by Alma Flor Ada, published 2011
(Available in Spanish as Nacer Bailando)
“Margie’s mother said, “Why do you keep telling the teacher you don’t speak Spanish, m’hijita? Spanish was the first language you spoke. Spanish is the language of your abuelitos and your tios y tias…” “But we live in America, Mom.”
Many years ago, before I was seriously interested in children’s literature, I was introduced to the work of Alma Flor Ada, a leading educator and author for Latino children’s books. But I didn’t read a children’s book written by her until this one came my way this week. I can only say I’m sorry I waited so long. Alma is truly a master at her craft, and knows the immigrant experience from the inside.
This excellent children’s book captures the ambivalence so many Mexican-American children have. They were born in the USA, but their families still carry a living experience of their home culture. We watch Margie grapple with her feelings of shame and embarrassment as she tries to fit in, not realizing how much her home culture can contribute to others. The arrival of her cousin Lupe, who doesn’t speak English, pushes all the ambivalent feelings to the surface.
This children’s book is a wonderful example of exemplary multicultural literature, and also demonstrates that it serves multiple purposes. The children of immigrants can work through their own dilemmas by reading a book like this. At the same time, it is so important for all the other children to be able to ‘walk in their shoes’ and understand how terribly harmful discrimination of any sort is. While the characters in this book are from Mexico, the experiences can be extrapolated to any cultural differences.
I hope many young people get to read this heartfelt children’s book, and take away some profound lessons about the value of heritage. Perhaps if children read a book like this, we can eradicate the “us and them” mentality which often pervades the adult world.