Written by Gloria Amescua Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuth
Who? What? Where?
This is a beautifully illustrated book about the life of Luz Jiménez, a woman who came from a Nahua family in Milpa Alta, Mexico. Gloria Amescua takes us on a journey of Luz’s early life set in the early 1900’s living in Milpa Alta with her Nahua community where she practices traditional Nahua customs passed
down from generation to generation. She is surrounded by sacred mountains and streams, her world is illuminated by the stars and nature around her, and she is reminded that although her people lost their land when Cortés arrived, they did not disappear. She learns traditional skills such as grinding corn in a metate and how to weave using her toes. She understands the bounty of nature and how to use it for herself and her people. Luz struggles with being left out of school because of her Indigenous heritage until she is required to attend a school which works to strip her of her culture and instill Spanish customs in her people. Although Luz is forced to assimilate to European norms, her light is not diminished, it is emboldened. She begins to combine her love for education and her ancient Nahua knowledge passed to her from older generations. She decides to become a teacher but her dreams are interrupted by the Mexican Revolution which devastated her town and forced her surviving family to flee to Mexico City. There her family struggles to sustain themselves, earning money any way they can. While in Mexico City, Luz begins to display her traditional practices for famous artist who begin to paint, photograph, and sculpt her. She sees a shift in the way people look at Indigenous people and she seizes the opportunity to control the narrative. By modeling for artists she teaches them about her culture becoming the teacher she always wanted to be. She later teaches at a university where she works with scholars to promote an understanding of Indigenous culture while protecting and passing on her native language, Nahuatl
Luz Jiménez was a real woman who influenced Mexican culture by tapping into the art of her era. She was painted by Diego Rivera and other artists of his caliber ensuring a new appreciation and respect for Nahua culture in America. By exposing herself and her customs the idea of Mexico began to change, incorporating Indigenous culture and history into the narrative.
This is a great book for 3-6 graders. It is a unique opportunity to teach a part of Indigenous history through an illustrated children’s book. The illustrations are beautiful and reflect Aztec style. There is a glossary at the end of the book allowing students to learn new words and a timeline reflecting the life of Luz Jiménez.
Meet the author recording with Gloria Amescua
Gloria Amescua talks about her motivation for writing this book (youtube)
Illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh’s website