Allusions to Culture and Religion in Hispanic American Children's Literature

By Leavell, Judy A. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Allusions to Culture and Religion in Hispanic American Children's Literature


Leavell, Judy A., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

Children's literature is part of the fabric of school life and instruction. Hispanic American children's literature is rich with allusions to culture and religion. Sharing books featuring Hispanic Americans resonates with the students who share this culture. The same books also provide a lens for those not of the culture to see within and to appreciate the similarities and differences.

The literature shared in schools should offer children a broad selection of choices. As a social justice issue in the United States, students should see a breadth of rich literature selections reflecting the diversity of the American population. Of course, no one book can represent all the complexity of a particular cultural group, which means multiple selections representing a cultural group need to be shared.

This paper provides examples of cultural and religious content found in Hispanic American children's literature. It also provides context on changing demographic groups in the United States, and the need to increase the number of literature selections that reflect the richness and variety within the Hispanic culture. It will share information about three awards for Hispanic children's literature as sources to access.

While the term Hispanic is used in the article's title for brevity purposes, the Hispanic culture is very broad containing many different groups and labels. Some are based on geographic histories: Mexican American, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Spanish. Other terms relate to language and/or political action: Latino/Latina, Chicano/Chicana, and other distinctions. This article addresses subgroups using Hispanic as a broad term.

Cultural and Religious Allusions in Selected Books

Selections of children's literature specifically written with Hispanics as primary characters generally reveal aspects of the Hispanic culture that may not be known by readers outside of the culture. Recurrent themes are family and extended family support, the role of religion, the marking of significant events, and the connections across political borders. One can learn about culture through the ways individuals mark significant life events related to birth, marriage and death. Examples follow that provide cultural and religious insights associated with the Hispanic culture. The examples are helpful for those who are outside of the culture.

Hispanic Cultural Theme of Family and Extended Family Support

Children's books reflecting Hispanic culture often have a theme emphasizing the importance of the family and its provision of security, care, and support. While the father is often portrayed as the authority figure in the family, strong resourceful women are also featured.

In the picture book, My Very Own Room/Mi propio cuartito, the main character shares a room with her five brothers. While she loves her brothers, she yearns for a room of her own. The house has limited space but her family finds a way to clear a storage area so she can have it to herself. Everyone contributes in some way so that she can achieve her goal. Her uncle assists too, delivering a small bed that will fit in the space for his niece. The uncle's efforts serve as an illustration of the role of extended family in the support system.

The author, Amada Irma Perez, revealed in a public lecture that others asked about the use of so many brothers in the telling of the story. The questioners were possibly concerned that critics might say it was "stereotypical" to have so many family members. Mrs. Perez expressed her concern, worried as to which of her brothers she would have to leave out of the story. She ultimately did not leave any brother out.

The short story, "She Flies" from the David Rice collection, Crazy Loco, tells about Milagros and her relationship to her great-aunt, Tia Mana Garza. Milagros is very talented academically. Her great-aunt encourages her to seek the opportunities that Milagros desires.

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