In the previous post, I shared the winners from the 2015 Américas Award. In the next, I’ll focus on the Pura Belpré. Now, however, allow me to focus on the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award.
About the Award
Texas State University College of Education developed The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award to honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience. The award was established in 1995 and was named in honor of Dr. Tomás Rivera, a distinguished alumnus of Texas State University.
Dr. Rivera was the author of …y no se lo tragó la tierra / And the Earth Did Not Devour Him (1971), a groundbreaking novel that provided one of the first visceral depictions of what it meant to be a migrant worker in the United States. While I encourage all our readers to visit the award website to read the more complete biography of Dr. Rivera, I also want to share here a bit of what they wrote about Dr. Rivera’s importance at the time and the ongoing legacy he contributed to Mexican, American, and Mexican-American cultures. It captures the importance not only of Dr. Rivera’s lifetime accomplishments, but also the significance of having a children’s book award award named in his honor.
Tomás Rivera’s writings have provided tremendous hope for generations of migrants who had previously not had their lives inscribed and valorized in literature, ensuring with his literature that their lives were not lived in vain or forgotten. His enduring presence through his literature will long stand in the United States as an example of what the Mexican American community is capable of nurturing, educating, and producing. About our education, he said, “A highly quality education provided at all levels for the Hispanic communities will insure stronger individuals, and in turn a stronger community. This type of education must be one of our constant and basic demands. We can only insure this education if we lead, if we become involved in getting it, if we have in it, and most importantly, if we make it part of our prophecy.”
The creation of this Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award in his honor goes a long way towards keeping alive the prophecy he saw as part of our legacy as members of a healthy and responsible community. This children’s book award will also work towards sustaining the vision he saw for the education of Mexican Americans in the Southwest and the greater United States. It is therefore unquestionably right and proper that this award be given in his name, his honor, his prophesy.
Below are this year’s remarkable winners, with accompanying annotations taken from the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award website.
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams Books)
Duncan Tonatiuh, with his signature style as a storyteller and illustrator, takes the reader to one of the origins of desegregation in U.S. Schools. In 1946, eight years before the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education court case, Sylvia Mendez’s family embarks in a legal fight to end segregation in the California school system. When Sylvia was denied enrollment in her neighborhood’s “Whites Only” school because of her Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, and the color of her skin, her parents took action by organizing the Latino community. Their lawyers filed the Mendez v. Westminster lawsuit in the federal district court and in February 1946, this desegregation success brought to an end segregated education in California. Tonatiuh masterfully brings this successful struggle for civil rights to life so children and young adults can understand the history and importance of school desegregation in the United States.
Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Cinco Puntos Press)
Gabi conveys an authentic cultural perspective as a Mexican American high school girl growing up in a complicated world. Gabi is a realist, and her confidence is revealed when she is forced to understand love and its different demands, when she strives to make sense of her father’s addiction to meth, and each time that she must defend her identity and beliefs within the messy dynamics of family, best friends, and her educational goals. Gabi’s resilience depends on being authentic, using wit, humor, raw honesty, and writing poetry. Gabi: A Girl in Pieces has won numerous awards including the 2015 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award.