Thanks to a helpful suggestion from one of our wonderful readers, I was tuned in to this recent article “Speaking ‘Mexican’ and the use of ‘Mock Spanish’ in Children’s Books (or Do Not Read Skippyjon Jones)” by Dolores Inés Casillas, an assistant professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies and a faculty affiliate of Film & Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She writes and teaches courses on Latina/o sound practices, popular culture, and the politics of language.
In an extended post on the blog Sounding Out, Dr. Casillas explores not only the dearth of literature by and about people of color, but narrows in on an equally or more problematic issue: the misrepresentation that can take place in those few books which do make it to the mainstream market.
Her article aptly comes in the aftermath of commercialized Cinco de Mayo celebrations around the U.S.. She begins by writing:
Cinco de Mayo. ‘Tis the season when many Americans don sombreros, order their frozen margaritas, and, God help us, speak “Spanish.” We are well used to hyper Anglicized renditions of “amigo,” “adios,” and happy hour specials brought on by the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo. The holiday celebrates a significant event in Mexico’s history – the battle of Puebla and victory over France in 1862 – through narrowing ideas about language, culture, and tequila. That said, let’s not just blame Cinco de Mayo for the disconcerting use of Spanish. Unfortunately, the incessant use of phrases such as “ay caramba” and “no problemo” are heard much, much earlier in contemporary children’s books.
And then Dr. Casillas proceeds to delve into the troubling examples of where this “Mock Spanish” appears throughout children’s literature – using the awfully telling store of Skippyjon Jones. I highly encourage you to read the full piece: “Speaking “Mexican” and the use of “Mock Spanish” in Children’s Books (or Do Not Read Skippyjon Jones).”
Then come back and let us know your thoughts. And if you need suggestions for books which counteract the negative stereotyping and damaging linguistic appropriations of “Mock Spanish,” we have a few ideas in mind.