Today marks the first day of National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct 15). In honor of this I present you with a book that celebrates Mexican-American culture and traditions. In My Family/En mi familia by Carmen Lomas Garza (ages 6 +) is an award-winning bilingual picture book illustrated with the author’s own paintings.
“Every time I paint, it serves a purpose-to bring about pride in our Mexican American Culture. When I was growing up, a lot of us were punished for speaking Spanish. We were punished for being who we were, and we were made to feel ashamed of our culture. That was very wrong. My art is a way of healing these wounds, like the savila plant (aloe vera) heals burns and scrapes when applied by a loving parent or grandparent”.
Lomas Garza’s desire to celebrate her Mexican American identity makes this book a great resource for introducing Hispanic Heritage Month in the classroom.
Created over a span of 11 years, the paintings show scenes of colorful, lively, symbolic images specific to life in a Mexican-American family living near the U.S./Mexico borderlands. The text and pictures complement each other with reoccurring themes such as family, food, rural life, religious and healing traditions, multi-generational gatherings, the natural environment, among others. Lomas Garza honors these traditions which shaped her own childhood by depicting them in beautiful paintings.
Family is a major theme throughout the book, just as it is an important part of Latino and specifically Mexican culture. In the paintings we see various gatherings in which family and community members of all ages come together to partake in an event. The author mentions this multi-generational aspect in her text accompanying the piece Birthday Barbeque.
“My great uncle is comforting my young cousin, who was crying, and encouraging him to hit the piñata. My grandmother is holding a baby. She was always holding the babies, and feeding them, and putting them to sleep”.
Another particularly interesting aspect of the book is the representation of rural life, such as farm settings and the presence of animals. These depictions touch on the importance of growing and sharing food, particularly in a reality of scarcity. Readers are pulled into rural life through vivid imagery images of the natural environment of the near-borderland region of Kingsville, TX, the hometown of the author where the paintings are set.
The book’s layout is well executed; it is consistent, with each painting on the right page, and text on the left, with a short summary in both English and Spanish. The side-by-side text is useful for bilingual students. Even more so than language, though, the book is especially effective at celebrating and preserving heritage. Lomas Garza immortalizes her Mexican-American family heritage by portraying it through her paintings and descriptions. In this way, young readers of any heritage can appreciate the celebration of Hispanic culture and learn about Mexican-American traditions.
Lomas Garza has written four books; this is her second children’s book. If you’re intrigued by her work, you may appreciate these other resources:
•We found a great guide by Linda Kreft that includes a curriculum map, creative classroom activities, and a list of resources on the author, book, and its themes.
•The San Jose Museum of Art created a teacher resource book for a retrospective of Carmen Lomas Garza’s work which includes discussion questions and activities to go along with some of the In My Family. It also includes a summary on Chicano/a culture, as well as recipes and hands-on art activities.
• This book won the Américas Award in 1996. It also received a Pura Belpré Honor Award for Illustration in 1996 and the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award in 1997.
Image: Illustration “Birthday Barbeque” In My Family/En mi familia