¡Mira Look!: Running the Road to A B C

Children's Book Review: Running the Road to A B C by Denizé Lauture | Vamos a LeerSaludos, todos! This week’s featured book is Running the Road to ABC, written by Haitian author Denizé Lauture and illustrated by Reynold Ruffins. With stunning illustrations and compelling lyrical prose, this wonderful picture book tells the story of six Haitian children and the miles they travel to get to school. In doing so, Lauture’s tale takes readers on a visual and poetic journey of Haiti’s various landscapes, both geographical and social. While exposing some of the present-day hardships in Haiti, such as running barefoot over rough terrain to get to school, Lauture proudly depicts values such as strength, determination, and a love of learning.

abc 2Lauture introduces his book by dedicating it “To all children who, smiling and laughing,/ laughing and singing,/ singing and smiling,/ stand tall at the golden thresholds of their lives/ and welcome learning and teaching,/ and teaching and learning,/ as the two most endearing experiences in life.” A love and dedication to learning is certainly at the crux of this tale. As Lauture openly embraces the beauty in teaching and learning, his lovely, undulating prose is in itself didactic. Throughout the tale Lauture makes ample use of repetition and symmetrical sentence structures (such as “learning and teaching,/ and teaching and learning”), which can help young readers remember new vocabulary, keep up with the story, and witness the flexibility and playfulness of words. In addition, his long, flowing sentences tend to continue on and on without punctuation, reflecting the long and persistent, yet melodically joyful journey of the schoolchildren. Moreover, the lack of punctuation may reflect the cadence of Haitian Creole, which is generally not a written language. As a result, Lauture’s prose suggests a melody that would make the story perfect for reading out loud—a treat for listeners, and a celebration of Haiti’s rich oral tradition. Continue reading

WWW: Reparations and Confronting the Legacy of Slavery in the Island Nation Known as the First Black Republic

¡Feliz viernes a todos!

Another week has gone by already! And just like that, we are into February. Thanks for reading again. Hopefully 2016 has gone smoothly for everyone reading! I know we are feeling the pace increase a bit here.

As February takes hold, and many classrooms turn to studies of Black History and the Civil Rights Movement, we at Vamos a Leer are turning our focus to the history of Afro-Latinos and Afro-Caribbean people. In this post in particular, I am addressing (very briefly) the widespread history of slavery and its implications particularly within Haiti and other Caribbean countries.

Besides open immigration flows, there are people of African descent in every country in the Western Hemisphere in large measure because Africans were taken forcibly as slaves and transported from Africa to the Americas from the 15th to the 19th century, used as human barter in exchange for goods, spices, and outright income. As slaves, Africans were treated as goods; they were bought, sold, traded, beaten and killed for disobeying unjust rules and regulations set by their owners. Side bar: we acknowledge that this is a difficult topic to teach, but also want to emphasize how necessary it is to have these conversations in our classrooms. For a brief overview of what to keep in mind when teaching about slavery writ large, see the article “Tongue-Tied” by Teaching Tolerance. Continue reading

Sobre Febrero: Resources to Teach About Haiti and Afro-Caribbean Cultures

Vamos a Leer | Resources for Teaching About Haiti and Afro-Caribbean CulturesDear all,

As with Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month is often used as part of a “heroes and holidays” approach to education, limiting classroom discussions of African and African diaspora histories only to the month of February and then, moreover, primarily focusing on famous individuals. It is a missed opportunity, to say the least, to confine this information only to one month and to provide it such superficial coverage. Here at Vamos a Leer, although we’re only one small voice among many, we hope to contribute to an effort to think more expansively and inclusively in the classroom – regardless of the topic at hand, but particularly so when considering how to incorporate narratives generally omitted from textbooks and canonical literature.  Teaching Tolerance, a Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is another advocate for teaching beyond the “heroes and holidays” approach. Ideal for this month, they even provide a concise overview of “Do’s and Don’t’s of Teaching Black History” – effectively drawing this conversation down to the concrete level.  Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.

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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.

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WWW: Benkos Bioho, Choco Department and the Palenques of Colombia

434px-Palenque1 benkosFor our first WWW post of Black History Month, and following a month in which we focused on indigenous language, I would like to turn our attention to a particular region of Latin America where both African ancestry and indigenous languages play a vital role in the local society, cultural traditions and regional politics.  We will see a vibrant history of cultural, social and political autonomy among communities of escaped slaves called palenques, from an age in history when we normally do not talk about free, autonomous communities of Afro-latinos. As we see in the photo, Benkos Bioho (also spelled Biojo) founded this palenque in 1603, a community that survives today. Benkos Bioho was himself born in Africa, in a place called Bioho, Guinea Bissau, in the mid to late 1500s.

Choco, or el Departamento de Choco, is a region in northeastern Colombia.  It comprises the northeast Caribbean coastline as well as the Darien jungle that borders with Panama.  Culture and society in Choco Department form many similarities and connections to Afro-Central America.  Choco is also the only department of Colombia to contain coasts on both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans.  Here are some basic statistics provided by www.choco.gov.co to help understand the social and demographic makeup of the region.  Over 75% of the population is black or afrocolombian, 12% are indigenous, while only 7% are mestizo and 5% white.  Choco is also one of the poorest regions of Colombia, which is important in understanding afro-latino history and reality, which shows us over and over again that the afrolatino populations in the Caribbean, Central and South America often comprise the most marginalized regions of that country or group of countries. In Choco, the Index of Basic Necessities Received shows that a staggering 79% of the population goes without some of the items or services considered basic for livelihood and well-being.

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WWW: The Annenberg Learning Center

Flickr user Wonderlane used under Creative Commons License

Flickr user Wonderlane used under Creative Commons License

Today I want to highlight The Annenberg Learning Center, part of the Annenberg Foundation which encourages, “the development of more effective ways to share ideas and knowledge.” Wrapping up our weeks on Black History Month and Civil Rights, The Annenberg Learning Center offers a perfect segue into Race in YA Literature, our topic for the coming weeks. Continue reading

TBR Reflections and Reviews~Darkroom: a memoir in black and white

As many of you know, in January I made a resolution to read more books by and about Latinos.  As part of this resolution, I made a list of books that I’d like to read this year.  While I realize that I won’t have time to write full reviews of all of those books, I’d like to be able to at least offer my reflections on those books, so I’ve created a new category of posts: TBR Reflections and Reviews. Continue reading

¡Mira Look!: Cesar Chavez and the Struggle for Justice

sonia sotomayorHello faithful blog readers! I apologize for my lack of WWW post on Friday. Last week was especially busy getting ready for some distinguished and exciting talks. Today has proved much the same, but I’ve got a quick post with just a few more titles. Continuing our discussion from last week on the Latino struggle for civil rights, Katrina had some great suggestions for books to teach about famous Latino/a- Americans who have overcome adversity and championed a cause. Continue reading