¡Mira Look!: Author’s Corner: Oscar Hijuellos

HijuelosSaludos todos! This week we are taking the time to feature the renowned, Cuban-American author, Oscar Hijuelos, and his body of work. Like with our previous authors, we take this time to feature the breadth of the author’s collective oeuvre, as well as the more personal aspects of his life and legacy.

Oscar Hijuelos (1951-2013) is a Cuban-American author who wrote several adult and young adult books, mostly focusing on Latin American protagonists or themes. Hijuelos was the first Latino to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction when he was recognized for his 1989 novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which was turned into a movie in 1992. Hijuelos also won the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature in 2000. Through his iconic work, Hijuelos endures as a prominent figure of Latino literature, describing the immigrant experience, questions of identity, and the many hurdles of communication, through witty and endearing prose.

A New York Times piece remembering Hijuelos after his death reflects upon the narrative style and insightful perspectives that appear throughout his novels:

In novels like “Our House in the Last World” (1983), which traces a family’s travails from Havana in 1939 to Spanish Harlem; “Mambo Kings,” about the rise and fall of the Castillo brothers, Cesar, a flamboyant and profligate bandleader, and his ruminative trumpeter brother, Nestor; and “The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien” (1993), about several generations of a Cuban-Irish family in Pennsylvania, he wrote about the non-native experience in the United States from a sympathetic, occasionally amused perspective and with a keen eye for detail in his period settings.

In the same NYTimes piece, we learn of Hijuelos’ Cuban heritage and the immigrant life of his two parents, as well as his bilingual and bicultural upbringing in New York:

Oscar Jerome Hijuelos was born in Manhattan on Aug. 24, 1951, and grew up in the borough’s northern Morningside Heights neighborhood that later often figured in his books. His parents, Pascual, a cook at the Biltmore Hotel, and Magdalena Torrens Hijuelos, emigrated from Cuba in the 1940s.

The family spoke Spanish at home, and young Oscar became fluent in English only after a 1955 visit to Cuba, where he contracted a severe kidney infection that required him to spend a year away from his family in a Connecticut hospital.

Although Hijuelos is most known for his creative writing, he started his career in advertising, and also spent some time teaching at Hofstra University in New York (where my dad also works!).

Much of Hijuelos’ writing, whether autobiographical or fictional, focuses on the immigrant experience and the complexities of language, identity and appearance, reflecting Hijuelos’ own conflicting identities as a bicultural child. Hijuelos, a fair-haired boy born to dark-haired Cubans, who preferred to speak English, the language of his classmates and his friends, than Spanish, the language of his heritage, often experienced the push and pull of opposing currents. Hijuelos often writes about this familiar tug-of-war between old and new, assimilation and heritage, foreigner and native, Spanish and English, Cuban and American.

In a different NYTimes article, “Lost in Time and Words, a Child begins Anew,” written by Hijuelos himself, he describes his upbringing and the many struggles he faced straddling two cultures and two languages in a bustling and isolating, yet colorful melting-pot city. At the end, however, Hijuelos affirms his eternal affection for his Hispanic heritage, despite the many challenges of assimilation in the United States:

Then, as the years passed, while learning the hard way that I did not completely fit in with either group, a funny thing happened to me. Despite the strange baggage that I carried about my upbringing, and despite the relative loss of my first language, I eventually came to the point that, when I heard Spanish, I found my heart warming. And that was the moment when I began to look through another window, not out onto 118th Street, but into myself — through my writing, the process by which, for all my earlier alienation, I had finally returned home.

For those of you interested in learning more about Hijuelos and his work, here are some additional links:

Hasta pronto!

Alice

¡Mira Look!: Parrots over Puerto Rico

parrots over puerto ricoSaludos todos! This week marks the end of our April themes, as well as my last ¡Mira, Look! book review as a contributing blogger here at Vamos a Leer. Although I’ll be sad to leave the wonderful Vamos a Leer team, I’m delighted to conclude my blog-writing year with this week’s lovely and sophisticated Parrots over Puerto Rico, written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore and illustrated by Susan L. Roth. This incredible book reminds me of all the inspiring authors and stories that we’ve featured here on ¡Mira, Look!  throughout the year, as it is both mesmerizing and astounding with a powerful message and beautiful imagery.

Parrots over Puerto Rico is a perfect culmination of this year’s diverse themes, incorporating elements of social justice, colonial history, and Caribbean culture. At the same time, it also illustrates this month’s focus on the environment with its overarching aim of encouraging wildlife conservation and environmental awareness. As noted by Kirkus Reviews, Parrots over Puerto Rico is an “ambitious project”: “The text on each vibrant, double-page collage, arranged vertically, intersperses the near-extinction and slow comeback of the Puerto Rican parrot with over 2,000 years of human history.”

parrots over puerto rico

Parrots over Puerto Rico, best for ages 6-11, explores the recent rehabilitation of Puerto Rico’s diverse parrot population, and the species’ all-too-close call with extinction: “These are Puerto Rican parrots. They lived on this island for millions of years, and then they nearly vanished from the earth forever. This is their story.”  While Roth and Trumbore outline the long, human history of the island of Puerto Rico, they integrate the Puerto Rican parrots as prominent actors in that history, important protagonists who were long overlooked: “this is their story.” In doing so, the authors remind readers that our history is intertwined with that of our planet’s and its species’. Likewise, our future hinges on their future. Continue reading

Celebrate Earth Day By Reading Kid Lit Books As An Ecocritic

¡Feliz viernes a todos!

Happy Earth Day!! This week, I am reblogging an excellent post by Marianne Snow Campbell. Her idea to read any book about the environment through a critical lens is a great way to introduce critical thinking outside the classroom context. She includes examples from books for different age groups and even includes activity ideas for the classroom! Check it out!

With warmest wishes,

Charla

Latinxs in Kid Lit

By Marianne Snow Campbell

Earth Day is here again!  It’s a time to honor the natural world that surrounds us, consider how we can take better care of the environment, and take action keep our planet healthy and beautiful. In schools, many teachers and students will join together to read and discuss books with environmentalist lessons – The Lorax, The Great Kapok Tree, a variety of picture books about recycling and picking up litter. Last year, Lila Quintero Weaver shared a beautiful post about books celebrating “Latin@ Heroes of the Planet” and other “Earth Day-friendly books with Latin@ connections.” I love the strong messages that these texts carry and believe that they should play a prominent role in educating children about conservation and ecology.

However, reading literature with overt lessons about the earth isn’t the only method for learning about environmentalism. There’s another, somewhat subtler, approach – ecocriticism. Ecocriticism…

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¡Mira Look!: The Sky Painter

sky painterSaludos todos! This week we are continuing our themes of nature and environmental awareness with another great read. The book for this week is The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Aliona Bereghici. This book follows the life of renowned bird painter, Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874–1927), including his bicultural upbringing, his worldly travels, and his absolute love for birds. As some of you may remember from my previous post on Margarita Engle, she, too, is an avid bird-watcher, botanist and advocate for nature conservation and environmentalism.  Written in Engle’s characteristic poetic style, this book celebrates the beauty of nature, and the pursuit of one’s dreams.

The book is divided up into a series of poems that read like prose, illustrating Engle’s classic, stylistic fusion. Every two pages there is a new title and with an artful use of enjambment and rsky painter 1hyme, Engle narrates the life and work of the wonderful bird artist. Engle, like with many of her other books, expertly combines art and imagination with nonfictional information that will undoubtedly educate young readers in more ways than one. According to a review by Good Reads, “Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874–1927) is now known as the father of modern bird art. He traveled with many scientific expeditions all over the world. His best-known works—paintings for habitat exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History in New York—are still beloved by visitors today. His art helped to encourage wildlife conservation, inspiring people to celebrate and protect the world of wings.” Indeed, Engle’s book joins in Fuertes’ mission of encouraging wildlife conservation and reveling in the beauty of our world’s diverse flora and fauna. Here at Vamos a Leer, we, too, would like to join in the choir and celebrate the natural habitats of the world, while inspiring readers and educators to participate in and encourage environmental conservationism and wildlife protection.

Continue reading

WWW: Climate Change 101 and Impacts in Latin America

¡Feliz viernes a todos!

I’m feeling a bit under the weather this week so my post will be a little shorter than usual. This week, I will continue the discussion about our lovely planet! As I mentioned last week, Earth Day is important for many reasons, just one of which is to highlight the problems our environments are facing today as a result of our ever-changing climate. While “climate change” is a popular phrase in politics and media reports, I thought it may be nice to introduce a resource that explains the terms frequently used with climate change, and thus explains how climate change began. With both the option to watch a video (narrated by Bill Nye the Science Guy) or to review a slideshow of terms and definitions, we think this resource could help students understand what climate change means as a term and also what it means for the planet we call home.

The second resource is a video that illustrates environmental impacts of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean. In conjunction with my post from last week, this could lead to discussion about why Earth Day is important, what will happen if we do not take action, alternative resources and energy, and even to discussion about recycling both in the classroom and at home.

The video above is best suited for older audiences, since it ties environmental issues into economic terminology.  However, we think younger students could benefit from the video with proper introduction to the key vocabulary. We hope these examples help illustrate that environmental problems impact everyone. If nothing else, we hope you can use these resources in the classroom to provide depth and real life scenarios to your environmental and energy source discussions in the coming weeks. At best, we hope these resources inspire your students to get involved this Earth Day and everyday!

With warmest wishes,

Charla

En la Clase: Traveling in Cuba

Cuba 4

Keira and I are still traveling in Cuba this week.  In place of today’s En la Clase, I thought I’d share one of my favorite photos of Habana Vieja.  I’ll be back with a new post next week.

Until then,

Katrina


Image: Photo of “Habana Sunset.” Reprinted from Flickr use Jaume Escofet under CC ©.