Thoughts on a Latina Author’s Journey

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Today I am humbled to have Latina children’s book author Alma Flor Ada guest posting here  as part of the Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros Blog HopBefore having children, her name was foreign to me. After becoming a mom and making the decision to raise bilingual daughters, my family has uttered her name on a regular basis when we cuddle up to read one of the many books she has written or translated. She has made reading books in Spanish a joy for my family. Enjoy this beautiful piece on what inspired her many years ago and continues to do so today. 

latino children's literature

Migrant farm-working families became an important presence in my life, for the first time in 1973, while I helped organize a series of presentations at Mercy University in Detroit where I taught at the time.

I had no idea, as I stood with my children in a bitter cold Mid-West winter at the door of supermarkets in support of the lettuce boycott, how much I was to learn about their plight, how inspired I would be by the dignity in their life struggles.

While the families I met were from California I soon learned about the Michigan migrant camps. As I got to know families that had lost a common language of communication, because young children refused to speak Spanish, I found added strength to contribute to  the efforts for the passing of bilingual education laws in Massachusetts, in Michigan and Illinois.

After moving to California in 1976, it was but natural to look for opportunities to collaborate in Migrant Education situations. When Alfonso Anaya, who would later become my advisee in his doctoral studies at the University of San Francisco, agreed to sponsor a program on Literatura Infantil with migrant farm-working families in Pájaro Valley, my own life took an unexpected turning point.

For three years we met, monthly, at the high school library, a place both beautifully pleasant and non-threatening to the parents, always impressed by the large turn out of parents who had worked all day in the field.

During the first part of the meeting I introduced several picture books, as well as the hand-written books which children and families had produced during the previous month, and we dialogued about one of the issues the parents had requested. Then, the families broke in groups, facilitated by migrant teachers, to work with one of the books introduced, a different one in each group. After reading the book aloud, the parents would talk about following the Creative Reading process, and would see how the content could relate to their own lives and determine what decisions it inspired. They would also share how they could present the specific book to their own children.

As a final activity each group would make a list of topics they would like to see discussed the following month.

The “miracle,” as California Tomorrow called the success of these meetings, was not only on the constant presence of the parents, their interest in the books, and the numerous meaningful books they created, but also in their willingness to face and discuss openly the complexities of their own lives.

I would leave each meeting with a sense of awe. One night, while driving alone, late at night, since we had started the meeting after the parents returned home from the fields, I felt overcome by multiple thoughts –was the generosity I experienced, the profound sense of responsibility, the caring for family and friends, the result of working on the land, of the powerful labor whose product nourishes us all? To my amazement I began to see a story, as if projected on the windshield of the car… the story was as vivid as a film, even though I could only see it through abundant tears. When I arrived to my silent home, I hurriedly wrote it all down before succumbing to tiredness. The following morning I was sure I had had a vivid dream and only regretted not being able to remember.

What a surprise to find the written text of what would become The Gold Coin. A story of generosity and of redemption through the work of the land.

At the time I had several books published in Spain, in Peru, in Argentina. But under the encouragement of my daughter Rosalma, who suggested I had tapped in some sort of universal truth and insisted that I should try to get this book published in the US, I went on to collect rejections. It was 1990 and the letters I received said things like “this seems to have been written by a Hispanic” !!! or “American children would not be interested in a story like this” !!! or “the feelings behind this story are alien to this market.”

There were very few Latino editors at the time. Ana Cerro, a young assistant editor at Simon & Schuster was one of the few, and she recommended the publication of The Gold Coin.

What a joyful surprise that after winning the Christopher Award the story would indeed be included in all the reading series published in the several following years. And what a joy that today the presence of Latinos, both as readers and authors, receives some recognition even if far from what it deserves.

While the first, The Gold Coin was not the only text inspired by my continuous work with farm-working families in numerous districts.

Some of the poems I wrote after being in the fields became Gathering the Sun, magnificently illustrated by Simón Silva, who grew up in Calexico, among the carrot fields where his family worked. The book is dedicated to eight of my doctoral advisees, all of farm-working extraction.

In 1991 my ample poetry anthology Días y días de poesía was published with a  dedication to the children and parents of Pájaro Valley.

El vuelo de los colibríes (1995), which regrettably is yet to be published in English, is a story based on migrant experiences.

Imágenes del pasado co-authored with Isabel Campoy includes my essay Teatro campesino: ¡Qué florezca la luz! inspired in moments spent in San Juan Bautista.

In the biography series of Gateways to the Sun/Puertas al sol, Isabel and I chose to include biographies of César Chávez and of Luis Valdés.

Now, several years later, the farm-working experience reappears in the middle grades novel, Dancing Home, which I co-authored with my son Gabriel Zubizarreta. Once again, not as a conscious effort, but as a natural result of what has been a constant presence in my reflection and action.

The privilege of knowing and working with migrant farm working families and of learning alongside my doctoral students of farm working origin has been an enormous gift, and I continue to grow from it.

The Author

alma flor ada

Alma Flor Ada, Professor Emerita at the University of San Francisco, has devoted her life to advocacy for peace by promoting a pedagogy oriented to personal realization and social justice. A former Radcliffe Scholar at Harvard University and Fulbright Research Scholar she is an internationally renown speaker in issues of bilingualism and multicultural education.

Alma Flor is the author of numerous children’s books of poetry, narrative, folklore, personal memoirs and non fiction. Her books have received prestigious awards; among many: Christopher Medal (The Gold Coin), Pura Belpré Medal (Under the Royal Palms), Once Upon a World (Gathering the Sun), Parents’ Choice Honor (Dear Peter Rabbit), NCSS and CBC Notable Book (My Name is María Isabel), Junior Library Guild (Tales Our Abuelitas Told). She is also the author of a book of memoirs, Vivir en dos idiomas, two novels for adults, En clave de sol and A pesar del amor, and several professional books for educators, including A Magical Encounter: Latino Children’s Literature in the Classroom, as well as a wealth of educational materials. Her work, in collaboration with F. Isabel Campoy in promoting authorship in students, teachers, and parents is the content of their book Authors in the Classroom: A Transformative Education Process. Alma Flor Ada has been awarded the American Education Research Association [AERA] Hispanic Issues Award for Research in Elementary, Secondary and Postsecondary Education and the California Association for Bilingual Education [CABE] Life Long Award.

The Giveaway

L4LL has put together a wonderful collection of Latino children’s literature to be given to a school or public library. Many of the books were donated by the authors and illustrators participating in this blog hop. You can read a complete list of titles here on the L4LL website.

To enter your school library or local library in the giveaway, simply leave a comment below.

The deadline to enter is 11:59 EST, Monday, April 29th. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and announced on the L4LL website on April 30th, Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros, and will be contacted via email – so be sure to leave a valid email address in your comment! (If we have no way to contact you, we’ll have to choose someone else!)

By entering this giveaway, you agree to the Official Sweepstakes Rules (link to http://www.latinas4latinolit.org/p/blog-page_1366.html). No purchase required. Void where prohibited.

¡Buena suerte!

 

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Published by

Carla

I’m writing to remember, writing to cherish, writing to breathe. I’m writing because it’s the only way I know how.

28 thoughts on “Thoughts on a Latina Author’s Journey

  1. Carla, thank you for sharing Alma Flor Ada, her story and books with us! What a wonderful story, and her books look amazing.

  2. My school. the Dual Immersion Academy, would treasure these books. Thanks for the giveaway and for sharing your story.

  3. We have a high population of students of Latino background. I strive to find literature that speaks to them.

    Wendy Kirchner
    Librarian
    South Side Providence Rhode Island

  4. I have enjoyed sharing Alma Flor Ada’s books with children for years in my work as a bilingual teacher and teacher educator. Thank you for sharing this part of her story! I loved reading it.

  5. Such a brilliant, moving, inspiring piece. Alma Flor Ada has given the world a great gift and great awareness in her meaningful work and dialogue and writing. I was particularly moved by this: “[the miracle] was not only on the constant presence of the parents, their interest in the books, and the numerous meaningful books they created, but also in their willingness to face and discuss openly the complexities of their own lives.” It’s this sharing that brings about great changes, especially with literacy. Thank you for sharing Alma’s words; they are life game-changers.

  6. In 1984, I was a freshman in high school. It was the first time that I had the opportunity to choose which classes to take. When presented with the opportunity to study another language, I struggled with the decision. German? I already knew a bit from an after school program. French? It’s so romantic. Spanish? The U.S. WAS close to Mexico. I was ambivalent about all of the languages until my dad said, “You should take Spanish. One day, Hispanics will be one of the most important groups in the United States.” If my father were still alive, he would be happy to know that he was right. The Hispanic population in the US has grown 43% in the last decade alone. I am so grateful to my father for encouraging me to study Spanish because he planted the seed of my own bilingualism. I studied Spanish throughout high school and college and went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese. I have to confess that I really did not like Spanish until I took my first literature class in Spanish. Learning grammar rules and doing drills is a fairly dry endeavor. But reading about another country and its culture, that’s a transformative experience. If I were to win the collection of books, I would be honored to present them to the library at my son’s school here in San Diego. Give our proximity to the border, I feel that these books would serve a dual purpose; first and foremost, they would give Latino students a window into their own heritage, and secondly, they would help foster an understanding and an appreciation of that heritage for children who would like to learn about their friends and neighbors.

    1. I have been a fan of Alma Flor’s books since I was a bilingual teacher in El Paso in 1976 and she trained us. I had the great honor of sponsoring her (and Isabel Campoy) as our featured Latino children’s authors at the Cinco de Mayo event last year here in conjunction with our annual Bill Martin Jr Symposium. Should I win the collection, I will give the books to our university’s (Texas A&M-Commerce) curriculum library so that my bilingual and ESL education students can read them and use them for their classroom assignments in my courses.

  7. I was lucky enough to study with Dr Ada at USF. We are a newish immersion program with lots of latinos who do not see themselves in the usual literature collections. I would be so honored and grateful to add to my students, literacy, self esteem and hope with this collection. Best wishes and eternally grateful for lessons learned that I am to this day trying to incorporate in my daily teachings.

  8. Thank you for the wonderful article. I look forward to reading done of Alma Flor Ada’s books. She comes highly recommended by a local educator and friend! My daughter’s Spanish Immersion program would be honored to house a collection of her books!

  9. Thanks for sending this article by Alma Flor Ada. The opportunity to add to our collection of bilingual books in the Children’s Discovery Library at PPL would not only benefit families all over the state, but also help to support the work of our wonderful Discovery Guides, adult learners in the RI Family Literacy Program and assistants in the library, who are reaching out to families in the community to encourage them to visit us!

  10. Thank you for sharing your story. How is it that people think that Latinos do not want to read stories they can relate to or movies that reflect their culture and beauty?

    We are blessed to have authors like you. Gracias!

  11. What a beautiful testimony of a meaningful life. Thank you for sharing. The books will be a great addition to my local library at the Pennsauken Township in New Jersey where the faces of the residents continue to change every day!

  12. I am a Hispanic Homeschooler, I teach my kids in two languages. When I came to the States, 10 years ago, I did not see Hispanics as I see them today. I believe there is strong unity among families because of the culture, but sometimes that can break because of the language, many parents do not speak English. What a gift is to read a book to your kids in your own language. I have been using Alma Flor Ada’s books in my reading class with my own children and also teaching Spanish. My library, Augusta County Library, will be happy to get this books, and I will be happier that more people will be able to use them.

  13. My preschool students love your books! I do my best to expose them to literature that represents our culture. Thank you for enriching our children’s lives.

  14. This is great! I’d love to win this giveaway for Arco Iris Spanish Immersion school in Portland, Oregon!

  15. I love to read La Moneda de Oro to my boys. I’ve read it to them even before they really had a long enough attention span to hear it all at once. Before that, I read it to my students in the dual language classroom I taught. (That was before so many laws in Arizona made bilingual classrooms pretty scarce.) I enjoyed reading about the background and inspiration for La Moneda de Oro.

  16. I did enjoy reading her story. As a writer of books and newspaper articles, I have had very similar experiences. Recently, I submitted a play on sugar to a well-known publisher, who rejected the play because there is some Spanish in the text. Kids had loved that play every time it was performed!
    For those who wish to read/perform theater in Spanish, take a look at Down Quijote in America and El Gaucho Vegetariano and other plays (revised edition, 2012). Buena suerte.

  17. As the librarian at a biliterate elementary school in the heart of the Mission district, I have loved Alma Flor Ada’s books and have tried hard to keep my Spanish-language collection relevant and up-to-date. I, too, first learned of the plight of the UFW in the 1970s as my two brothers worked in Hemet and Coachella, organizing farmworkers and playing music on the picket lines. While in Junior High School, I interned at the Takoma Park office.
    As a children’s librarian, I have participated in may of the Bay Area Día events for the past few years, working in tandem with the Children’s Book Press in designing and creating the many posters for the events.

  18. I would love to win these wonderful books for my school library – CC Ronnow Elementary in Las Vegas, NV!

  19. Alma Flor Ada…a true pioneer in the world of Latino Children’s Literature. I recently read about your work in Pajaro Valley in a book written by Cummins. I love how the book meetings inspired the children to write their own stories and the parents to compile them into a book. How empowering!

  20. I would like to enter Our Lady of Charity in Cicero, IL. I have 3 of my four children currently enrolled and would like to see more books in Spanish or by Latino authors.

  21. I love this blog for its support of familias raising multilingual book lovers! What a wonderful journey and thank you for sharing your story. My daughter’s trilingual Immersion school would love these books. Thank you!

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