Friday, April 25, 2014

L4LL Día Blog Hop 2014: Children's Author James Luna

I'm honored to share that I was invited to participate in the 2nd Annual Latina's for Latino Lit (L4LL) Día Blog Hop in celebration of Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros. The blog hop is a collaboration of twenty-four Latina bloggers who support increasing Latino children's literacy. But it's not just literacy that we support, because as important as it is that our children learn to read, we need to ensure that they have access to books and stories that reflect their lives and validate their experiences by supporting Latino authors.

Today, Sincerely Ezzy hosts twice published children's book author James Luna. In the following piece, James discusses why it's so important that we read culturally relevant stories to our children.

I know you'll enjoy it!

The Delicious Souvenirs of Memory

By James Luna 

Who will you be?  Not what do you want to be when you grow up, blah, blah, blah. Who will you be later today when you open that book, or turn on your reader?  Will you live now in 2014, 200 years in the future, or 150 years ago? What will you do? Will you evaluate evidence and formulate theories to solve the crime?  Will you face the dilemma of deciding between the two guys vying for your affection?  Will you be human, animal, or android?  And after you are done, after that pause, the breath held between the last word read and the moment you re-enter the non-book world, how will you have changed?
That to me is the wonder of reading, of stories and storytelling.  Through books, through words woven through pages, we can become someone or something other than ourselves, and through that transformation, expand our identities, and deepen our understanding.  How many times have you recommended a book because the story made you cry?  How many times have you read an event or remark in a book then laughed out loud in a silent room? Make no mistake, this can and does happen to kids at the earliest of ages when they hear stories read, and when they read even the most humble of picture books.  I believe firmly in experience as a great teacher, in long walks, telescopes and digging in the dirt. Yet reading is its own experience, an inner experience, where a character’s journey moves me to understand myself and my world better than before I read it. 
If you have read to kids, you know that they’ll moo, bark, or repeat a refrain before they can read it.  They will say an entire sentence before they can speak the individual words!  Like adult readers, they want to see themselves as part of the story, to be IN the book.  They can’t wait to partake in the adventures that happen between the page one and “The End.”  Why shouldn’t they?  There are so many wonderful places children can go when we read to and with them.  From places that are old and familiar to adults like the Hundred Acre Wood, or the small, small room, to new places like a wrestling match with Niño in “Niño Wrestles the World,”  or in the kitchen with Jorge Argueta’s wonderful poetic celebrations of food.  Adults are the guides to these new destinations.
In these new worlds, these book worlds, many precious gifts await our children. A book can develop child’s sense of empathy when we read about Rene in “I Am Rene, the Boy.”  She confirms her own worth when a character faces and overcomes the same problems she does.  Our kids explore new horizons when they read books like Monica Brown’s “Waiting for the Biblioburro.”  We open the world to wonder and awe when we ask, “What will happen next?”  An unturned page fills us with anticipation, with hope, and, eventually, relief. 
As a writer, the first person I want to experience my story is me!  I want to know what will happen to my characters, who they will meet, how they will face their fears or troubles.  I miss them when my work (teaching) keeps us apart for weeks.  I worry about them, and hope that they won’t get lost without me (I am always lost when we don’t see each other).  Of course, each of my characters reflects some part of me.  My Piggy is me, running away from everyone.  Rafa, my little mummy, is a first-rate wonderer, an explorer that eventually misses the familiarity of home.  When I read my stories to kids, I’m sharing a part of me, the wonderer or the escape artist.  I hope that the story speaks to the fugitive cookie or adventurer in them. 
When the child reading the book is a little Latino or Latina, and the book’s character speaks Spanish, or visits her abuelita, her connection to the story is so much stronger.  That being said, I relish multicultural stories that show my kids (and by “kids” I mean my 3 children and the students I teach) that there are universal truths and experiences, such as family, change, fear, loss, and new friendships.  Yet when the characters have names like Roberto, or Flor, or Rafael, I see a light go on in the faces of Latino kids.  They smile and exclaim, “My sister is named Flor” or “Rafa?! Like my Tío Rafa!” And if the character’s name happens to be the same as someone in our class, they point with the grandest of smiles.  These stories reflect something of their lives back on them, becoming affirming their place in the literary world, their spot on the bookshelf. 
Though I write in the hope that all types of children will read my books, I consciously choose to put my stories in neighborhoods similar to the one I grew up in, and similar to the one my students inhabit.  My characters’ lives and situations purposely mirror the ones I hear about daily as I teach and learn with my class.  My book “A Mummy in Her Backpack” began when a student of mine returned from a trip to Guanajuato.  My friend Rene Colato Lainez wrote about his journey from El Salvador to the United States in “My Shoes and I.”  Memories of a Cuban girl who loved to sing became Laura Lacamara’s book “Floating on Mama’s Song.” One day in the future I may write about kids from other places.  For now I’m not done mining the riches of where I live, because the stories I find there are rich.  They contain truths and humor, emotions and experiences that interest me.   We authors invite you and your children to come along, to walk, sing, and dance, and to take with you the delicious souvenirs of memory.
My stories and all the stories by Latino/Latina authors are more than a little niche or a special section in the bookstore.  Where’s the fun in that? I know our stories make all kids laugh, wonder, and root for our characters.  The settings are places where kids will want to go over and over.  All kids repeat our refrains, finish our lines, and demand an author’s favorite quote, “Read it again!”
So, who will you be soon?  And where will you go?  What travel plans are you making for your kids?  Book your trip now, and ¡Buen viaje!   I’ve got to go. A character named Roberto needs to finish telling me a strange story…

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

College? Guilt By Contradiction For Young Latinas

In my Hispanicize 2014 recap, I made reference to a series of skits presented during one of our lunches by Orgullosa called The Nueva Latina Monologues. The skits tackle the ambicultural® Latina experience, that of being able to slip innately between two cultures. They treat as an asset, rather than a deficit, a skill that many of us may have been confused by, or did not know what to name.

By the way, it's not a ability unique to Latinas.

Para Colegio And 'Guilt By Contradiction'

Here's a video clip of The Nueva Latina Monologues' second skit Para Colegio | Go. It's about a conversation a young Latina has with her mother about wanting to go away to college and her mother's reticence, much of which stems from cultural norms. The daughter wants to be independent and self-sufficient, to see the world. The mom is afraid of letting go.

It may appear on the surface to be a familiar, or mainstream conversation, but it's not. First-generation Latinas, or Latinas who immigrated to the U.S. at a young age are often held to a cultural norm that expects them "to prioritize family responsibilities above school." Enter guilt by contradiction: parents, mothers specifically, want their daughters to have the opportunities they never did, but don't want to see their daughters go. Of course it's different for sons. The conversations we're having at home need to change if we're to address the disproportionately high dropout rate experienced by Latinas, relative to their non-Latina peers.

Watch the video. I'm sure more than one of you will be able to relate.


Making Education Work for Latinas in the U.S. (2013), The Civil Rights Project
Latina Power Shift (2013), The Nielsen Company

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mrs. Easter Bunny Stopped By

Easter Eve was always more special than Easter morning in my home. My sisters and I would stay up late eating capirotada, a Mexican dish my mom made every year that filled our home with the smell of melted sugar.

At bedtime, we'd giggle in the dark, as we speculated over the size of the Easter baskets Mrs. Easter Bunny would bring. More than Peeps and jelly beans, we hoped for giant chocolate Easter bunnies whose ears we'd devour before breakfast the next morning. I say might because sometimes there was no chocolate.

I remember waiting for the sound of crinkling plastic, until one year, without warning, Mrs. Easter Bunny never came. Is there an expiration date on the Easter Bunny?

My eleven-year-old son cornered me in the grocery store last year and asked if Santa and the Easter Bunny were real. So many thoughts raced through my mind as I thought of how to answer. "Well ... " It was over. My baby was no longer a baby. I remember how he scrutinized me with his big brown eyes that communicated without words that he knew the truth.

A dear friend and neighbor dropped by yesterday afternoon to return a dish. During our conversation I realized that with the craziness of preparing to have family over for Easter, I'd inadvertently forgotten to make our son's Easter Basket (something that's proven challenging each year due to his food allergies). When I mentioned that our son didn't believe in the Easter Bunny, anymore, my neighbor laughed and replied that her twenty-something daughter still expected her chocolate bunny. That's when I remembered how much I've missed mine.

Mrs. Easter Bunny did drop by before six a.m., leaving tracks all the way up to our son's room. He'll wake to find a small basket bursting with yellow grass, a book, Swedish Fish, Skittles, and Minecraft toys. He'll even find a small, stuffed, yellow chick to remind him he'll always be my baby.

Why is the Easter Bunny a Mrs. instead of a Mr? I'll tell you why -- because The Country Bunny And The Little Gold Shoes says so.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Stars Shone Bright At Hispanicize 2014

Riding With Crafty Chica And Curves And Chaos

Hispanicize 2014 was filled with surprises, interesting people and turbo charged events. Here's a photo of me with Kathy Murillo Cano, otherwise known as CRAFTY CHICA. I was delighted when I boarded the open air bus that would take us to see Cesar Chavez and saw an empty seat next to her. Kathy's accomplished so much between her crafting books, novels, and branded products, that discovering she's as kind and gracious, as she is successful, is refreshing. Also, that's none other than Monique Frausto, the founder of Blogs by Latinas and Curves and Chaos photobombing us.

Here's Monique, again, on the right. Funny story about the lovely young lady sitting to her left. A lot happened on top of that bus, funny stuff. Sooooo, I thought the young woman was being silly when every few minutes she'd tap Kathy on the shoulder and say, "Mom, look ..." Knowing what I've shared about Crafty Chica's personality, I thought Kathy was being nice to another fan, when every few minutes she'd turn, smile and answer the young woman. Well, it turns out Kathy is her mom. Yeah. Open mouth. Insert foot.

I Saw Cesar Chavez. In Spanish.


It made me happy to learn that Cesar Chavez, the new film directed by Diego Luna, would be screened for us at Hispanicize. Before watching the movie, I had very little knowledge of  Chavez, the United Farm Workers Union, and the hunger strike that won migrant farm workers fair wages. Sadly, this chapter of American history was missing from my history books. I found the movie to be a good introduction to Chavez's greatest accomplishment.

Apparently, there was a mix up and the theater only had the Spanish version of the movie for the screening. We didn't find out until they were about to shut off the lights. For a second I panicked. Then I was, like, "Wait. I know Spanish. Vamos." After a few minutes the novelty wore off. To be honest, it felt no different to me than watching a movie in English. Though, I have to admit that it filled me with pride to watch it and understand everything. Awesome, really.

Now to do a little research of my own.

Friendly and Familiar Faces

Here are some peeps that brightened up breakfast the next day. Deldelp Medina (center) is a brainiac app developer and president of @Latino_Startups, Laura Aiello (right) is author of El Cofre de Mis Deseos, and the guy on the left with the big smile is Fernando Rodríguez of Moore Communications Group.

The Nueva Latina Monologues

Prior to attending Hispanicize, I'd not heard of The Nueva Latina Monologues and did not know what to expect when the actress shown above stepped out on stage. The performance took place during one of our lunches, and had they shown the entire show (that I hope to see!), I would've stayed glued to my chair.

The Nueva Latina Monologues is a series of skits written by Linda Nieves-Powell that dig deeply into the psyche of bicultural (ambicultural®) Latinas. The women acted out scenes that could've been taken from the home I grew up in. I have to admit that I got emotional. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a clip for the skit involving a girl whose two cultures, American and Latina, argue with each other over which of the two she should choose to be. It's a clever reenactment filled with humor and sadness.

Here's one of the skits ...


Living The Good Life

Miami was a lot of fun. It was also exhausting. Although I wasn't able to completely chill due to homework, the trip reminded me of all the wonderful experiences and good friends I've made because of this tiny blog. I have a lot to be grateful for and feel blessed to have the love and support of my family and friends, as I continue on my journey.

If you can believe it, my last day of class is Tuesday, May 6th. I'll be walking for my MEd June 1st. Here we go.

Taking deep breaths.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

ESPN Deportes' Carolina Guillén Opens Up About Her Career

Notice: This is not a sponsored post.

When I was presented recently with the opportunity to interview ESPN Deportes' Venezuelan-born sports journalist Carolina Guillén, the first thing I thought about were my students. I recognized that Carolina's extraordinary success as a sports journalist in a mainly male-dominated field could inspire my students to explore career paths outside of their comfort zone.

Carolina's provided some valuable insight and advice based on what's she's encountered on her journey. She's also shared what she plans to do after her daughter's birth (Yes, she's expecting!).

Thank you, Carolina!

Interview With ESPN Deportes' Carolina Guillén

Carolina, what did your parents, especially your father, say, when you told them you wanted to be a sports journalist?

My father was very concerned about my career choice due to the lack of women in that file. Plus, he wanted me to manage his business in Venezuela. However, 15 years later, he is extremely proud knowing he had nothing to worry about, as I have been able to grow and succeed in the sports journalism field with the "worldwide leader in sports!"

Can you share how your love of sports started, was there a trigger?

I come from a very sports-oriented family - so ever since I was young, I knew sports were going to be part of my future, as it has always been a big part of my life. Can you imagine the daughter of a Real Madrid fan not watching the matches?

What was the biggest obstacle or barrier you overcame to get your first shot at becoming a sports journalist?

Being the first female field reporter covering sports for TV was the biggest obstacle for me. Once I broke through into the field, everything got easier!

Can you talk a little about your mindset and how you broke through? Did you ever doubt yourself?

There were a good amount of skeptics, but I didn't pay attention to their criticism. Times were different back then, but my mindset was: focused on my job and do it well. I knew I needed to swim against the tide and overcome all the stereotypes.

What are your plans after your daughter is born? Will you continue to report for ESPN Deportes?

My family life is very much in tune with my professional career, so I don't foresee any slowing down. I will continue to work with ESPN Deportes till the very end, especially now with MLB season starting. I will take a short and sweet maternity leave period, and come back stronger than ever!

What advice would you give preteen girls who've come to hear you speak about how you became a successful sports journalist? What steps would you tell them to follow? What things would you tell them NOT to do?

The key is to respect the field, and the field will respect you. People can tell when a woman knows or doesn't know about sports. Always behave as a professional committed to your work and to the information you are providing to your audience. Image is a big part of this career, so don't jeopardize it - especially in arenas full of men.

Are there any books or resources you'd recommend they seek out to learn more?

There are a ton of materials and resources out there for every field - you just have to know where to look. Plus, when it comes to your career, you have to be passionate about it and keep yourself informed with the latest news to ensure you stay at the forefront of your industry. The sports industry is not the only competitive field out there.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

MY BELOVED WORLD by Sonia Sotomayor

I picked up Sonia Sotomayor's memoir MY BELOVED WORLD expecting to find within its pages a measuredly guarded Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, because, really, how much would an active representative of our country's highest court be willing to disclose?  I'll tell you that her unexpected candor surprised and delighted me.

Sotomayor's Advocacy Skills Apparent Early

The reader gets a glimpse into the strong-minded woman she will mature into when at a tender age she is diagnosed with Type I Diabetes, a serious life-long illness. Rather than look to her parents for strength and support, she advocates for herself and assumes responsibility for monitoring her condition and insulin injections. She does this knowing that it will relieve tension between her parents in the home.

"Does it seem strange that a child should be so conscious of the workings of her own mind?"

I read about her family's dynamics: her somewhat strained relationship with her mother, conflicted relationship with her father, and authoritative relationship with her younger brother. She was in a sense, Puerto Rican in the home and with extended family members, as they came together as a family often to eat, sing and dance. She'd soon learn, however, at Princeton and Yale Law School that as she's part of a minuscule minority of students, who are mostly White, she learns that being Puerto Rican comes in varying degrees of authenticity. It's not until she becomes active within Latino groups at  both schools that she questions herself.

Reading Sotomayor's writing and following her logic as she addresses the challenges facing this country's English Language Learners (ELLs), the masses of college readiness resources and tools available to the "haves" and scarcity of the same for students who have access to little to nothing, gives me great hope to know that a person of her caliber represents the people. Her worldview is not one of privilege. She understands the challenges facing underserved youth and immigrants in this country.
Having said that, though, the lens through which she views social conditions serves as just that -- a lens -- that informs her decisions, not one that directs them.

"I would warn any minority student today against the temptations of self-segregation: take support and comfort from your own group as you can, but don't hide within it."


  1. Do not self-segregate in communities that remove themselves from the mainstream. Power is diluted by doing so.
  2. Punch the self-esteem monster in the face every time it tries to block you from going after what's in your heart and mind. It shocked me to learn that Sotomayor has questioned her intelligence and "belongingness" so many times in her career. Sotomayor. The first Latina Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Even she's plagued by mind monsters.
  3. "Bigotry is not a value."  
  4. View issues from all perspectives, not just the one you champion. Right is usually somewhere in the middle.

I have nothing but the greatest respect for writers who speak their truth. Sonia Sotomayor is an inspiration to young women everywhere. We might have all benefited from watching a little Perry Mason in our youth.