be especially heartfelt and evident. How can we, SCBWI members, celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month? Supporting Latinx book stores and reading children’s books!
Ada-Campoy Award to Spanish speaking childrens’ books published in the USA
*“Hispanic” refers to the linguistic origins from a Spanish-speaking country and “Latinx” refers to people living in the USA who have ethnic and cultural origins from a country in Latin America.