Patricia Montiel-Overall, Kristen Curé, Monica Farmer, Mikel Stone, Natalia Phillips Portillo, Jacquie Welsh
On Friday, March 9, 2012, the University of Arizona School of Information Resources and Library Science (UofA-SIRLS), UofA Libraries, Department of Mexican American Studies (MAS), and REFORMA Tucson Chapter held an inaugural Latino Literacy Roundtable focused on children’s and young adult literature. Three invited authors were René Colato Laínez, Sarah Cortez, and Sam Quiñones.
The Latino Literacy Roundtable: A Focus on Children’s and Young Adult Literature was held in South Tucson at the Sam Lena-South Tucson Branch Public Library. The Roundtable was free and open to the public, and was well attended by teachers, principals, parents, and librarians from Pima County.
The 2012 Latino Literacy Roundtable was to discuss key issues pertaining to literacy and Latinos and to highlight (a) the positive role of literature in developing literacy of children and young adults, (b) the importance of children’s and young adult literature in developing perceptions about self and others and improving self-esteem, (c) and recognition of bilingualism as an asset. A Call for Posters was made to give practitioners, students, and faculty an opportunity to engage in discussions about various aspects of literacy and Latinos.
By conducting the 2012 Latino Literacy Roundtable the day before the Tucson Festival of Books, the Roundtable planning committee, which included University of Arizona faculty, students, librarians, and educators, hoped to raise awareness of issues specific to Latinos and to highlight contributions of Latino literature to the development of literacy of Latino children and young adults. The committee also hoped to focus on the importance of providing Latinos culturally relevant and authentic literature written by and for Latinos, and to celebrate their literature in fostering greater respect, understanding, and inclusiveness. The committee felt the discussions at the Roundtable would provide a venue for discussing the use of literature as a way to improve understanding about who Latinos are, where they are from, challenges they face, and contributions they have made to society.
Events in the Tucson community with regard to the removal of literature about the language and cultural heritage of Latinos occurred at the time of the inaugural Latino Literacy Roundtable was planned. These events heightened interest in affording opportunities through the 2012 Roundtable for participants and scholars to address the topic of removing a broad range of books from Mexican American Studies in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) high school classrooms where young adults were developing an understanding about their history, language and culture, and socio-political issues affecting Latinos in society. Among the books that were challenged or threatened were writings by well-known and highly respected University of Arizona professors, Thomas Sheridan (Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941, 1986) and Charles M. Tatum, (Mexican American Literature, 1990). Seven books removed from classrooms were works that were selected to develop critical thinking, and to help students understand the effect of socio-political and historical factors on the lives of Mexican Americans in the U. S. A list of the seven books is provided at the end of this article.
REFORMA Tucson Chapter, a co-sponsor of the Latino Literacy Roundtable, was actively involved in the discussion. REFORMA Tucson endorsed the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association and National Association of REFORMA in their resolutions opposing the elimination of the Mexican American Studies program in TUSD and the removal of books from classrooms. The local chapter stated “the elimination of the TUSD Mexican American Studies (MAS) classes [is] in violation of intellectual freedom and the equity of access to information,” and urged “other national groups to join in the discussion about the censorship of literature, freedom of information and equal access.” REFORMA Tucson also pledged to “support our local educators and continue to build relationships with MAS teachers, students and community members” which was evident in their participation and support of the Latino Literacy Roundtable and Nuestras Raíces at the Tucson Festival of Books.
The Latino Literacy Roundtable included presentations from the highly respected Latino authors, René Colato Laínez, Sarah Cortez, and Sam Quiñones, who discussed their personal journeys in becoming authors whose works and stories contribute to a better understanding of language and culture of Latinos. Three Roundtable discussions followed the presentations with each author facilitating a discussion around the topic of access to literature, and multiple ways of developing literacy for children and young adults.
Sam Quiñones explained that it was extremely important to awaken the passion in children (for reading, writing) by addressing experiences in their lives, and speaking to stories related to their personal experiences. Sam also explained that many educators lack general cultural competence about the experiences of immigrant children and youth they teach. He explained that often educators do not understand the extreme violence that many of their students have experienced, and he suggested that teachers woefully unprepared to deal with students’ lurid tales of Mexican drug war violence and stress, which force Mexican immigrants out of their homelands in a desperate move to save their own lives. Sam Quiñones is the author of True Tales from Another Mexico (2001), and Arturo’s Gun, and Delfino’s Dream (2008). He is also a journalist for the Los Angeles Times.
Sarah Cortez, author, poet, and editor of literature for young adults, is a policewoman. She discussed her passion for writing and for engaging youth in storytelling. Her poetry includes How to Undress a Cop (2000), and Urban Speak – Poetry of the City. Sarah is also editor of Windows into my World: Latino Youths Write Their Lives (2007), a collection of essays, HIT LIST: The Best of Latino Mystery (2009), and You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens (2011). Sarah also edited a book, Indian Country Noir (2010) with Liz Martínez. Sarah is also an educator, and teaches workshops on writing to youth across the U.S.
René Colato Laínez, known to his elementary school students as el maestro lleno de cuentos (the teacher full of stories), is an award-winning bilingual children’s literature author. He is known as the author of such rich stories as Waiting for Papá (2004), Lotería (2005), I am René the Boy (2005), René Has Two Last Names (2009), My Shoes and I (2010), From North to South: Del Norte al Sur (2010) and The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez (2010).
The Roundtable provided an opportunity for University of Arizona scholars to present their research interests related to Latino literacy. Poster discussions occurred intermittently throughout the afternoon, and participants had various opportunities to interact with presenters and inquire about their work with Latinos and literacy. Jacquie Welsh discussed “Silenced Voices,” a poster that provided an overview of seven books removed from the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies curriculum. Diana Almader Douglas’ poster, “Beyond Cinco de Mayo,” presented information about the role of Pima County libraries in providing access to literature removed from classrooms in Tucson Unified School District. Monica Farmer’s poster, “A Study of the Portrayal of Latinos in Children’s Literature 1880-1999,” provided a glimpse into how authors have described Latino characters for over 100 years. Patricia Montiel-Overall’s poster, “Challenges to Access of Spanish Language and Bilingual/Bicultural Children’s and Young Adult Literature,” examined Latino children and young adult’s restricted access to books. Emily Lane‘s poster, “Libraries without Librarians,” presented a snapshot of the challenges of organizing a pre-K library without professional staff. And a student from the College of Education, Language, Reading, and Culture program, María V. Acevedo, presented “An In-depth look into the Family Story Backpacks” about a program to encourage literacy in the homes of young children by providing backpacks with picture books to spark stories between generations.
Future Latino Literacy Roundtable
Next year’s Latino Literacy Roundtable will be an all-day event including lunch, and will focus on family literacy. It is scheduled on Friday March 8, 2013 from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM at the Sam Lena-South Tucson Public Library at 1607 So. 6th Ave. The 2013 Latino Literacy Roundtable: A Focus on Family Literacy will be free and open to the public. For further information contact Dr. Patricia Montiel Overall or go to www.libros.arizona.edu.
2012 -Roundtable Sponsors:
REFORMA Tucson Chapter
University of Arizona School of Information Resources and Library Science
University of Arizona Libraries
University of Arizona Mexican American Studies Department
2012 -Roundtable Organizing Committee:
Chair: Patricia Montiel Overall
Co-Chairs: Kristen Curé, Bob Díaz, Tom Gelsinon, Monica Farmer, Natalia Phillips-Portillo, Mikel Stone, Jacquie Welsh
Books removed from high school classrooms in Tucson Unified School District:
Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (2001), by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
500 Años Del Pueblo Chicano/500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures (1990), by E. S. Martínez
Message to Aztlán: Selected Writings (2001), by Rudolfo "Corky" Gonzales
Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement (1996) by Arturo Rosales
Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) by Paulo Freire
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (1998), by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson
Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (2004), by R. Acuña