WWW: BBC’s Afrocubism and Music of the African Diaspora in Cuba

ibrahim ferrerTake an audio-visual tour of music of the African diaspora in the Latin Caribbean on BBC’s Afrocubism.  This site offers sixteen incredible tracks from the album of the same title, Afrocubism, a project-album that involves a collaboration between Cuban and Malian musicians, representing the centuries-old connection between Western African and Latin Caribbean culture.  Once the Atlantic slave trade began, cultural traditions, languages, social structures and cosmological conceptions from the regions of western Africa were supplanted onto the islands of the Caribbean Sea, which up to that point had been inhabited by a plethora of Amerindian peoples, including the Taino and the Carib.

African traditions and languages, however, did not arrive alone; the entrance of European culture was equal in magnitude to that of West Africans, however the European influence took on a distinct aspect being that the colonial powers were systematically and institutionally advancing their languages, religions and cultural traditions, while those of the Africans were left alone, at best, and actively squashed by colonial authorizes at worst.  Out of this violent confluence of cultures and historical narratives, however, emerged new forms of identity, new forms of art and music that reflected this distinctive mix for the generations of Afrolatino Caribbean communities that followed.  On the island of Cuba, this has been exceptionally evident, as Havana and the Cuban hinterlands have been the source of so many world-famous movements in music and dance throughout the 20th century.  For a more regionally nuanced view, see this absolutely incredible resource on NPR’s Africa Boogaloo.

A key element to Afrocuban music is the instruments.  By studying the instruments used, you can see where the mix of cultures intersects with sound-producing objects.  For instance you can see the European string instruments in the guitars and the bass, West African drumming traditions in the percussion, and even notes of jazz in the wind and brass instruments.  The Bata drum, modeled heavily from a West African drum style is heavily incorporated in traditional Cuban music and wildly popular.  Check out this video to see an example of Bata drum music. Before or after listening to the sixteen track playlist on the BBC, you can follow the link “More” to the Last.FM page on the Afrocubism album.  Here you can find more detailed information on the group, the collaboration; you can see the album artwork and also watch an amazing video which is embedded in the center of the page.

Another musical group rich with online multimedia information is Buena Vista Social Club.  Their work and many of its members have been highly associated with the Afrocubism project and have reached a worldwide audience.  Check out this amazing documentary style music video to see some of the artists and some great shots from around the streets of Havana, Cuba.

And remember that the most important part of this lesson is to make room, because once the songs come on, everyone will want to stand up and move.  This is not the type of music to be listened to while sitting still, although even then it is still quite amazing.  Enjoy!!!

Image: Ibrahim Ferrer of Buena Vista Social Club live in the Netherlands. Reprinted from Patrick Sinke under CC ©.

Book Giveaway!! Serafina’s Promise

Book-Giveaway-Seal_DraftWe’re giving away a copy of Serafina’s Promise (ages 10 – 14) written by Ann E. Burg.–our featured novel for April’s book group meeting!! Check out the following from Kirkus Reviews:

Eleven-year-old Serafina has a dream: to go to school and become a doctor. Yet her life outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is filled with urgent chores and responsibilities. A natural healer, Serafina has already witnessed the loss of baby brother Pierre to disease and hunger, wishing she could have done more to save him. Now Manman is about to have another baby. How will her family ever do without Serafina’s help or afford her school uniform? Burg uses gentle language and graceful imagery to create the characters that make up Serafina’s loving family—Papa, Manman and Gogo, her wise grandmother. (Sadly, Granpè was taken away long ago by the Tonton Macoutes.) Told in first-person verse appealing to both reluctant and passionate readers, the novel is woven with Haitian history, culture and Creole phrases. Readers will root for this likable heroine as she overcomes obstacles—poverty, family obligations, the catastrophic 2010 earthquake—in her effort to emulate her mentor, Antoinette Solaine, the physician who tried to save Pierre. The spirit of the text’s celebration of the power of determination, family, friendship and love is ably captured in Sean Quall’s delightful cover art. Lilting, lyrical and full of hope.

It looks like another interesting read–a great addition to any personal or classroom library! To be entered in the giveaway, just comment on any post on the blog by March 29th.  Everyone who comments between February 23rd and March 29th will be entered in the drawing.  If your name is chosen, we’ll email you ASAP about mailing the book to you.

Don’t forget, we also raffle off a copy of the following month’s featured novel at each book group meeting.  So if you’re an Albuquerque local, join us for a chance to win!

Good luck!

¡Mira, Look!: I love Saturdays y domingos

I love saturdays y domingosHello there readers! This month we have highlighted themes of civil rights, love of community, love of oneself, and now this week-love of family and heritage. We present to you, I Love Saturdays y Domingos written by Alma Flor Ada and illustrated by Elivia Savadier.

Here is a description from Goodreads:

Saturdays and Sundays are very special days for the child in this story. On Saturdays, she visits Grandma and Grandpa, who come from a European-American background, and on Sundays — los domingos — she visits Abuelito y Abuelita, who are Mexican-American. While the two sets of grandparents are different in many ways, they also have a great deal in common — in particular, their love for their granddaughter. While we follow our narrator to the circus and the pier, share stories from her grandparents’ pasts, and celebrate her birthday, the depth and joy of both cultures are conveyed in Spanish and English. This affirmation of both heritages will speak to all children who want to know more about their own families and ethnic backgrounds.

20150219120739641_Page_2The story is written in first person from the perspective of a young girl who shares with the reader how she spends her weekends: Saturdays with her father’s parents and domingos with her mother’s (-her abuelos!) Both sets of grandparents love her very deeply and enrich her weekend with food and fun.

With her grandparentssitting with abuelos she eats scrambled eggs and pancakes; plays with a cat, Taffy; admires an owl collection; watches a movie about a circus; and looks at her grandfather’s aquarium. With her abuelos she eats huevos rancheros and drinks papaya juice; plays with the dog Canelo in the garden; feeds and counts baby chicks; visits the circus; sits on the pier and walks along the seashore.

What they have in common is that they tell her stories. Grandpa tells of delivering papers early in the morning as he grew up in New York City and how his parents came to America in a big ship from Europe. Abuelito tells of growing up on a rancho in Mexico, working the fields and being left in charge of his family at a young age.

She learns that her grandma’s parents came to California in a covered wagon on a long and difficult trip and abuelita’s family is Native American. She feels proud of her grandma’s grandmother who was born on the trail and became a teacher, but also feels a deep sense of orgullo for her abuelita’s Native American heritage because “Indians really know how to love the land.”

The book culminates iCollaboraten a wonderful birthday surprise for our protagonist in which her grandparents and her abuelos collaborate together to make her something very special. You will have to pick up the book to find out exactly what happens!

Though it focuses on a protagonist with a dual Anglo-Latino heritage, this story is great for children with other diverse combinations of heritage as well. It includes vocabulary words related to food and family, and important verbs as well as phrases of endearment that young readers can either relate to or learn from.

On her website, Ada states: “While in Hawaii, a Sun­day after­noon in Lahaina, I watched as many fam­i­lies strolled by. It was appar­ent that they had very mixed heritage–Chinese, Japan­ese, Fil­ipino, Hawai­ian, Puerto Rican, Anglo– and that they felt very com­fort­able with each other. That expe­ri­ence moved me to write this story.” We recommend this title along with Ada’s other work as wonderful multicultural books for children that have use in the classroom.

Here are some great resources we have compiled to accompany the book:

  • Ideas for a lesson on comparing and contrasting
  • A comprehensive educator’s guide compiled by Captioned Media Program
  • Links to guides of extension activities for educators, parents and community coordinators by Reading is Fundamental.
  • Experience the book visually and through audio via Monarch Library.

Images: Modified from I love Saturdays y domingos. Illustrator: Elivia Savadier

WWW: Pelo Malo and Venezuelan Pop Music from the 70s

pelo malo juniorThis week we have an amazing film resource from Venezuela, 2013’s internationally-acclaimed Bad Hair (“Pelo Malo”). Writer/Director Mariana Rondón brings us this incredibly poignant story about a young boy named Junior who is obsessed with straightening his thick, curly hair, an obsession that drives his mother into a panic over her son’s masculinity.

Earlier this week, ¡Mira, Look! featured Laura Lacámara’s phenomenal book, Dalia’s Wondrous Hair (El cabello maravilloso de Dalia), a book that shares so many amazing similarities with today’s film, Bad Hair.  Firstly, and most obvious, they both deal with a child’s mix of struggle and enjoyment in learning to deal with their hair.  Both of the writers are women who come from Latin American countries with Caribbean coastline and strong Afrolatino cultures.  And, in the end, they both deal with love – love of community, love of family and love of self. That being said, let’s dive into some of the most salient points of Bad Hair, a film that will have you laughing and crying, and will surely leave you wanting to know more about life in Caracas, Venezuelan history, but mostly, it will leave you with a particular song stuck in your head.

nelly ramos singingIt is unclear exactly why Junior’s straightened hair bothers his mother so much, as there seem to be a mix of reasons.  What is clear, however, is that Junior’s mother has naturally straight hair, and is frustrated with dealing with Junior’s.  What else is clear is that Junior’s grandmother, who takes care of him while his mother works, has hair more similar to Junior’s, and she is delighted to help Junior straighten his hair.  Junior explains to her that he wants his hair straightened so he can become a singer in a music video.  Towards the end of this trailer (at minute 1:28), you can see Junior’s grandmother even teaching him how to sing and dance to a particular song, “Limón, Limonero”.  Not only is this song catchy and this scene particularly moving and full of love, but the singer of this track, Henry Stephen, was an Afrolatino who straightened his hair during various parts of his career.

grupo maderaThe actress who plays Junior’s grandmother, Nelly Ramos, was also an Afrolatino Venezuelan singer; in fact she was a contemporary of Henry Stephen and founded Grupo Madera in the 70s.  Nelly Ramos also grew up in the same neighborhood, Parroquía San Agustín, of high-rise, low-income housing in Caracas where the film is set. When interviewed by the magazine El Nacional, Nelly Ramos said that she does not like the terms afro-descendant or Afrolatino, rather she prefers the term black, or “negra”, because this adjective is that which has confronted discrimination throughout the globe.  Ramos said she was scared when approached by the casting director; due to the title, she felt it might be a movie that would reinforce stereotypes against which she’d spent her life fighting. However, once she was involved in the making of the film, she found the opposite to be true.  To expose and reflect on experiences of certain people that normally do not get attention by wider audiences has the power to break down stereotypes by fighting ignorance, instead of reinforcing them.

Here is a list of some possible media sources to utilize in class!:

  1. Trailers and video media containing scenes with Nelly Ramos and Junior
  2. Official Webpage of Pelo Malo, (check out “clips” tab for more short video!) 
  3. Fantastic NPR piece on Pelo Malo film
  4. Webpage with photos of Nelly Ramos’ music group Grupo Madera
  5. Amazing original music video of “Limón, Limonero” by Henry Stephen
  6. Interview with Nelly Ramos discussing film

** Note to Readers: I hope this information and these resources are useful in class!! If you have any suggestions or feedback, comments are very much appreciated.  Thanks so much and have a wondrous weekend everyone!! :) **

Images: Pelo Malo Fim Official Webpage ; (Grupo Madera) Juan José González in Despertar Universitario


¡Mira, Look!: Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El cabello maravilloso de Dalia

daliaHello there readers! February is a month to celebrate love. Last week I reviewed a book about desegregation that helps to teach kids to love others in their community. This week I bring you a book that emphasizes community love along with the theme of loving oneself. Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El cabello maravilloso de Dalia, written and illustrated by Laura Lacámara with a Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura, is the story of a young Cuban girl with remarkable hair.

The book was selected by School Library Journal as one of the top ten Latino books of 2014.

Here is an excerpt from Kirkus:dalia running

One magical morning, Dalia awakes to find her hair has grown up toward the sky, “tall and thick as a Cuban royal palm tree.” Throughout the day, to the shock of her neighbors, Dalia covers her wondrous hair with natural material from the environment around her in order to do something truly special, making for an imaginative story. She stuffs and squishes wild tamarind, coontie leaves and mud into her hair, turning it into a butterfly garden overnight….A bilingual author’s note provides further information about the plants and animals referenced and presents instructions for creating one’s own butterfly garden.

The story builds Dalia mudsuspense as the reader is guided through Dalia’s day as she takes her wondrous hair and sets off on a mission to do “Something Big” with it. She begins by entering the forest and adding natural elements into her hair. As her hair grows and gets messier, she repeatedly runs back to show her mother, asking her to guess what kind of tree she is. Along the way she encounters different plants, animals, unamused neighbors, and other surprises.

That night, her mother tries to get her to wash out her messy hair , but, at Dalia’s insistence, allowDalia wash hairs her to keep it in one more night. The next day Dalia runs outside to the garden, calling the attention of her community. Everyone watches as her hair starts moving. Suddenly, a butterfly wriggles its way out and opens its wings. Dalia’s mom exclaims “You are my beautiful, blossoming BUTTERFLY TREE!”As the community rejoices and plans a celebration in honor of Dalia and her wondrous hair, the garden soon fills with butterflies, creating an inviting image that practically transports the reader to the lush Caribbean setting.

Aside from itDalia Butterfly Trees whimsical appeal, the book will resonate with readers on many levels. On a straightforward basis, children might appreciate Dalia’s mischievous behavior or the loving, mutually respectful relationship she shares with her mother. In deeper ways, the book benefits young readers culturally, linguistically, and personally.

Culturally, the book is a great tool for introducing Cuban biodiversity. Cuban-born Lacámara’s beautiful depictions of flora and fauna are all drawn from her homeland, and she provides a corresponding glossary at the end to explain more about them.

Linguistically, both Spanish- and English-speaking students will gain much from exploring the carefully-crafted and lighthearted bilingual text.

Perhaps most important of all, however, is the personal message this book sends: all of us are beautiful. It’s an amazing affirmation of self-love, particularly for young readers of color. Dalia’s self-confident celebration of herself unfortunately stands out as rare and precious at a time when US society as a whole is only beginning to discuss the dearth of positive representations of people of color (whether in mainstream media, where the conversation has surfaced in response to the Oscars or in publication, where We Need Diverse Books has tackled the publishing industry). Young readers of color, particularly young women, deserve to hear this powerful message.Dalia Celebration

But let us remember that just because the book will have particular importance for young women of color, it should be embraced by all. Young readers who are not of color will benefit, too, from seeing these positive representations – both on a personal level as well as in a broader societal scope.

And as though all of these benefits weren’t sufficient to entice, the book is just downright beautiful and imaginative. Lacámara’s highly vibrant and saturated illustrations are impressive. She shows the characters from diverse perspectives and angles, which makes them seem to be in perpetual motion and conveys a whimsical feel that guides readers through Dalia’s mission. I would go so far as to say this book belongs on a shelf of illustrated magical realism for children.

We suspect that the SLJ’s recommendation is only the first of many acclaims this book will receive. We can’t recommend it highly enough for the home and the classroom. To check out the author and her other works, visit her website.

Finally, here are a couple of interesting resources related to the book:

  • A great review from Latin@S in Kid Lit that includes great teaching tips and ideas for incorporating the book into the classroom.
  • A phone interview with Lacámara in which she reads from and talks about Dalia’s Wondrous Hair. Her portion of the interview starts at the halfway point, approximately 28 minutes into the program.

Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll present a book that expresses love of family!

Images: Modified from: Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El cabello maravilloso de Dalia. Illustrator: Laura Lacámara

WWW: BET Celebrates Black History Month in Latin America

bet cover photoVamos a Leer is certainly not the only blog celebrating Black History Month from the Latin American perspective, despite the fact that English-language online content for Black History Month is overwhelmingly dominated by North American and African focused-material.  That being said, there is a fantastic online resource for celebrating Black History Month in Latin America in the classroom on the Black Entertainment Network (BET) blog.  I am super excited to share this resource because I grew up watching the BET evolve, and its content had an undeniably central influence on youth and popular culture.  Today, BET has grown to have a large international audience, and in turn their own U.S. audience has become more internationally attuned – BET’s online news source is a popular platform for ongoing news from Africa and the Caribbean.  For that reason, I am thrilled to see such a central media platform for Black culture in the U.S. and beyond highlighting Black history in Latin America.  Perhaps it is notable because it reflects the ever-growing importance and confluence of Afrolatino cultures across the world.  Without further ado: BET’s Black History Month: Latin American Heritage.

The feature is composed of fifteen slides, each one featuring an important figure, both in historic and contemporary times. On the opening slides, we see several figures your students may already have heard of, such as Pele, the Brazilian born as Edson Arantes do Nascimiento, who is regarded by many as the best soccer player of all time.  Or, Celia Cruz, the Cuban dance powerhouse widely regarded as the “Queen of Salsa”.  But of the 15 figures chosen, 5 are contemporary Black female politicians.   Piedad Córdoba, Colombian Senator; Michaelle Jean, Governor General in Canada; Christiane Taubira, represents French Guiana in France’s National Assembly; Susana Baca, Peruvian Cabinet Member and Grammy-award winning singer; Benedita da Silva, first Brazilian black female governor.  There are two political and social reformers from Puerto Rico, the physician Dr. José Celso Barbosa, and the educator Rafael Cordero, regarded as “The Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico”.  There are two writers featured on the list, the highly-acclaimed Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén and the contemporary Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat, winner of a National Book Award and MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.  There are two leaders of independence movements, Toussaint Louverture of 18th century Haiti, and Antonio Maceo Grajales of 19th century Cuba.

A great activity would be for each student to choose one of these figures and learn more about them.  For instance, Edwidge Danticat’s National Book Award-nominated Krik? Krak! is an amazing piece to cover, and you can even check out our Vamos a Leer teaching resource for this work, published in 2012! Or, to learn more about Benedita da Silva, Brazil’s first black female governor, you check out this biographical and short video resource on the African America Registry.  I hope you and your students enjoy learning more about these amazing figures of history and of today.  Each of their lives opens up a wide world of talent, passion and possibilities.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Image: Taken from BET’s slideshow on Black History in Latin America

¡Mira, Look!: Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

Separate is Never EqualIn light of Black History Month, with a film like Selma in theaters and massive protests against racial profiling occurring across the country, we here at Vamos feel it is a good time for educators to have their students reflect upon civil rights achievements of the past in order to take lessons learned from the successes and apply them to ongoing struggles of today.

Many of you, I’m sure, have heard of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation of public schools. What you may not know is that seven years before a case involving the segregation of Mexican-American students in California laid the groundwork for that significant decision. The case, Mendez v. Westminster, is brought back to life through the story and illustrations of Duncan Tonatiuh in his children’s book Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. And we cannot recommend it highly enough.

If our applause isn’t loud enough, then we’ll let others convince you. Just recently, the book was recognized as a 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book and as a Tomás Rivera Mexican-American Award for Younger Readers.

Here is an excerpt from Kirkus:Mexican Schhol

Most associate the fight for school integration with the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. However, seven years earlier, Mexican-American students in California saw an end to discrimination there. The little girl at the center of that case, Sylvia Mendez, was the daughter of parents who looked forward to sending her to the school near their newly leased farm. When her aunt attempted to register the family children, they were directed to the “Mexican school,” despite proficiency in English and citizenship. No one could explain to Mr. Mendez why his children were not allowed to attend the better-appointed school nearby. Despite the reluctance of many fellow Mexican-Americans to cause “problems,” he filed a suit, receiving the support of numerous civil rights organizations. Tonatiuh masterfully combines text and folk-inspired art to add an important piece to the mosaic of U.S. civil rights history.

The story takes placeTrial over the period of three years. It begins with Sylvia being bullied on her first day as an integrated student and shoots back in time to tell the story of how hard her family fought to get her to that point. The story invaluably outlines the legal process of civil rights cases, taking us through each step that the Mendez family went through, even including trial scene dialogue taken directly from court transcripts.

Tonatiuh’s award winning artistic skills do not disappoint. The colorfully rich illustrations appeal to young readers and they bring to life the visual impact of segregation. Using a multi-media approach, Tonatiuh notes that the illustrations were hand-drawn, collaged, and then colored digitally.segregated pool

Tonatiuh’s note at the end of the book includes follow-up biographical information and photos of the Mendez family. The author also uses this space to talk about the ongoing relevance of the issue of segregation throughout schools across the country in modern day. The book is a great educational tool as it includes an index, glossary, and bibliography with information about other good resources related to the case.

When learning about the history of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, many Latino students across classrooms do not often hear about advances made by Mexican-Americans such as the Mendez family. It is important that stories such as Sylvia’s be told in order for ethnically diverse students to be able to imagine that they can stand up for equity, invoke change, and make positive contributions to society. This is why this book makes such a great addition to any classroom, home, or library.

In a recent article on NBC, Tonatiuh talks about the importance his work has for young children, and why it’s so critical for Latin@ readers to see themselves in the books they read: Duncan Tonatiuh Wants Latino Children to See Themselves in Books.

To learn more about the court case that inspired the book, check out some of the following resources:

Finally, if you would like to learn more about the author, including his other books and awards, visit his website.

Images: Modified from illustrations, Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. Illustrator: Duncan Tonatiuh