Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio

An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio by Judith Ortiz Cofer. New York: Puffin Books, 1995.

It seems fitting that the first Pura Belpre Award winner in the narrative category is by Judith Ortiz Cofer who, like Belpre, is a native of Puerto Rico. Cofer came to the United States at a young age and, like the characters in the stories that make up An Island Like You, grew up in Paterson, New Jersey. This collection of stories features Puerto Rican-American teens growing up teetering that all-too-familiar line between cultures. In addition to the cultural divide between the children and their parents, socio-economic and racial divisions, provide conflict throughout the stories. 
While twelve separate short stories, characters reappear throughout giving each distinct person an opportunity to share his or her voice. Each character is a study in adolescence with all its complexities and its ups and downs. The reviled bully of one story becomes the heartbreaking hero of another. The bad girl who draws little sympathy in one story mourns her father in another. Cofer created multidimensional characters that are more than just one thing or another. Weaving them throughout each other’s stories allows the reader to see them in different lights, to understand how they relate to one another, and to discover the sources of their pain and inner conflict, proving that there is often more than meets the eye. Cofer’s characters are diverse in personalities, interests, and appearances, breaking the stereotypes that often come with Latino, and in this case specifically Puerto Rican, characters in the media. You get the punk, the beauty, the ugly duckling, the brain, and more. Their cultural background makes them different in some ways, and yet, as teenagers they belong to a distinct culture of sorts that has nothing to do with differences in language or appearance. One of the most interesting features is the fact that many of the characters are not fluent in Spanish, perhaps one of the reasons why many of them struggle with conforming to the world in which their parents are trying to raise them, one in which they attempt to insert the culture, religion and ways of their own childhoods into a completely different time and place. One of my favorite passages that illustrates these clashing worlds is from “Home to El Building:”

Anita walks slowly past the familiar sights: shops, bodegas, and bars of the street where she’s lived all her life, feeling like she’s saying adios, and good riddance to it all. Her destination is the future. She is walking toward love. But first she has to get past her life that’s contained by this block. The barrio is like an alternate universe. That’s what they call it on Star Trek when the crew of the starship Enterprise find themselves in another world that may look like Earth, but where the natives have history turned around, and none of the usual rules apply. In these streets, on this block, people speak in Spanish, even though they’re in the middle of New Jersey; they eat fruits and vegetables that grow only in a tropical country; and they (Anita is thinking of her parents now) try to make their children behave like they were living in another century....

Having grown up in the alternate universe that was my Miami neighborhood, I know exactly what Anita is talking about, as will many other young reader growing up with similar experiences.

While there are no specific pop cultural references, some of the stories do have a somewhat dated tone. The story “White Balloons,” in which the neighborhood teens rally to help out a gay man who grew up on the barrio and returns, sick with AIDS, to fulfill a dream before he dies, feels like it comes from a very specific period in the past. I am not so deluded to think that uninformed and backward attitudes towards homosexuality and AIDS have changed drastically, but these have changed to some extent in the past couple of decades, which makes the story feel very early-to-mid-1990s. 

Not sure how often this book is assigned as high school or college reading. It was assigned in a recent class I took on books and other material for young adults. I have to wonder if this is a testament to its ability to stand the test of time or if there has been no other work of Latino-focused YA published since 1995 worthy of inclusion on the reading list of a YA literature course. Nevertheless, it is a classic of Latino youth literature. The struggle to find one's place will resonate with teens regardless of racial or cultural background.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pura Belpre Reading Challenge

This summer I had the pleasure of attending the Pura Belpré Award ceremony during the ALA (American Library Association) conference in New Orleans. I had no idea how inspiring it would be to listen to the speeches given by the amazing writers and illustrators being honored for their positive portrayal of Latinos in youth literature.  

The medals. So pretty! I really should not be allowed so close to award medals.

Being the fifteenth year of the award, the posters given out featured Carmen Lomas Garza's Quinceañera. Each table also featured one of the award winning books as its centerpiece. This one shows Amy Novesky's Me, Frida whose illustrator, David Diaz, won an illustrator honor.

The programs featured the art work of Eric Velasquez, who won the illustrator medal for his book Grandma's Gift

Oralia Garza de Cortés and Sandra Rios Balderrama, the ladies who started it all, escorting the symbolic quinceañera.

Recently I was thinking that I should read all the Pura Belpré books. There are a lot of Newbery reading challenges online, where readers challenge themselves to read all the Newbery winners. Why not a Pura Belpré challenge? So the goal for the next year is to read as many of the Belpré medal and honor books in both categories awarded. Won’t you join me? 

I’ve thought about doing this in some kind of order--oldest to current or the reverse. It just so happens that I’ve read three of the books honored in 1996, the first year the award was given, so I’m starting with 1996. However, I don’t necessarily plan to stick to reading the books chronologically as I’m currently reading Pam Muñoz Ryan’s The Dreamer, the 2011 winner for narrative. 

Some interesting facts about the Belpré award that you may not already know: 
  • The Pura Belpré medal is awarded to a Latino or Latina writer and illustrator “whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”
  • The award is named for Pura Belpré (1899-1982), a Puerto Rican born author and storyteller who was the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. While at the NYPL she advocated for library services, including bilingual story time, to the growing Latino population in the city.
  • Pura Belpré wrote a number of children’s books that drew from her own cultural background, retelling the folk tales of Perez and Martina and of Juan Bobo.
  • The Pura Belpré Award is a joint award given by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association, and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking.
  • The Award, which is given in the categories of narrative and illustration, was first given in 1996. It was awarded every two years until 2008 after which it became an annual award.   
There is a complete list of the Pura Belpré Award winners and honor books on the award's Webpage. If you're interested in reading more about Pura Belpré or the history of the award and its winners, check out these resources:

The Pura Belpré Awards: Celebrating Latino Authors and Illustrators. Edited by Rose Zertuche Treviño. Chicago: American Library Association, 2006.

The Storyteller's Candle / La Velita de los Cuentos. Written by Lucía González; Illustrated by Lulu Delacre. San Francisco: Children's Book Press, 2008.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Under the Mesquite

Garcia McCall, Guadalupe. Under the Mesquite. New York: Lee & Low Books Inc., 2011. Ages 12 and up. 9781600604294   

Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s poignant debut novel-in-verse carries readers over the course of Lupita’s high school years as her adolescence unfolds in the shadow of her mother’s cancer. Throughout the novel Lupita struggles to navigate her often conflicted sense of place, caught between the past and her future: her role as both child and adult in the family; and as an immigrant still strongly rooted in her homeland but also learning to adapt to her new home. She dreams of acting, writing and going to college, but as the oldest of eight siblings, must balance these aspirations with her familial responsibilities. Woven into the story are Lupita’s memories of her childhood in Mexico. While most of the book takes place in Lupita’s present, these memories of Mexico serve to contrast her life before and after her mother’s illness and her family’s arrival in the United States. Her memories are of a happier, more peaceful, and more colorful life.

In Under the Mesquite Garcia McCall manages to create a multidimensional protagonist many young adults, regardless of background, can identify with. Young adults who have experienced the loss of a parent to a terminal illness will find themselves in Lupita’s emotional journey through her mother’s treatments and failing health. Immigrants and children of immigrants will see themselves in Lupita as she searches for a sense of place and identity in a new country. Teens in general will identify with Lupita as she makes her way through the social pressures of high school and tries to understand what it means to grow up.

Author interviews reveal that Under the Mesquite is semi-autobiographical. Like Lupita, Garcia McCall also emigrated from Mexico to Eagle Pass, Texas, a border town, as a young child. Perhaps it is this especially personal tie to her protagonist that enabled Garcia McCall to convey so well the emotions, in all the joyful and heartbreaking moments, of her characters. Garcia McCall’s poetic imagery captures the sights and sounds of Lupita’s world. It is easy to visualize potato skins falling like "old maple leaves" and to hear the sighing of a plastic bag and the whispering of a pencil on paper. Equally vivid is the way in which Garcia McCall depicts Lupita's relationship with her siblings. She struggles to be independent and to move away from her family all the while being so deeply entrenched in her role within the group. There is a clear sense of the bond, at times alternating between accepting and resentful, but always loving, that keeps them together through petty sibling disagreements and through tragedy:   

The six of us sisters
were round beads knotted side by side,
like pearls on a necklace,
strung so close together
we always made one another cry. 

Much like the mesquite from the book’s title, a tree with the ability to adapt and survive in almost any type of environment, Lupita is resilient and able to maintain a sense of hope despite the pain and grief she experiences during her mother’s illness and death. This book had my heart in its grip from the very first poem, "the story of us," in which Lupita searches her mother's purse "stealing secretos / mining for knowledge." I saw an image of myself as a young person, the child of immigrants who guarded their secretos tightly too, searching my own mother's purse unsure of what I was looking for or what I might find, but knowing there were things to be discovered. Highly recommended!

The book includes a glossary of names, Spanish words and cultural references. Check out the Lee & Low Books Webpage for Under the Mesquite for some nice features including a few audio clips of Garcia McCall reading poems from the book.

Monday, October 31, 2011

El Dia de los Muertos / The Day of the Dead

It’s probably safe to say that el Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, has reached a point of recognition in American society that it did not have even a decade ago. So much so that the candy company Russell Stover now makes Day of the Dead themed candy with bilingual wrappers. This is the first year I see these, and thanks to the packaging I learned the Spanish word for marshmallow. Mmm, malvavisco. Sounds, um, yummy. 

The Day of the Dead is sometimes explained as a sort of Mexican or Latin American version of Halloween, but it really is not. El Dia de los Muertos, which actually spans two days from November 1 to November 2 (or three, starting October 31, depending on who you ask), is a time when people remember their loved ones who have passed away. It is believed that on those days the souls of the dead return to visit. We honor them and welcome them back by creating ofrendas, altars on which offerings of their favorite foods, photos, belongings and other items are set out for their return. In Mexico and other countries that commemorate this time, it is customary to also visit and clean the graves of loved ones. I asked my mother what her family did when she was a girl in Mexico and she said they would visit her brother's grave, clean it, bring flowers and wreaths and pray, but that they did not create a home altar. Some people also played music in the cemetary. The Day of the Dead is also a time when death is recognized, and even celebrated, as a natural part of the cycle of life, a reminder that the dead are always still with us, and that death is not something to be feared.

There are a number of books for children about the Day of the Dead. A search for books to read to my own son turned into a research project of sorts as I began to look at the books I found under a more careful lens. I found that many of the books about the Day of the Dead include the following:

  • a child who has lost a grandparent and is preparing to welcome him or her back during the Day of the Dead
  • conflict in which either the child is uncertain of how the deceased loved one will find him or her or is trying to figure out what to contribute to the ofrenda
  • ends with the child receiving or believing to have received a sign of the deceased loved one’s visit
  • usually takes place in an unnamed location, but we can assume that it is a small, rural area outside of the United States based on the appearance of the surroundings and the outfits worn by the main and background characters
  • feature key characteristics of the Day of the Dead including skeletons or skulls, pan de muertos, the ofrenda, marigolds, and a cemetary
  • illustrations in which the children (and their families) are depicted as rural or peasants, are wearing somewhat dated and more culturally traditional clothing, or wear what appear to be Catholic school-type uniforms
A couple of other common threads I noticed among a few of the books:

  • the reader, via the young protagonist, is reassured that the skeletons are nothing to be afraid of and should be mocked or poked fun at
  • references to the Day of the Dead as the equivalent of Halloween 

Another common issue I found with these books is the subject classification assigned. Admittedly, I can be a little obsessive about Library of Congress subject headings. I discovered that there is no subject heading for the Day of the Dead. Perhaps this isn’t a huge deal in terms of being able to find books since online catalogs allow users to search by keyword. However, I have issues with what could be an inaccurate description of books about the Day of the Dead. The subject heading assigned to books about the holiday is All Souls’ Day. Not being an expert in religious holidays and observances, I dug a little to find out exactly what All Souls’ Day is about. I discovered that while All Souls’ Day is observed on November 2 it has a somewhat darker connotation than what we’ve come to know of the Day of the Dead. All Souls’ Day is affiliated with souls in purgatory who aren’t yet ready for their final destinations (whether they are heading upstairs or not). The idea of souls in limbo doesn’t exactly connect, in my mind, with the celebration of the Day of the Dead, a time in which the spirits of deceased loved ones are remembered and welcomed back for a brief period of time. Perhaps something has been lost in the cross-culture translation of the Day of the Dead. 

I deliberated about outlining why I would not recommend specific titles, and then considered only listing the books I would recommend. Since I did not read all the children’s books on the subject that are available at my library (and lest you think I did), I decided to compile a list of the books I looked at and highlight the ones I recommend. The titles highlighted (with two asterisks next to them) would be recommended to anyone wanting to introduce a child to the Day of the Dead or, more generally, to the ideas the underlie the celebration: that our loved ones are always with us, even when they are gone, and that death is a part of the life cycle that should not be feared.

  • **Ancona, George. Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead (Pura Belpre Honor Book for Illustration, 1996)
  • Freschet, Gina. Beto and the Bone Dance (2001)
  • **Johnston, Tony. Day of the Dead
  • Joosse, Barbara M. Ghost Wings
  • Krull, Kathleen. Maria Molina and the Days of the Dead
  • Levy, Janice. I Remember Abuelito: A Day of the Dead Story
  • Levy, Janice. The Spirit of Tio Fernando: A Day of the Dead Story
  • **Morales, Yuyi. Just A Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (Pura Belpre Medal for Illustration, 2004) 
  • **Morales, Yuyi. Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (Pura Belpre Medal for Illustration, 2009; Pura Belpre Honor Book for Narrative, 2009)
Yuyi Morales’ Just in Case and Just A Minute are not about el Dia de los Muertos per se, but both make the connection between the living and the dead through the character of Señor Calavera who in one book comes for Grandma Beetle and in the other brings the deceased Grandpa Zelmiro to celebrate a birthday with the living.

I should also mention that I found one Spanish language book at my library. El Dia de Muertos by Ivar Da Coll was published by Lectorum, a Spanish language book distributor based in New Jersey. In El Dia de Muertos, two young siblings await the arrival of their grandmother who, for once, is alive! The grandmother tells them humorous stories and passes on the traditions of the Day of the Dead celebration. The book is written in rhyme which makes it fun to read. Unfortunately, the four books I highlighted as recommended above are not bilingual in that they do not offer parallel English and Spanish text. They do integrate Spanish words into the English narrative with either a glossary or in-text translation as explanation of Spanish words and concepts.

If you wish for specifics on why certain titles were not recommended send me a message, and I’d be happy to let you know. I don’t think any of the book I didn’t choose include any especially egregious errors or misrepresentations (although, of course, what is egregious is subjective). The biggest issue I had with any one of the books is the way in which one in particular depicts immigration and compares life in, I’m assuming, Mexico and life in the United States.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Piri Thomas and Gary Soto

Piri Thomas, the Puerto Rican-Cuban-American poet and activist, passed away last week. He is best known in the YA world for Stories from El Barrio, his 1978 collection of short stories and poems about young people growing up in Harlem, one of the earliest YA books written by a U.S.-born Latino for and about Latino youth. In 1978, Thomas wrote an editorial for the New York Times in response to the case involving the 1976 removal of nine titles, including his autobiographical novel Down These Mean Streets, from the libraries of Long Island junior and senior high schools. In the essay, he addresses the role writing and libraries played in his life as a young person. I'm linking to the essay in honor of Piri, but also because it sounds a lot like Sherman Alexie's response earlier this year to a Wall Street Journal article about the "ever-more-appalling" YA lit. Thirty-some years later, different subject matter, same players.

Also, Cynthia Leitich Smith has added Jo Ellen Misakian's interview with Gary Soto on her blog. Soto, author of many children's and YA books, discusses his writing as well as the Gary Soto Museum at Fresno State University. It looks amazing!

P.S. There is at least one other cover for a more recent edition of Stories from El Barrio, but I love this one because it has that 70s / 80s YA paperback look that takes me back!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Malin Alegria on NPR

There is a great interview with YA author Malin Alegria on NPR. It's part of their "2 Languages, Many Voices: Latinos in the U.S." series. I'm looking forward to her Border Town series. The prospect of a Sweet Valley High with brown kids makes me giddy. Yes, it's true, I read practically all of the SVH books during my junior and high school years. So why can't I remember any Latino characters? I recall SVH having at least one African American character. Sweet Valley High takes place in California, doesn't it? There have to be a few Latinos. Right? Wikipedia (I know, I know!) shows two Latino names on the list of characters: Penny Ayala and Manuel Lopez. I forgot about Penny! Looks like I'll have to tackle that stack of SVH books sitting on my bookcase to find out how Penny and Manuel are portrayed. Not kidding about the stack of Sweet Valley High books.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Of Children's Books and Halloween Costumes

Marisol McDonald (of Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match), as illustrated by Sara Palacios, is reminiscent of a modern-day Pippi Longstocking with her red hair in braids and her outrageous outfits. The combination of brown skin and red hair is one of the reasons Marisol doesn't match. This reminded me of trick or treating with my son a few years ago and passing a little Latina girl dressed as Pippi. A brown Pippi! When you think about the most recognized characters in children's literature, characters like Pippi Longstocking, one of the things they all have in common is that they are White. For children of color, it is difficult to find characters in children's books that at least physically resemble them. Can anyone think of a children's book character that is as well known as Pippi Longstocking but is not white? Not so easy, right? Granted, Pippi comes from Sweden so perhaps not the best example. How about Junie B. Jones or Ramona Quimby? This is a completely legitimate challenge. If you can throw out a list I would be super impressed. The most recognized Latino child to come from a book or other media that I can think of is Dora the Explorer!

I am reminded of the scene in Grace Lin's The Year of the Dog where Pacy wants to try out for the role of Dorothy in the school's production of The Wizard of Oz, but her friend tells her she can't be Dorothy because Dorothy isn't Chinese. This theme of searching for oneself in children's books and not being able to find images that resemble one recur in Lin's novel and continue to plague children's literature. We need some brown Harriets and brown Ramonas in children's books, characters who run the gamut of cultures, backgrounds, and lifestyles. Perhaps the day will come when those of us with brown skin won't feel stuck between being Ugly Betty or Dora for Halloween.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald No Combina. Written by Monica Brown; Illustrated by Sara Palacios; Spanish Translation by Adriana Dominguez; San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press, 2011. Ages 4 - 8

Marisol McDonald doesn’t match! Her clothes don’t match. Her peanut butter and jelly burritos don’t match. And her brown skin and red hair certainly don’t match. Despite the fact that her lack of coordination is repeatedly pointed out to her, Marisol is happy with her mismatched lifestyle. That is, until, a classmate poses the ultimate challenge. Determined to prove that she can match, Marisol spends a day attempting to do so only to find herself miserable. 

In Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match, Brown and Palacios combine their talents to tell a story that is, on the surface, about a little girl coming to terms with not conforming to expectations. On a deeper level, the book sheds light on the issues of identity and belonging biracial children often struggle with. Brown, the daughter of a Peruvian mother and a North American father who describes herself as a “mestiza Peruvian American of European, Jewish, and Amerindian heritage” draws from her own experiences as a multiracial child to write Marisol’s story.

Palacios’ brightly colored mixed-media illustrations, a combination of mediums that include collage, color pencils, pencil, markers and gouache, complement Brown’s story, but also serve to capture the diversity of Marisol’s world. The signs and notes posted in Marisol’s home and community are in both English and Spanish. Her classmates are white, African-American and Asian. Marisol’s teacher Ms. Apple, who with green eyes and brown skin appears to be biracial as well, is the individual who reaffirms and encourages the little girl to be herself. Palacios, a native of Mexico City, manages to perfectly convey the blandness that can come from trying to fit in with her illustration of Marisol standing in front of her mirror before heading off to school. Dressed from head to toe in orange that matches her hair, Marisol appears washed out, easily blending into the backgrounds of the illustrations that follow her day. 

Like Marisol, the book is also bilingual. The story is written in English with a Spanish translation that equally shares space on the pages. Marisol’s devil-may-care attitude and self-confidence will empower children who do not fit into cookie cutter molds because of their multiracial backgrounds, and will also appeal to any child who is beginning to develop an awareness of societal pressures to fit in. Her combination of dots, stripes and patterned Peruvian chullo hats is only a scratch at the surface of Marisol’s colorful story. While it appears that Marisol doesn’t match she is, in fact, representative of what American society is beginning to resemble. Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match is a celebration of our increasingly colorful and less homogeneous nation.  

Kirkus Star for "books of remarkable merit"
Junior Library Guild Selection, Fall 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

El Gallito, the Moya Cigar Box and Me

A few months after my son was born, my dear friend Jenna sent me a book titled The Bossy Gallito / El Gallo de Bodas. Written in both Spanish and English it is Lucia M. Gonzalez's retelling of a traditional Cuban tale about a little glutton of a rooster who dirties his beak on his way to his uncle's wedding and then commands a number of animals and objects to do his bidding so that he can make it to the wedding on time.

It's a fun tale to read, especially in Spanish because of the tongue twisting and multiple meanings of the words:

El gallito se detuvo y penso:
--Pico o no pico?
Si pico me ensucio el pico
y no podre ir a la boda
de mi tio Perico.
Sin pensarlo dos veces
pico y se ensucio el pico.

I used to read this to E when he was a baby, and then it was tucked away in his bookshelf until this past weekend when I pulled it out and read it to him again. He likes it a lot, and I've been reading it to him everyday since. Sometimes just in English or just in Spanish, and sometimes in both languages.

While I like the tale, it's the illustrations that truly bring me joy. I am in love with those illustrations by Lulu Delacre because they all picture the gallito walking down the streets of Little Havana in Miami (the artist based her illustrations on hundred of photos she took in Little Havana). All the rich details make my heart swell as I think of my childhood home--the little cafetera on the title page; the birds playing dominoes in the park (my father played dominoes in the park every weekend); the cases of pasteles; the steam rising from the flamingo's coffee cup as he stands at the counter of a cafeteria; the palm trees and shopping carts full of coconuts; the Goya can tied to the back of the wedding party's car. Oh, but the one that gets to me most is the one of the cigar boxes and packages in the display case of a cafeteria counter. There I see the package for Padron, the brand my dad smoked (Padron numero 4), and the Moya cigar boxes.

Shortly before I left home for college (to a small town a six hour drive north of Miami) my glasses broke. I arrived at college with broken glasses. They were hideous enough without the addition of the tape holding them together so that my blind-as-a-bat self could function until my new pair arrived. When my dad sent my new pair of glasses, they arrived in my dorm mailbox tucked inside a Moya cigar box. I have held onto this box for almost twenty years. In it are random little keepsakes: graduation tassles; old family photos; the hospital identification bracelet from when I was born; my high school class ring; a bottle of silvery blue nail polish I wore on my wedding day (my something blue); and my father's obituary.

Leo Politi

Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street (Leo Politi, 1946) Politi, a resident of Los Angeles, paid tribute to the city's ethnic neighborhoods in many of his books for children. In this 1947 Caldecott Honor book, the reader sees Los Angeles through the eyes of young Pedro and his grandfather, the older man remarking on the changes he's witnessed as the area transitions from small town to big city. In both his words and images, Politi conveys his deep appreciation for Mexican and Mexican-American culture. A large colorful market scene depicts the flavors, colors, traditions and folk arts of Mexico.The first few pages are a sort of tour of Olvera Street. Pedro shows readers the puestos, the little shops, the food, the artisans (in a double page color illustration of a blacksmith, a sandal maker, a glass blower, a candle maker, a pot maker and a silversmith) and the treats that line Olvera Street.

In Pedro, Politi introduces readers to the holiday Posada tradition that begins with a procession of "pilgrims"--including Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay--and ends with children breaking a pinata. Because Pedro is known to have a lovely voice, he is selected to be an angel that will lead the Posada. As with some of Politi's other books the parental figure is a grandparent, in this case Pedro's grandfather.

What is especially interesting is that all the residents of Olvera Street are dressed in what appears to be more traditional (and kind of stereotypical) Mexican clothes--sombreros, huaraches, long skirts and shawls or sarapes. Is that really what Mexicans and Mexican-Americans looked like in Los Angeles in the 1940s? Or perhaps it's Politi's way of emphasizing the cultural roots of this community? I've searched for photos of Mexicans / Mexican Americans in the Library of Congress' American Memory site and a number come up that were taken during the Great Depression (including a few by Dorothea Lange), none which show Mexican Americans dressed any differently than, I'm guessing, the average White or African-American person of that period. Which is interesting to me because I've been thinking a lot about how much Latino children's books (books that feature Latinos) are very limited to being specifically about some aspect of a cultural group or the Spanish language. It's very rare to see a brown face in a book for children where that character isn't representative of something Latino. And while I think it's great that there are more and more books for children featuring Latino characters, I'm still bothered by the absence of books in which a brown child is doing things a child of any race in the U.S. would do, s/he just happens to be brown. You know, no blatant sign following the child announcing I'm BROWN! It seems like this approach to writing about brown children hasn't changed in sixty-some years, and it makes me ask the question: is that the only way books with little brown faces see the light of day?