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 Hop. Before 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.
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.
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.
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.