Month: February 2015

Blog hiatus

It’s been more than a week since I’ve posted anything and that feels like a very long time to me. Between my son being sick, passing it onto me and then having a pretty horrible accident here at home I haven’t had much time or inclination to write. I’m way off on everything so I have decided to take the rest of the month off and return in March.

Today, I am finally feeling better. That cold did not want to leave my body. I was congested and miserable but I had a two-year old who needed me. I don’t think I had ever felt so exhausted and run down while sick. I wanted to lay up in bed all day! So I just wanted to leave a not here explaining my absence and letting you know that I will be back next month.

 

See you in March!

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Book Fridays: La Escuelita Do-re-misteriosa

This Book Fridays post is going to be a little different as I am going to write it in both English and Spanish. Scroll down for Spanish.

La Escuelita Do-re misteriosa was written by Isabel Arraiza-Arana and illustrated by Veronika Chaves. It is a Spanish language children’s book recommended for ages seven and up. I read it to my two-year-old. He did not follow the story but he did listen to my voice and it became our before-sleep book this past week. I enjoyed reading it aloud to him and as he grows older he will be able to enjoy this book in different ways.

By now it is well known that reading to our kids is very important. I read to my son every day. I read to him in Spanish and English. I read picture books, board books, and chapter books. I recently listened to an interview with Australian author Mem Fox where she reiterated that reading to our kids is about the love. I fully agree. Yes, reading has wonderful benefits developmentally but it’s also about bonding and spending time together. This is why I read all sorts of books to Diego, including this beautiful book.

The book is about a music school that opens up in a neighborhood and brings with it some mystery and magic. Of note is a book of riddles that tells you which instrument you are meant to learn. It is a fun little story that explores the power and magic of music. Although I think anybody would be able to enjoy this story one does need some knowledge of Puerto Rican culture to appreciate and understand some things. However, there is nothing you can’t Google these days so not knowing what a cuatro is (it’s a musical instrument, similar to a guitar but with only four strings) shouldn’t preclude anybody from reading and enjoying this book.

The illustrations are very whimsical and fun. I enjoyed looking at them. The style of the illustrations reminds me of the Nickelodeon show Hey Arnold! (my husband disagrees).

Overall this was a fun read that I look forward to reading to my son for years to come.

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La Escuelita Do-re-misteriosa por Isabel Arraiza Arana e ilustrada por Veronika Chaves es un libro recomendado para niños de siete años de edad. Yo se lo acabo de leer a mi hijo de dos años y aunque es muy pequeño para seguir el cuento se entretuvo lo suficiente escuchando mi voz. Esta semana pasada este libro fue nuestro compañero a la hora de la siesta y antes de dormir. Leia hasta que Diego se quedara dormido.

La importancia de leerle a los niños es enorme. Desde que nacen están absorbiendo nuestras palabras. De hecho, el leerle a nuestros hijos es una gran influencia  en el desarrollo de su lenguaje. Por eso le leo de todo. En especial libros en español que se me hacen tan difícil conseguir. Mas bien, se me hace difícil conseguir libros en español que no sean traducciones de libros en ingles. No pienso que los libros traducidos tengan alguna falta, aunque muchos tienen traducciones pésimas en mi opinion, pero me gusta apoyar a autores hispanos en especial autores de Puerto Rico.

La historia de la Escuelita Do-re-mi me gusto mucho. Las descripciones son magnificas y las ilustraciones son maravillosas. Me estuvo muy entretenido leer este libro en voz alta. Los personajes de Nachin, Neco y Ganga son muy divertidos. La historia esta ambientada en Monte Verde, un lugar que ha quedado en silencio luego del mas reciente huracán. Neco recibe la misión de reanimar el mismo con música. La historia nos enseña sobre la magia de la música y también sobre la importancia de trabajar en equipo.

Este libro se ha convertido en uno de mis favoritos. Sus referencias a elementos de la cultura puertorriqueña me llenaron de felicidad.

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Book Fridays: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

*This review contains spoilers*

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez was, for me, an interesting read. Reading the book really pissed me off. For one thing, it depicts the very real colorism and anti-blackness ever present in Latin American culture. While the story centers around a Dominican family, as a Puerto Rican I can definitely relate.

I briefly skimmed some reviews of this book on Goodreads and didn’t come across any that discussed the machismo and racism that we see in the story (I did see a reviewer try to argue that she was right in describing the book as being set in Central America. The level of wrong there is not just an indictment of her education). As I read the book I couldn’t help but think about all of the horrible things present in my own culture. As a Puerto Rican, I am not white and even though a lot of Latinos claim whiteness I have never felt right in claiming it. I’ve never quite been able to decide what I am, racially. I am Puerto Rican, I am not black, but I am not white. I am a non-black person of color or NBPC as I’ve seen it abbreviated. Nevertheless, whiteness is valued in Latino culture, as I am sure it is also valued in other cultures. Growing up it was all about good hair and looking as pale as possible. The whiter you are the better you are. Indeed, some of us can trace our ancestry back to Spain and other parts of Europe and it’s evident in the blond hair and blue eyes of those lucky enough to look imported.

The story is about an affluent Dominican family who fled to the United States after Mr. Garcia is part of a plot to overthrow the government. The family is not poor. He is a medical doctor and very well connected. In the Dominican Republic they live in luxury. They have servants/maids and live well. Even after moving to the United States they did not suffer any financial ailments. That’s not to say the family did not struggle, because what family that moves into a new country with a new culture doesn’t.

The chronology of the story jumps around and the narrator does as well. I did not find that each sister had a voice distinct enough so that I could pick her out. I was often confused as to who was talking. This was something that Alvarez could have improved upon I suppose but overall it did not take me out of the story.

Back to the themes that run through this text. There is a lot of talk about women’s place as well as what is appropriate and inappropriate for women to do. When Sofia runs off with her boyfriend and marries him her father shuts her out. He does not speak to her. Interestingly, when she births a son, his heart thaws. “All the grandfather’s Caribbean fondness for a male heir and for fair Nordic looks had surfaced. There was now good blood in the family against a future bad choice by one of its women.” (page 26, Kindle edition) As soon as I read this I wanted to throw my Kindle across the room. I remember growing up and hearing family members warn their kids about what would happen if they were to bring home a black girlfriend or boyfriend. To equate white with “good blood” implies that the “future bad choice by one of its women” would be daring to love and procreate with a black man. Disgusting. But also hypocritical because these same white Latinos who abhor blackness raped and enslaved it back in the day.

“His macho babytalk brought back Sofia’s old antagonism towards her father. How obnoxious for him to go on and on like that while beside him stood his little granddaughter, wide-eyed and sad at all the things her baby brother, no bigger than one of her dolls, was going to be able to do just because he was a boy.(page 26, Kindle edition) ” Teaching young girls that they are less than boys starts young indeed.

The book covers everything from slut-shaming to body policing as illustrated by this quote,“Get a load of Pilar’s miniskirt with those huge legs of her, you’d think some people would check their mirrors, geez.” I cannot tell you how often I heard and even spewed this very thing growing up. People had to know their station and dress accordingly. Now, it infuriates me when somebody is criticised for not conforming to the horrible beauty standards many of us are so happy to accept.

I highlighted so many examples of colorism in the text but this really illustrates it particularly well: “None of the maids liked Chucha because they all thought she was kind of below them, being so black and Hatian and all.” If you’ve never stopped to think about colorism in Latin America you need only look at the contestants for Miss Universe pageants. Even in countries with large black populations the offerings for these beauty pageants are suspiciously light-skinned.

Talking about this book has me all over the place and I feel I only really scratched the surface of everything I want to say. I just feel there is so much to cover. Even though much of the events took place decades ago some of the issues that are illustrated are relevant today. And not just in Latin Caribbean culture, but that is the focus of this book and my thoughts. Overall, this book was a very interesting read, for me it caused me to think and analyze my own childhood and culture. The story was well-written and my only criticism, as I mentioned above, was the change of narrator resulting in a bit of confusion (for me) at times.

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